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BITC Publication Class 2: Scoping and Choosing Journals

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Hello, this is Town Peterson. This is the second piece in the series on how to publish a scientific paper. Essentially, here, in this piece of this module, what I would like to do is talk with you about essentially writing and conceiving the paper, what should its basic structure be, what are the order of the pieces and the order of your process of writing, But, essentially, this is at the conception stage. So, we will talk about a bunch of issues that are kind of basic design issues in publication. A first and critical point is that of essentially scoping out your paper. And I am just going to give you two possible configurations of the paper. We can go on the short and sweet side, which is essentially a very compact paper that expresses a single point, tests a single hypothesis, reports a single result, versus something that's longer and more complete, and may be more of an overview of a whole body of work. A lot of the papers that you will develop as a scientist fall in between these two. But let's talk about them as if they were two options. At the short and sweet end, there are a lot of advantages. For one thing, it's a very easy paper to write. Because it's so simple, it's very linear. You have a simple message, and you pose a hypothesis or you discuss what the question is, and you provide the answer. Obviously, in our scientific language, but it's quite a simple and easy paper to write, And, a third advantage is simply [that] it's more publications on your curriculum, And, at least at certain stages in careers, that's very important, where you are showing yourself to be a productive scientist. It's not without its disadvantages ... short and sweet papers, if you write too many of them about one subject, can dilute the message. People will see one piece of the puzzle here, and one piece of the puzzle there, And essentially the reader ends up having to search for the whole story across a bunch of your publications. And that can really dilute the impact overall of your body of work. And certainly, the publication impact, namely the citation rates, per publication, get diluted because you are essentially putting the same message out there a bunch of times. Now, at the other end of the spectrum, we can write a very long paper, that might present several hypotheses and several insights, and the advantages are that you get more of the whole story out there in the scientific literature in one place. And obviously, a paper like that, that deals with a broader set of subject matter, has a greater potential impact on the field and is going to see more and more citation. On the disadvantage side, well, certainly, it can be more difficult to organize and write a paper like that, because it has more complexity ... it might have multiple types of methodologies, it might have multiple themes and hypotheses. The message can get quite complex. In fact, not on this list, but it can be quite difficult to get a journal to accept such a big piece of work. And, again. on the more practical side, it's fewer publications that you can list on your CV, because you may have packaged 3 or 4 publications into one. OK, so just to give you an illustration of short and sweet versus long and complete, here are two papers ... I just chose them basically of convenience out of the literature ... but you can kind of get an idea of the contrast. Here, we have "Co-occurrence of linguistic and biological diversity in biodiversity hotspots." Essentially, it is a single idea ... whether linguistic diversity and biological diversity are associated in these hotspots of biodiversity. At the other end of the spectrum ... a paper that I wrote a few years ago ... "Predicting the geography of species invasions via ecological niche modeling." That's not putting out a single question or a single testable hypothesis. Rather, it's laying out a whole body of thinking. And so, again, this is a long paper; it's difficult to write; difficult to conceive and present effectively, but may in the end have more impact than something that tests a single question and may be repeated over and over again, or somebody may come back to the short and sweet paper with a different data set or a different tool. So, I am not saying that one or the other is better than the other; I'm saying that these are options that you need to think about as you think about your paper. So, now, the next question is picking a journal, which kind of goes hand in hand with scoping your paper ... long and complete versus short and sweet. Picking a journal is not easy, and everybody misses on this question from time to time, and everybody ends up having to resubmit a paper to some other journal. But basically, you need to sit down with your advisors and your colleagues, and you need to contemplate what's the ideal, optimal outlet for this paper. If you aim too high; if you go for Science or Nature or a journal that's simply at a higher level than your paper is, well, you're going to waste your time because it's going to get rejected. You also waste time of the reviewers and of the editors: the whole process is volunteer-driven. And so if you are shooting a couple of levels too high for your paper, you're basically just slowing down the whole process. At the other end of the spectrum, you can aim too low: you may have an important research result, and if you put it in some very