High-quality research is essential for the development of any field of science, and this is particularly true for the medical sciences. Reputed academic journals play an important role in disseminating new ideas and results, making them accessible to the wider public. Writing and publishing a manuscript in a renowned medical journal is, therefore, an exciting experience because it represents the outcome of your work and gives you the chance to communicate your research with others.
However, publishing scientific results can also be quite challenging, as only sound and reliable data will be useful to other researchers, physicians, or patients. In addition, your results must be presented in a clear, organized, and understandable format to get attention from potential readers. Here are a few things to keep in mind when preparing a research article for publication in a respected medical journal.
The best writing skills or a perfect presentation cannot compensate for a weak experiment, so the most important part of preparing a good article is to make sure that the study is planned and carried out well. The accuracy of your data is your presentation card, so take enough time to check that your results are reliable; be honest when reporting your observations; present only original data (avoiding any form of fraud, plagiarism, or self-plagiarism); and be realistic when assessing the strengths and weaknesses of your research.
Research papers—including medical ones—have a common structure, which makes it easier for editors, referees, and readers to follow and understand your research work. The most commonly used format is the IMRAD structure, which includes an Introduction (why did you do this?), a Methods section (what and how did you do it?), a Results section (what did you observe/find?), and a Discussion section (what do your findings mean?).
Your paper should also include a brief paragraph —the conclusion— restating the project proposal and its value, but this does not have to be a separate section and can be added to the discussion. The manuscript should also have the following information: i) a clear, informative, and concise title; ii) author affiliations; iii) a well-written abstract that highlights the purpose, main findings, significance, and implications of your work; iv) a few relevant keywords; v) an acknowledgments section; and vi) up-to-date references.
Many editors pay particular attention to the abstract, figures, and tables when deciding whether a paper should be sent out for peer review or not, so check these parts very carefully before submitting your manuscript to any journal.
The Right Audience
The journal you choose for publishing your work will depend on the subject area of your manuscript, the scope of the journal, and the stage of your career. Most publications have specific author instructions regarding scope, structure, format, length, and so on. You should, therefore, try to follow these guidelines to increase the chances of getting your work published. Consider how relevant your results could be to the readers of the journal you are targeting. Is your article targeted at specialists or experts in your field or should it be published in a journal that reaches a wider audience?
The Right Journal
There are several reputed medical journals, which are known for their rigorous peer-review process and high impact factors. Some journals in the general medicine category include:
- New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM), which offers an outstanding peer-review process involving both physicians and statistical experts
- The Lancet, a very selective journal (it only publishes about 5% of the papers it receives) with a high credibility
- Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), one of the world’s most famous general medicine publications
- British Medical Journal (BMJ), which publishes high-quality open access articles.
The road to publishing in these top-tier journals can be long, but with motivation, hard work, and the right strategy, you can make it much shorter. Students should start writing early to improve their skills as they move along in their career. At the beginning, a student should pick an interesting and answerable question and find a good mentor who can check research progress and support his or her first submissions.
Several peer-reviewed journals and online publications publish student’s work, so it might be a good idea for future physicians to submit their work to these journals first until they have gained enough experience for the high-impact publications. Some student-run journals includeAmerican Medical Student Research Journal (AMSRJ), International Journal of Medical Students (IJMS), Student BMJ, and others.
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