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How to publish your research - Demystifying the process

Gail Roberts - Good evening and welcome to our webinar how to publish your research demystifying the process. This is the fourth Webinar in our series of ten, the fourth one this year. They're all available online. My name is Gail Roberts and I'm going to be your host for this evening. Before we start I would just like to acknowledge country. I speak to you from the lands of the Kulin nations. The traditional lands around what we now know, is Port Phillip Bay, which includes Melbourne. I'd like to acknowledge the Wurundjeri and boonwurrung people, and the people of the Kulin nations on whose lands I’m situated, I pay my respects to their elders, past and present, and to any Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people joining the Webinar tonight.
Before we start I’d like to remind you that we are recording. You will be able to see this again online. You can tell your friends and can ask questions throughout the Q. and A. The chat function is turned off, but we will be checking Q. and A very regularly. The recording will be available in the next week. I'd like to introduce our speaker for tonight Professor Stephen Margolis. Stephen is the editor in chief of the Australian Journal of general practice following an extended international career in medical research. He's also a member of the RACGP Expert Committee Research initiated this RACGP Gp research series, which has aimed at everyone. Experience less experienced and curious. His clinical practice at the Royal Flying Doctor Service encompassed primary and secondary health Care for aboriginal Torres Strait Islander people, as well as rural and remote medicine. We're very pleased to have Steve here tonight to share his knowledge and experience, and to look at this very important aspect of research getting your research out there so people can read it. I'll pass it over to Steve. Thank you.
Stephen Margolis - Great thanks very much, and welcome everybody. Thank you very much for inviting me to this presentation. I'm just going to share my screen. I'm just figuring out how I do this. You can see the first slide there, all right. So I’m going to talk tonight about how to publish your research. You can see one of my team members there frantically working their way on the slides. So in today's session I thought we'd talk about a little bit about the Australian Journal of General Practice, because it kind of is a nice segmway into what we're going to talk about. And we're going to talk about how to think about this from the perspective that I found works best which is thinking like a peer reviewer thinking like an editor and a publisher, and then thinking like a writer and an author, because I think, if you understand the process, it makes it a lot easier to understand the best way that you can achieve success.
So, what's this all about? You know, publishing is a weird kind of thing. It's a huge mountain that you have to climb when you get to the top. It's sort of like. Oh, we're here right, now what? So, it can be a bit weird. The thing that you need to think about as the writer is, you really just want to get to the reader. Everybody else, editors, publishers, the process. It's kind of in the way. If only you could just reach out directly, and I think that the way to think about this process is how to make that middle bit work for you. So, we just have a quick look at the history of the RACGP and I've got no idea why I decided to do that because I just deleted those extra bits, but basically in 1951, a letter from Fraser Rose and John Hunt, which we think about at the RACGP is the Rose Hunt medal, published a letter in the British medical journal. Outlining the proposal for the college of general practitioners. So, this is in the UK 1952 Jerry Koss Hospital report, but in1956 the journal began as the annals of general practice, for a thing called the College of General Practitioners of Australia, and, interestingly, the Australian College of General Practice actually only arrived in 1958, and became the Royal College in 1969. So, the journal actually predates the college, in fact, the first thing that was created in the process, and then in 1972 it became Australian family physician. Why was that name chosen? It was part of an era where general practice and family medicine were evolving, and there were some terminology changes, and then that became the Australian journal of practice. More recently, for years ago, 2018. So, the journal's been around for a long time. So much, what we're talking about is both in the Australian context, and also a reflection of my experience overseas as a prolific author.
Stephen Margolis - So, first thing is, how do we think like a peer-reviewer? How to read a research paper, because part of the problem that I find looking at a lot of research is that it looks as though they haven't thought about what would happen once it went to an external person to look at? I’ll let you have a little read through that cartoon. Okay, so you know, what do people say about peer Review. Well, it's the least worst system, there's lots of different ways that you can process papers and peer review, especially blinded peer-review has been shown time and again to be the most effective. It's not without its detractors and without problems, but nevertheless it's still the most effective way of doing it, pretty much the same sort of thing there from Dilbert. I just always like to mention Tricia Greenhalgh, even though I've not met her, but her book is really the backbone of evidence-based processes for peer-review, how to read a paper, and I would recommend it to all of the people who are thinking about publishing research to have a read through this, and especially the tables at the back, which give you an algorithmic approach as to how to analyse research, because then you can apply that to your own draft papers, and you can circumvent a lot of the problems that you're going to experience on submission by fixing them before you. So that's an extraordinarily useful resource, and are highly recommended it.
