How to publish a paper

How to publish a scientific paper 

by Sharon Downes, CSIRO

When to publish:

  • Now!!!!! Now!!!!! Now!!!!!
  • If you've just started a PhD, write a review on your research topic.
  • If you've started collecting data, publish your results along the way.
  • If you're writing your thesis, publish chapters as papers.

What to publish:

  • Full-length contributed articles are around 5000 words. They usually are made of a series of experiments that form a coherent story.
  • Short notes are around 2000 words. They usually are made of one or two experiments that are stand alone pieces of work.
  • General rule: its better to publish one solid contributed paper than it is to split the same work into two or three short notes!
  • Articles in edited books are usually less prestigious than journal articles. First publish your data in a journal then consider publishing in a book. But do publish a review article of a research topic in an edited book.

Where to publish:

  • Spend time to select the right journal!
  • Seek advice from an experienced publisher in your field.
  • Scan current contents for journals matching the paper topic.
  • Read articles from recent issues of potential journals.
  • Examine the "References" section of your paper for common journals.
  • Final decision will depend on:
    • (i) prestige (always go for the best topic based journals).
    • (ii) time to publish (as indicated on first page of every paper).
    • (iii) past performance (avoid journals that consistently reject papers).
    • (iv) animal care and ethics (avoid British journals on animal behaviour).

Submitting the paper:

  • Follow instructions to authors (usually given on last page of journal).
  • Format paper accordingly.
  • Provide correct number of copies of paper.
  • Include all required information in a cover letter with the paper
  • The players:
    • Managing Editor (deals with administration)
    • Editor (selects reviewers; makes final decision on acceptance)
    • Reviewers (experts in the paper topic; editors choose reviewers whose work is cited in paper and who are not mentioned in the acknowledgments).

Review of paper:

  • Example check list:
    • Is the paper too long?
    • Is the paper well organised?
    • Are the design and analysis sound?
    • Do the conclusions follow from the results?
    • Has the author cited all relevant references?
    • Are all the tables and figures necessary?
    • Are the title and abstract fully descriptive of the text?
    • Any ethical concerns with the paper?
    • Are the statistics satisfactory?
  • Possible recommendations:
    • Acceptance with little or no revisions
    • Acceptance provided that revisions are carried out according to the reviews specific comments
    • Rejection but allow re-submission after major revision
    • Rejection

Revising the paper:

  • Check the time limit given for re-submission.
  • Wait at least a few days before revising the paper.
  • Write a cover letter to the editor addressing ALL reviewers' comments.
  • Don't attack the reviewer.
  • Don't be intimidated by the reviewer.
  • Address criticisms and refute them if you think you are right.
  • Be polite and indicate that you are doing everything possible and more.

Re-submitting the paper:

  • Follow instructions from Editor.
  • Proof-read carefully.
  • Include good laser copies of figures and tables.
  • Indicate current date on cover page.


  • Galley proofs will arrive shortly before publishing paper.
  • Cross-check with original version carefully.
  • Respond within 24 hours of receiving proofs.
  • Indicate precise changes in a cover letter.

Dealing with rejection:

  • A typical paper of average quality submitted to a ranking journal has less than 33% chance of getting a good report from a reviewer.
  • Everyone must deal with having a paper rejected.
  • Wait before revising paper in line with reviewers comments.
  • Sometimes it may be appropriate to challenge the reviewer's decision.
  • Don't be discouraged!
  • Re-submit to another journal within a month of rejection.

General advice:

  • Keep a log book of all paper and the various stages they are at.
  • Ask your supervisor to review papers on your research topic or write to journal editors asking to review papers.
  • Do a book review!
  • Don't give up!
  • Start publishing now!
   © Scott Keogh 2013