July 14, 2024

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How to Get Published in a Specialized Journal

3 min read

The path from research results through manuscript to successful publication in a biomedical journal is arduous. Vinay Guduguntla, MD, a researcher at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago and an editorial fellow at JAMA Cardiology, gave the Medscape German edition insights into the work of journals’ editorial teams. He offered physicians advice about what to consider if they plan to publish their research results.

Selecting Manuscripts

Every month, hundreds of manuscripts land in the inboxes of biomedical journals. For example, researchers submitted more than 2200 articles to JAMA Cardiology in 2023. Only 6% of all original research papers were accepted.

Senior editors review the new manuscripts. Their initial assessment focuses on the following four questions:

  • Is the topic novel?
  • What is the quality of the data?
  • How robust is the biostatistical methodology?
  • Is the topic relevant to the journal’s target audience?

Guduguntla advises potential authors to inquire with the journal whether the topic is of interest before investing time in creating a manuscript. Once the draft is ready, formatting errors in the article, data preparation, and conflicts of interest can lead to the rejection of a manuscript during the initial review.

Obtaining External Reviews

For potentially interesting manuscripts, senior editors usually opt for a peer-review process, which entails requesting opinions from external experts.

The editors of JAMA Cardiology aim for two to three reviews per manuscript, which translates into 8-10 requests to potential reviewers. Authors can also suggest reviewers to the editorial team, being mindful of possible conflicts of interest. “In general, it usually takes 2-3 weeks to find the required number of reviewers,” said Guduguntla.

Such reviews include detailed analyses of study methods, an evaluation of figures and tables, and assessments of the relevance of research results. They provide feedback to the authors and separate, confidential comments to the editors.

Ultimately, reviewers are consultants to the journal — no more, no less. Their feedback significantly influences the selection of manuscripts but is not the sole criterion. In specialized journals like JAMA Cardiology, editors have expertise in the field. They make the final decision to accept or reject a manuscript. Occasionally, the editorial team invites reviewers to comment on and contextualize important manuscripts in the form of editorials.

Editorial Meetings

Once the reviews are available, discussions take place in weekly editorial conferences. At JAMA Cardiology, these meetings last for 1-2 hours. During this time, the team reviews 10-15 manuscripts.

The editorial team pays special attention to whether authors have accurately formulated their conclusions. For example, randomized controlled trials allow for statements about causality of a research question, while cohort studies do not.

Acceptance and Publication

At JAMA Cardiology, an average of more than 100 days elapse between submission and acceptance of a manuscript because multiple revisions are often necessary. However, the journal has established an expedited process to publish articles within a few weeks if the work is simultaneously presented at a major scientific conference.

After acceptance, manuscripts undergo copyediting. Graphic designers create most figures anew to ensure a consistent style. Authors then receive galley proofs for fine-tuning.

Preprints and Social Media

Online publications and social media have significantly changed the work of scientific journals. At JAMA Internal Medicine, the editorial team can create “Tweetorials” to distribute important publications on social media. Such papers are also presented in podcasts.

Lastly, scientists can publish manuscripts on preprint servers such as bioRxiv or medRxiv before peer review and publication. Many research groups have used this practice during the COVID-19 pandemic.

This story was translated from the Medscape German edition using several editorial tools, including AI, as part of the process. Human editors reviewed this content before publication.

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