So, what kind of research, what kind of papers are there? Well, we all know about this triangle, and we all know about the different kind of levels. I think the key thing is to think about where your particular study or process is going to sit, because that will determine the processes that you need to complete in order to ensure that your paper will meet the mark. Another way of looking at it, and there's quite a good reference is to think about, is the research original and interesting. What's the current state of knowledge? What questions does this study address? Is this the right Journal. These are very important questions that must be asked. I think the way I would approach this is, does your research address a gap in the literature? And is this the journal that you've chosen? Is this the right place to report what you've done in relation to that gap? There’s a lot of the papers that we receive at AJGP are irrelevant to general practice, and to get an apology letter saying, we can't proceed at the outset. So, you want to have a think, a careful think about where you're going to go.
Then you think about what are you doing? What's the approach? And this is the methodology.
Okay, so another way of thinking about this in a simple term is, what is the issue in the literature that you are addressing? What is the gap? What method can you use to explore this in an appropriate scientific way?
Is your method appropriate, plausible, relevant? And then you have to analysed the results according to the methodology that you've chosen? Surprisingly, I still see papers where people have talked about using a particular methodological approach, and yet, when you read the results in the same paper, e.g. the nest page, they've clearly not followed their own advice. There are all sorts of reasons why this happens in the document, and one of the reasons is that midstream they change their approach generally not a very good strategy. Yeah, so you want to make sure that those three things are all in line, congruent and make sense.
Stephen Margolis - So, another way of looking at this is what is the aim of your research? Why is the hypothesis clearly stated? Is the methodology, clearly stated and appropriate are the results presented in an effective manner. I often suggest to people to look at other published research, especially in much higher quality journals, and see how they lay out the information. The more you do that, and use that as a guide as to how to develop your manuscript. The more likely it is that your manuscript will be tighter, shorter, better written, easier to understand, more likely to succeed. Make sure that the results are interpreted correctly. Do the authors appropriately consider the limitations of the paper. Okay, it's very important from an editor's perspective, and also from a reader of much research. The authors are upfront about the weaknesses of their study. All studies have strength and weaknesses, and clearly, if the reader or editor can see multiple weaknesses in the study, and the authors are saying, No, no, it's really good. It does create that disconnect, so that when the conclusions are written they're much softer. The other thing is, don't, overstate the conclusions. Make sure your conclusions are correctly in line with you found? Yeah, and then make sure that the abstract is actually matching all of this. Generally speaking, I write the abstract last, because it reflects what's in the paper. If you write it first, sometimes it can go to get a bit lost.
Stephen Margolis - So, there are some other things about the paper. I think another way of putting this is don't make your paper too long, don't make your paper wander along, don't let it read like, for example, the first draft of a junior researcher who's submitting their very first thesis. But this is their first draft, which will kind of I have marked quite a few of these. They're often quite meandering, and they need a lot of help to make it tight. Generally speaking, it's harder to write a short paper than a longer page. However, a short paper, it is usually more effective, so the other thing is, there are lots of tools to help you apart from in the book that we've talked about. There are, these are AJGP tools that we have on our website that we refer people top. Check list’s, there's a questionnaire check list, a qualitative check list, right? This one is a QR. There are various forms of this, but this is one I particularly like, because if you actually look it up afterwards and go to that web address you'll see this is a very, very exhaustive table that you have to complete. When do you do this? Not five minutes before you submit? This is something you should be doing right at the very beginning when you're thinking about your research, because these tables will help you in the planning of your process. Because if you're unable to answer one of the myriad of questions that they ask something that is something that you need to address in the development and performance of your research. It's not an issue about the writer. However, we have these as mandatory requirements. It's pretty much most journals now have these, and as editors, and also for peer reviewers, we often go there first to see how you have answered, and the reason for that is because these are the key questions you need to think about. So, I think it's very important that you use these kind of processes. As I said in the textbook that I've referred to. There are countless examples of different processes for different kinds of research, the only thing that I don't have on this list that I think is worth thinking about is I find it quite helpful in what I often encourage my when I had them, PhD students is to take their research and break it down to one page, and you can do this even if it's a clinical paper, or a case study, or whatever a maximum of one written page which is about five hundred words, you need to be able to write in 500 words what this is all about. You need to do it in such a way that an educated lay person who is not an expert in your field could read this and understand what it is that you're doing. If you can't do that in one page. Probably you're not going to be able to do it in twenty pages, because it would seem that you haven't got a clear idea in your mind about what's important and what’s going on, that's actually quite a helpful tool as well. I even ask people to do that. This is when I've been teaching people how to get published like my students do that even at the end of their research, just summarize what it's all about. People who write complex novels that sell millions of copies use this process, storyboarding is what you would say if it was a film. So, I think that that's a very awful process.
