PhDs in science all spend many hours at the bench doing research to get results that will either confirm or reject their research hypothesis. They write, defend and revise a thesis. On the way, and as soon as possible afterward, they publish their research and its significance. Staying in academia has been said to be a matter of “publish or perish.” In this, and some forthcoming blogs, I’ll write on my views of how to get your stuff published.
Think about it as a combination of information flow, knowledge management and project management. Actually good, readable, interesting, quickly published and often-cited articles begin long before the writing. They start with “a good idea at the time,” which then becomes “your problem,” i.e., an idea that you take ownership of. The key next step is to develop a research plan to answer the question, to transform it into a testable hypothesis.
In practical terms, that means writing a research protocol in which you set down a title for your investigation – which eventually morphs into your article title. The protocol needs to have a written rationale for doing the work (eventually the article’s introduction), a study design with a statistical plan, planned methods and materials, and expected results – then, as they used to say – just do it.
In research, of course, events often don’t go according to plan. When they don’t, write an addendum to your protocol describing the changes you made and the reasons you made them. There are multiple reasons for all this, the least of which is to make it easier to explain in your (future) article and/or to a potential peer reviewer why you did things just the way you did them. It’s also important for validity that the primary calculation of study results be planned and not ad hoc. Finally, you are probably not the only author. The protocol ensures that all potential authors are “on the same page” with what is planned and expected.
Information flow? It’s the different ways that you communicate your idea to increasingly more broadly focused audiences as it moves from its origin through the protocol, study notes and summary results, abstract/scientific poster, and finally the published article.
Knowledge management? It’s mainly about finding, organizing and navigating relevant data – mostly in peer-reviewed publications – and building a context that your experimental results are consistent with. The aim is to identify available data within your research and that of others that support your hypothesis, your study design, and the intro, methods and discussion of your article.
Project management? It’s concerned with making sure that the protocol is written, the study is completed (as close to schedule as possible), the results are analyzed and compiled into a summary report or notebooks, tables, and narratives that can be “translated” into a publication manuscript. It’s not over until the publication manuscript is written and the article is published.
I ought to tell you that this isn’t the way that I saw these things when I was a grad student and in academia. I just wasn’t that organized or “process” oriented then. My current views of writing and getting published took shape while working for a medical communications agency and then in the medical affairs department of a pharma company. During that time I worked with numerous clinical study investigators to help them publish their data. Finally, I got to know a few journal editors and was able to see things from their side of the desk too. Want to practice some knowledge management? I’ve done a few related blogs on Biocareers.com. Start building a context with: The manuscript? It can’t possibly be that bad!; Got journals? How to pick ‘em; Publish or Perish?; What was it that you said?
So there you have it for now. Bye ‘till next time…
Clement Weinberger, PhD
Stylus Edits Medical Communications