Top 7 research publication tips for medical doctors

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Dr. Zoya Marinova, freelance scientific writer on Kolabtree, provides expert research publication tips for medical doctors, physicians and other healthcare professionals.  

Publishing research results in scientific journals may be both a rewarding and challenging task. Scientific publications are the most widely accepted way to share your research results and to receive credit for your work. Often, scientific publications are also a necessary prerequisite for career advancement and for the acquisition of future research funding. However, busy medical doctors may find it difficult to dedicate sufficient time and effort to the complex process of manuscript writing and publication. What steps can help medical doctors to accelerate and facilitate the research publication process?

1. Select an important research question that is relevant for the clinical practice

Arguably, the most important step you can take to publish your research is to select an important and novel research question. Medical researchers have the unique opportunity to translate unmet clinical needs they have faced in their practice into research projects. Meanwhile, they can also apply novel research findings into the clinical practice. This interplay between research and clinical work can benefit greatly both fields.

An example is the description of clinical cases with unusual presentation that may be published as case reports and may help educate other physicians. Even discoveries with huge impact may begin with clinical observations made by medical doctors. Thus, the discovery of the role of H. pylori in gastritis and peptic ulcer was first inspired, when Dr. Robin Warren, who was a clinical pathologist, began to notice a correlation between the severity of stomach inflammation and the number of bacteria in the stomach. He then began a collaboration with Professor Barry Marshall to determine whether there is a causal relation between the two observations.1

 2. Create a technically sound experimental plan and ensure that the necessary expertise is available

To publish your research and to do so in a timely manner, you need a well thought out and realistic plan for your research project. You also need to ensure that you have or can acquire the necessary expertise for the project. In case you require additional expertise, finding mentors or collaborators may help you advance your research faster. The timing of the manuscript submission is another aspect that should be considered. You need to allow the time to collect sufficient and high-quality data. However, you also need to work in a timely manner to minimize the risk of other researchers independently publishing similar results.

Clinical, translational, and basic studies require attention to different aspects of the research project plan. Thus, in clinical studies, the study design, inclusion and exclusion criteria, diagnostic criteria, endpoints, treatments, and research instruments should be clearly and carefully defined. In basic and translational studies, the application of an appropriate study design and the use of approaches that provide mechanistic insight strengthen the study.

In many cases, ethical research aspects should be considered. You will be able to find project-specific information through the institution you conduct your research at. General information on ethical research aspect can be found through publicly available publications and guidelines.

Also read: How to get published in a scientific journal

 3. Conduct an appropriate and well-designed statistical analysis

Conducting a well-designed statistical analysis is a necessary step to reach valid study conclusions. A power analysis will help you determine your sample size, so that you can detect a certain effect with a certain degree of confidence. Another major step is the selection of appropriate tests and thresholds for statistical significance. When multiple statistical tests are conducted, a correction for multiple testing should be considered. Information and advice on the selection and performance of statistical analyses for biomedical studies is available through a number of published or online resources such as here and here. UCLA offers a guide to choosing an appropriate statistical test

Different statistical software programs can be used; whereas some require a subscription, others including the R environment are publicly available.

4. Select an appropriate journal for your manuscript

Selecting an appropriate journal for the submission of a manuscript will accelerate the publication process and allow the study results to reach the target audience. Key steps in this process are selecting a journal whose scope aligns with the topic of the manuscript, and whose impact factor corresponds well to the impact of the study.

Reviewing the aims and scope of the journal of interest, which are available on its website, will provide an initial impression of its suitability. Searching the journal for publications on a similar topic may provide further insight on whether the manuscript is likely to be of interest to the editors. The impact factor is a widely used measure that reflects the frequency with which an “average” article in a particular journal is cited in a certain year. It is another measure that may aid the selection of an appropriate journal for your manuscript.

5. Tell an engaging and well-structured story that is tailored to the background of your target audience

Telling your readers an engaging and well-structured story will increase the chances of its acceptance. Do your best to follow a clear and logical narrative. In all cases, it is important to highlight the novelty and significance of your study and to clarify the unmet clinical need or lack of knowledge, which necessitates it.

Different journals have different target audiences. Some journals are more frequently read by clinicians, whereas others are primarily read by basic and translational scientists. Tailoring your language and presentation to the knowledge and interests of your target audience will ensure that readers find your manuscript both easy to understand and interesting.

6. Structure your manuscript well and use figures and tables to visualize your findings

Journals provide detailed author guidelines, which list the requirements for manuscript length, structure, and formatting. The use of clear and concise language and the visualization of the data with figures and tables are effective tools to improve the readability and clarity of your manuscript.

Be sure to review the current state of research on the topic and to highlight the need for your study. Clearly define your aims and describe the methods you have used in detail so that other scientists can replicate your findings. Describe your results in a concise and easy to understand manner. In the discussion, review how your findings compare with the current knowledge regarding your research topic, and how they contribute to it. The use of figures and tables will facilitate the interpretation of your findings.

If you face difficulties during the writing process, you can find guidance in published articles (here and here) and books or enlist the help of professional editors and medical writers. There are various strategies to write effectively including scheduling writing time, preparing an outline first, preparing your figures and tables early on, and beginning with a section generally considered easier to write such as the Materials and Methods.9

7. Work constructively with the reviewers and editors to improve and successfully publish your manuscript

A journal editor will conduct an initial assessment of your manuscript. If it is of potential interest to the journal, the editor will invite scientists with expertise in the field to review your manuscript. The review process gives you the opportunity to receive critical feedback on your work and to improve it.

Include a well thought out cover letter with your manuscript to introduce your work to the editor. After receiving the reviewers’ comments, do your best to address them and to implement the requested changes, as this will increase the chances of acceptance of your manuscript. Respond to the reviewers’ comments in a constructive and detailed manner to convince them in the merit of your research and to explain the performed revisions.

The scientific publication process is complex and time-consuming, and following the above tips may help to navigate it and to reach your publication goal more quickly. However, may be the most important tip is to keep a positive outlook, even if the first manuscript submission is not successful. The editorial and reviewer comments may provide helpful feedback to improve your manuscript. Following a well thought out approach, you will be able to identify the most suitable journal for your manuscript and to present a high-quality and engaging article.

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Dr. Zoya Marinova is a researcher and freelance medical writer. She has experience in preparing scientific manuscripts, medical information letters, clinical documents, educational materials, and healthcare articles. Her research interests are in the fields of epigenetics and molecular neurobiology. She has worked on basic, translational, and clinical research projects on the molecular mechanisms of CNS disorders.
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About Author

Dr. Zoya Marinova is a researcher and freelance medical writer. She has experience in preparing scientific manuscripts, medical information letters, clinical documents, educational materials, and healthcare articles. Her research interests are in the fields of epigenetics and molecular neurobiology. She has worked on basic, translational, and clinical research projects on the molecular mechanisms of CNS disorders.

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