Stephen Margolis - Alright, so now let's kind of get to the more nitty gritty, what do we do as editors? Well, I think the best way to think about it is, where is editorial? So, you're the writer. It goes to the editor, it goes to the publisher, which incidentally is a different group of people with a different set of skills and then the reader, which is actually your target. So, as we said at the outset, I think we just go from writer to reader. The biggest challenge you have now much more so than ever before is that the reader is bombarded with endless opportunities and sources to read. There's endless research out there, there's endless clinical papers, there's endless case studies. There's endless everything. Why would they read your material even if it gets published? Why are they going to look at your paper? Because if no one ever reads it. It's well apart from It's not very good for your self-esteem. It's not very good all round. You might have actually published something that's incredibly important to help further patient care or workforce systems or other system issues. You want people to read it. So, one of the things we're going to talk about in the minute is, how do you make sure that your paper is going to stand apart from the rest of the crowd? So, thank goodness, we don't have to use typewriter and typewriter ribbon.
So, what are the goals of the writer? Well, basically you want to get published, and you know you want to share your beliefs. You want to generate an audience, and not always, but often in an academic sense. It's part of your career, but not always. When I first published my first case study in AFP. I had to tell you just a Zillion years ago. It was just because I had an interesting case, and I wanted to share it with other people, so it may not be any career advancement, but it might just be you're just that kind of person. So, as I was saying before you know this, the evolution of communication is changed. I don't think we all need to think about Twitter, but I think the key thing is that you need to be aware that publication is different to how it was even twenty years ago. So, editors, that's kind of where I come into it. So, you know, central role. Well we've got to make sure that the process’s all work. The material is consistent, correct content, language, style, layout, purpose meets the needs of the audience. Okay, so you take what the authors have provided, and you look at what the publication, the publisher requires which is a uniform style presentation at a certain standard, because they know through their market research, and that's what the audience wants. Okay, so what are the other goals that are specific to medical education? Clearly some of these overlap with the publisher, but you need to know the audience. So again, knowing the audience, it's not just about what the audience is going to want to read. But how do we present things in a way that will actually gather their eyeballs to read it? And there's certain things that work well in certain things that don't. But the most important thing that works well is readability. You got to publish and write things and edit them into shape that is something that we know that readers will feel encouraged to actually read from one end to the other. Because I’m sure you all understand that people don't read medical journals or medical papers like a novel. They dive in and out of the book they dive in and out of papers. So, the other thing about medical editing is clearly we also commissioned content and we work in a peer-reviewed systems so it's a little bit unusual compared to normal editing. So, let's have a look at kind of some other kind of issues that are there in the background. So, in medical, scholarly publishing, which means publisher, the publisher is also a membership-based organisation. We got their side, which are the owners. We got the member's side, we got advertisers, so people often ask, why do we use advertisers in AJGP? Well, that means that it's self-funding, and we're not using members funds to pay for the process, which is surprisingly expensive without mentioning any numbers because a lot more to actually generate a journal than I think most people would imagine. But by using advertising we can then ensure that members get the benefit of the journal without having to actually pay for it directly out of their subscription. So, there’s also industry standards, and then there's a couple of things specific really to medical publishing. There's a thing called COPE, Committee of Publication Ethics, which is basically a set of regulations, international regulations for how medical journals need to function from an ethical or professional standpoint, and they have a website with a whole range of different things that you can look at very valuable. Then there's another group. So, they're based in the UK. There's another group of people called the ICJME, International Committee of Medical Journal Editors, and they're based in the US. They talk about mostly conflict of interest issues. So, AJGP, like almost all quality journals, subscribe to both of these processes to help ensure that the journalism has an ethical and professional basis, because, after all, if you're reading it and it's advising clinical care, you want to be sure