minor, regional journal, you get less credit, and your work gets less attention. So, we don't want a mistake on either end of the spectrum. We need to consider characteristics of the journal. Look at what is the subject focus; read the statement of purpose of the journal, and don't think, "well, they can adjust, and they may like my work anyway." If you don't fit within the focus of the journal, look for a different journal. Look at the Table of Contents, and see what kinds of papers they're publishing. It may be a simple question like are they publishing long and complete papers, versus short and sweet papers, Or it may be ... are they publishing tropical papers, or is it all very detailed, experimental work in the temperate zone. Whatever the question is ... is that journal interested in the sort of science that you are doing? You may also want to look at the impact factor ... basically, is this journal at a high-enough level that it gets your work out to the community at a high-enough level? And finally, I would urge you also to pay attention to the journal's policies about access. Essentially, the question is: does the journal publish with an eye to making your work available to the whole scientific community, or is it just a question of making their publications available to those who are willing to pay for them and able to pay for them? We'll come back to this at the end of this module, and talk about open access considerations. So, a last set of comments about this 'conceiving your paper' stage is essentially my experience with at least my experience with how best to enter this process of writing your paper. This isn't the only way to do it. This is just something that works for me personally. I will throw it out there, and I hope that you will, in the course of your career, evolve your own solution, but this is something that I think works well. I would suggest this order of writing, where, first of all, you develop your figures and your tables, These are essentially the unitary results of your paper. So these are the pictures that tell the story that you're going to be relating in this paper. And directly from your figures and your tables, you can go to your Methods and your Results. The Methods have to tell, in a very clear and concise way, how you got from basic data to the figures and tables you are presenting in the paper. And the Results should describe, one by one, those results [of your analyses] There may be a paragraph in the Results for each figure, or maybe a couple of paragraphs. But, basically, these figures and tables tell you how to structure the Methods and Results. And so that's kind of the core of your paper. After that, I think, is an appropriate time to frame it. Of course, you've been THINKING ABOUT this framing all along, but as you go through your results, as you prepare those figures and tables, as you write your Methods, I think it leads you to think more deeply about what it is you're expressing in this paper. So, I think that after you have the core done, it's the best time to write an Introduction that poses the question, and write a Discussion that considers their impact, discusses caveats and limitations, and that lays out next steps along this path. And then finally--you've now written your whole paper--the abstract is your summary of the paper. I think that's easiest to write at the end, rather than at the beginning, of the process, even though the abstract comes at the beginning of the paper. Now, a couple of other points ... at the end of the Introduction, the last paragraph really needs to state, very clearly, why this paper needs to be published: what is the contribution of this paper to the broader literature, and so, I personally feel that the last paragraph of the Introduction should begin: "This paper does the following ..." and I think that is an effective way of leading into the rest of your paper. Your Introduction gives the rationale for why the reader should care, and that last paragraph lays out exactly what it is that this paper will do, given that rationale. I see a common tendency for people to go on at great lengths in the Introduction and Discussion of these papers. An Introduction may only be three paragraphs. That may be enough to set up the question, particularly when we are talking about short and sweet papers. The Discussion perhaps is a bit longer, but it needs to give the panoramic view of the results of the paper. It needs to discuss the limitations of the paper, and it needs to discuss its implications towards future work ... what are the next steps afterwards. And then a very specific pet peeve of mine is ... you don't need to repeat. There's no need to repeat parts of the Introduction in the Discussion, or parts of the Results in the Discussion. I think [that] oftentimes a Conclusions section is an excuse to repeat stuff that you've already said in the Results and the Discussion. So, contemplate whether you really need to say things twice. The words are there once, and that's plenty for an attentive reader to capture. So, that's a set of thinking about essentially the basic design and concept of your paper. And now we're going to go on to talk about more specifics in the coming parts of this module.

Video Details

Duration: 13 minutes and 49 seconds
Country: United States
Language: English
Producer: A. Townsend Peterson
Director: A. Townsend Peterson
Views: 84
Posted by: townpeterson on Dec 21, 2012

Part 2 of the publication class

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