Dr. Werling is the author of 61 peer-reviewed publications in scientific journals. She has also authored 10 invited chapter and reviews, as well as 75 abstracts for presentations at national and international meetings. She has served as a reviewer for 13 journals, and was on the editorial board of Synapse for 13 years.
Dr. Werling taught scientific writing for 10 years to graduate students at GWU. She encouraged her own PhD students to publish their work, resulting in solid predoctoral publication records for all of them. She has served on many PhD dissertation committees, and enjoyed assisting them in preparing clear and concise accounts of their research projects.
Given her impressive background as both an author and as a mentor, we asked her what advice she would give to young researchers as they think about publishing their own work.
Here’s what she had to say:
1. Choose the right journal for submission
- Make sure your work fits with the type of article the journal publishes. What kind of journal do you and your labmates read? You want your work to have the best exposure to the right audience.
- Choose a high quality journal, and have backup journals in mind in case your paper is not accepted by your first choice.
2. READ THE INSTRUCTIONS
- Make sure you organize and format your submission in strict compliance with journal specifications. Journals receive a lot of submissions. There is no reason to have your work rejected because you did not carefully follow guidelines.
- Provide figures as specified by the guide to authors.
- Be sure to organize your reference list according to journal specifications. There are lots of programs that can store all your references and tailor their format for you for various journals’ requirements.
- Construct a cover letter that tells why you believe your work is suitable for that particular journal, and (very briefly) what your major findings are.
3. Tell a story
- Give sufficient background for the reader to understand why you did the work. This usually goes into the section called Introduction.
- Make figures and illustrations you plan to include, and lay them out in order
- Use the figures as a roadmap to describe what you found. In this way, the results section of the paper can almost write itself.
- Use the Discussion to place your findings in the broader context of the field. Do not use this section to simply reiterate your results; explain what they mean in advancing knowledge in the area of research.
- Cite original sources for literature referenced. Do not assume that the authors of a paper you have read have cited the source work correctly.
4. Proofread for content, spelling, grammar and syntax
- Also ask your colleagues to read the paper. It is advisable to choose readers both directly involved in your field, as well as scientists who are in a different field. What may seem very clear to you or your advisor may not be as clear to another researcher. Considering the critiques of others will ensure your work can be understood by a more general scientific audience
- Have a thick skin. If you ask for critiques, understand that your colleagues are doing you a favor. (You can return the favor by reading their drafts.)
5. When you receive an editorial decision, revise accordingly
- Again, have a thick skin. Your response should not be argumentative. This rarely will be received favorably by the reviewers or the editor. Thank the reviewers for their helpful comments, even when you may not feel they were all that helpful. You may need to rewrite to be more clear, or you may need to do additional experiments. If you disagree with the reviewers’ advice, you may certainly rebut, but go gently.
- If you cannot meet the reviewers’ expectations, or your submission is rejected outright, revise for submission to another journal. Don’t give up. Writing and publishing is a learning experience.