at the process that you are working with is one that you can rely on. Very quickly, what happens now? So, author submits an article to the journal. We have a look at it. Some papers die past the first step, they might not be relevant to general practice. The authors may not be appropriate to the subject material. The research might be fundamentally flawed. It might just be badly written, although we would normally go back to the author to attend a resubmission. And then there's a review process that usually involves two, or maybe more steps where reviewers, the editors internal review, external review, help work with the author to improve the quality of the paper, and then, at the end of all of that, some papers are still rejected. But hopefully, your paper will be in the Green Box there and accepted. There are a few things to think about in this process. One is it's not quick? There are journals that talk about rapid turnaround. I think you'll find that they're not high-quality journals, and many of them are in the category called predatory journals which you can look up. I think the way to think about this is and this has always been my approach, if you look at any successful multi million copies selling novel you can buy or read from your library these people have extensive relationship, the authors have an extensive relationship with their editor. If you look at the acknowledgments they always talk about the editor and the publisher, and how much work those people contributed to making the final manuscript. It’s just not plausible if you're going to write something, and it's just going to sail through, and then just be amazing and published. That's very, very unusual. Almost all papers require significant attention on one aspect or another of all the things we've talked about. So I think the first thing to think about is that serious authors and or well accomplished academics with large numbers of papers, these people work with the editor, if the editors not happy with things you need to work with them, and by and large usually the process is to put your self-esteem to the side, and take an objective non emotive look at your work and go, you're right, this needs fixing. I agree with you. We need to attend to this. So, arguing with the editor with the editor says: You know there's a serious problem with your paper. This is what I suggest you could do to help fix it, and then writing back and go not take it or leave it. Well, then, you just you know you're off to the next journal. The other side of the coin with this particular issue is this is my personal experience. I would always work out. I would always go to somewhere like web of science and look up, what are the potential journals that I could submit to? And then I would rank order them, usually by some kind of index, which there are many. And then, once I've got the rank ordering, I would then aim for the highest journal, first, because what I would hope is that they would review it and reject it. Then I would take all of their review and do it. Then I’ll submit it to the next journal. The maximum number of times I had to do. This was twelve, but that paper did get published, and if you're really lucky, you just go through a small amount of review, and the first journal actually accepts it. But I think that you need to have a more dispassionate approach. It's mostly in more junior in the sense of new people to research or new to being an author who get very upset when the editors suggest do this, that or the other. I think that that's looking at things upside down. They're trying to help you, but all from my personal perspective, AJGP, we want to publish your paper. It just needs to meet all these other criteria. So, something to think about.
Stephen Margolis - So, publishers well yes, that's probably the case. Most manuscripts don't get published. True for us. True for every science journal except predatory journals, which I’ll talk about, and in the you know, the general publishing world pile in the not to be, is much bigger. Every famous author has got a story about no one wanted to publish their stuff. Well, you know, I don't think that's terribly surprising. But then, once you're famous. Everybody wants your stuff, however, that means that even senior academics, if you send in rubbish because you didn't actually do this particular paper properly. Your name probably isn't going to get you over the line, so you still need to do the work due diligence. So, you need to remember the publishers got their own agenda. It's all about developing and selling to the audience in the broadest possible context. AJGP for example, we don't sell the journal. But clearly, it’s an important part of the entire RACGP program. So, where our goal at the journal is to ensure that patient outcomes are maximized. That's our fundamental purpose. We look at papers, and especially the publisher, looks at papers, that will achieve our mission. We don't actually modify papers, or choose them, according to which will be best for advertisers. We are clearly not going to go down that path. The publisher, as in all journals, is the one that chooses the front cover. The publisher is the one that chooses which papers go in which edition, what order they put in, what pages they go on, et cetera, et cetera, that’s their prerogative, because they have to put the whole product together and get it out there. So, from the AJGP, perspective, its readership surveys and from the web version. It's like google analytics to see what the views are.
