Top tips to keep in mind for Ph.D. students looking to publish their papers

By Shivanee Shah, PhD, Immunology, Loyola University Chicago

Love doing research, but don’t enjoy writing the manuscript? As a Ph.D. student, you will need to not only plan and carry out the research, but also publish before you graduate. It can be tiresome to have to write a manuscript that effectively communicates your exciting research. But publication is a very important part of graduating, not just in terms of the learning, but also for your future prospects. Here are some tips that can help you bring your research to publication in a timely manner.

  • Selecting an appropriate journal: To shorten the time between submission and acceptance, in other words, to publish quickly, it is absolutely critical that you understand the value and audience of your research and select a journal that regularly publishes articles in your subject area. The journal should not only match scope, but also quality of the data. It is not uncommon to consider submitting to a journal simply because you are familiar with the journal or because your colleague has published there and recommends it. But is your research suitable for the journal’s audience? Will the journal’s academic editors consider your research? It lies in your best interest to carefully review the aims and scope of the journal and other publications in the journal to determine its suitability.
  • Preparing the manuscript: There are several points to consider:
    • Journal articles have a very different structure than dissertations/theses. You must be concise, effectively bring out the novelty and significance of your research findings and convey this is a particular structure as outlined by the journal guidelines. Extensively review your target journal’s guidelines and write your manuscript in the correct format. Typically, original research papers will follow the IMRAD structure, i.e., introduction, methods, results and discussion.
    • Remember that not all your data may fit into your manuscript – think about the story you want to convey and include only the key relevant data. You may want to split up your data into multiple manuscripts, but if you would like to get quality publications, this may not be the best route. Even though you may not use every piece of data that you collect, it is better to include the entire story in one manuscript.
    • References are very important in a manuscript. Save all your references in a systematic manner such that you can return to them and cite them appropriately. You may use a reference managing software to aid you in this process. Make sure these are formatted as per journal guidelines.
    • Also remember that just because you include a reference, you may not copy sentences from the reference. This will be considered as plagiarism, and if identified, the journal may immediately reject your manuscript. You may make use of a plagiarism detecting software to ensure the originality of your sentences.
  • Editing and proofreading: Your manuscript is completed. You may have spent many weeks or a few days to complete writing. In both situations, it is likely that you are biased and think that the manuscript story flows well and the data are presented well. But this may not be the reality. Carefully re-edit the manuscript yourself and consider asking your colleagues and friends to proofread. Their input may be priceless. Journal academic editors and reviewers may point out some of the same things that your colleagues will! You may also consider using the services of an editing company to help you edit and proofread.
  • Ethical considerations: You may or may not be the only one who has put in all the efforts towards data collection and writing the manuscript. Are you the only author? Please remember to include colleagues who have substantially contributed and your principal investigator in the author list and give credit to others that you feel should be thanked in the acknowledgements section. You can find more information on who to include in the author list and in acknowledgements here.

Keep in mind that your future employers will be assessing you based on your publications so be as error-free and as polished as possible. Use all the resources you have to publish the best manuscript achievable!


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