So, we know which topics are the most popular, but that doesn't mean that we only publish those topics just as a matter of interest, because people ask about advertising. Advertising within the journal, as in all medical journals, is handled by a totally separate group of people, and all ads are vetted by a process that I have nothing to do with where they are vetted for appropriateness.  Not all ads actually get across the line either. Like all publishers, we do extensive surveys about the audience. I think that that gives you some ideas about the challenges, but clearly good research that matches or addresses to find gap in the literature that uses good methodology, and is well written in appropriate pros with appropriate tables and meets the guidelines for the journal in terms of length, style, chapter headings, etc. Those papers are far more likely to get through. That, of course, leads to a bit of an aside. Every journal has their own author guidelines. Now, guidelines are a bit tricky, because in the medical world guideline means not something you necessarily have to do. But in the publishing world guidelines are actually a euphemism for regulations. If the publishers author regulations state the paper that you're going to submit to in that particular module, viewpoint or study whatever has a certain word, count, and requires to have these headings. Then why would you not do that because all it's going to happen is, it may not even get to the editor. It might be rejected at the outset by the administrator who's going to go it hasn't met our workout. Our workout I'm just choosing an example, it might be 1500 words. This paper's 3,000 words. Just send it back to the author and go, it's too long. So, if you're aiming to publish a journal X, it would pay to get the author regulations which are called guidelines for that journal very early at the outset, so that you know what it is that you need to do to provide a manuscript in the format that publisher wants. The author guidelines are effectively about the publisher’s needs. So, for example, the AJGP is printed so we have limited space. There is limited number of pages that we have each month. We want to publish as many papers as possible, so we have to be fairly rigid about workout, but even online only journals often these days are pretty rigid about word count, and one of the reasons is, we know that if you have extra words, it doesn't make it extra quality often decreases the quality. So, it's something to think about.
Stephen Margolis - What kind of key issues do we need to look at? Well, you know it'd be great to publish a book that ended up like it an ancient library in the future. Very yes. Well, no. that sort of falls into the it's a great topic. It's of great interest to our readers, but your paper isn’t actually going to make that work, okay, for all sorts of reasons. But the reverse occurs, it might actually be an amazing breakthrough. You've got to provide a plausible, readable and effective discussion to win over the readers you can’t just assume there are going to see how amazing it is that just takes skills with using words. And for those people who aren't all that great at prose is a couple of key pointers. The first thing is when you write an academic paper it is not a mystery novel, okay, in a mystery novel you don't find out who the murderer was until the last page. Assuming you haven't fallen asleep first or given up. You need to think about it like good old-fashioned newsprint. Where do you put the most important part of the story in a newspaper enormous font on the front page? If you've got an amazing finding, why would you not put that in the title? Why would you not talk about that right up front? Make it really obvious that what this is about. So that's one thing. Don't leave it all hidden in the bottom, so we no one can find it.
Stephen Margolis - The second thing is, a lot of people get confused between the difference between writing a paper about their research, which might have had multiple arms and more than one aim. And writing a paper which highlights a particular aspect of their research, and one finding. So, for example, their research might look at, just choose something at random, you know, register education and its impact on a whole range of registrar outcomes. But maybe in this huge research project one particular arm of this looked at the registrar well-being. So don't write a paper talking about all those different arms where that might be multiple different papers you need to draw down on the one thing that is important. That's generally a good rule of thumb for all writing. You got to be clear about what's the aim? What is this all about? And then make sure everything is about that aim. Don't wander off on side tangents. Even if the research that led you there had multiple arms, you might mention that there are other arms that have been published somewhere else, but that doesn't mean that you need to. It's not a narrative about a timeline. Okay? And then, of course, yep, there’s that sort of thing? So, what do we learnt? So, there's all sorts of things to think about. The editor balances the needs between the writer and the publisher. You want to keep the editor on side, basically you want to work with them. Okay, and that's because, even though for you and your emotional involvement. This is the most important thing that's ever happened to you to write this paper, and you think it's extraordinary objectively. It's one paper of several hundred that's turned up at the Journal this year. So, what you want to do is you want to make your paper shine, and by and large the editor is trying to help you do that. So, listen to what they're saying and work with them. Let's have a look at a few critical steps that most important, get the right journal. It’s terribly boring but if you look me up on google scholar or something you’ll see I have published in a zillion different journals, it depended on the circumstances that depended on the needs I've published because I worked globally and had students doing research globally, you know. I still remember, I had a student from Fiji, and this was incredibly important to her that she wanted this paper published in Fiji, because she wanted to be able to take this back to her village and go see. This is what we need to do to improve our health care in this village, and so I worked with her specifically to make sure that got published in that country. So, you need to think about why you're choosing this journal. Lots of GPs think in Australia, well I'm going to do a general practice research. I've got to publish it in AJGP Because that's the GP journal. Well, there are other places to get published. And uh, I don't think that's a problem. I think you should keep your options open and do some research to sort out. If you're a beginner, and the research is at a certain standard. You can apply to a journal of a much higher standard, but only in the context of you might fluke it, but in reality it'll probably get rejected. But if you're lucky, they'll actually review it and then reject it and use the reviewer comments to help you. Have a think about what is it you want to target?
Stephen Margolis - So is it about academic impact factor, well then you got to go for the journal with the highest impact factor. There are some journals out there with seriously high impact factors. That's not us. You might go. Well, this is a clinical paper about Australian patients, and I want to go to a journal that will be read by clinicians of Australian patients to help improve their management of Australian patients. AJGP might be fine, but there are other journals in Australia as well. Then there are journals that are more focused around political aspects, etc. You need to think about how this meets your career strategy. What is it that you want? What is it that you need. You're if you're an academic in the Career Track Standard Academic pathway, it's pretty complicated, and this probably isn't the place to really discuss this in great length. But, generally speaking, it's the number of citations divided by the number of papers so publishing in low impact journals actually decreases your score. But that's only if that's relevant to you. And that's the pathway you're in. Yeah, I think you need to think about what it is. Why, you're publishing this. What's the purpose? And I can tell you that for many people the purpose is just the buzz of having a publication and seeing your name in print.
Yeah, okay. Now let's get to the real nitty-gritty. You need to be strategic from the start. So, I’ve given this talk many times in many different formats, in many different versions, and I always say to the organisers, I really should be giving this talk to the people before you even start thinking about research. The way to think about this is to be sure that you've got a publication strategy right at the beginning, because it's always difficult to get published. Even successful researchers have had lots of rejections. I’ve got a ton of papers are published, and I've got a much bigger load of papers that never really got off the ground. Well, it's just how it is And, as I've said, you're going to need to be thick-skinned about this you might need to rewrite it a few times, but always, always think about why is the editor? Why, the reviewers are saying, you need to make all these changes. My approach is usually I just make the changes. You might have to set it up to a whole bunch of different journals, all of them make sure that you change the submission letter. You know the letter that companies the paper where you make your paper, where you make your pitch, as to why the editor might even read your paper. Make sure you get the name of that journal on it. Sometimes we get papers submitted with the previous journal that rejected it, and its name still on it, generally, not a good strategy. And you know, if you don't publish it. Okay, read the author guidelines, read the journal so that you understand the style requirements. At AJGP we get lots of case studies submitted. We publish case studies every month. There's a set style that we mandate. If you submit a case study in a different style, that probably means you never read the journal. That's a that's like a such a basic era. And the covering letter is actually very important. This is you one page pitch to the journal as to why they should look at your paper. Remember, we've got our own checklist as to how we approach each submission. It may be that if a key element is missing in the early part of the checklist. Your paper may not even be read. So, you want to, but I always look at the covering litter, because that's the bit where the author gets to pitch the paper. Why, it was this journal relevant? Why do I want to read this paper? And why do I want to consider this for publication? Okay? Ah, next thing is, it's not a mystery novel. These happen all the time. Less words are better than more words. Don't make basic errors with typos doesn't look good, get somebody to read, get somebody that you know you don't know well enough that they can criticize you. Who is not a subject expert to read your paper, for example, at AJGP a large part of our readership are patients, also a large part of our readership are doctors and patients who live overseas in other countries, especially countries with developing economies, they don't sometimes know what it is that you're talking about. Okay. So, if you're going to talk about registrar training, for example, you want to use terminology that's absolutely clear what it is that you're talking about, and not, for example, specific to one RTO (Regional Training Organisation).
Stephen Margolis - If you're going to talk about what happened in covid in your location in Victoria, for example, which is completely different to what happened in Western Australia or Queensland, let alone the rest of the world. Then don't write your paper as the Australian experience, when clearly, it's not. It was the Victorian experience. But if you're going to write something like that, you need to clearly outline, what were the special features about your experience and the time. So that readers especially in the future can look at ow that’s what it was all about and that’s why this happened. Context. If you got poor research design, you pretty much suck. So that's obviously a critical area we look at it. We have research design experts, and you can't get past them. Right, the other thing just as a matter of interest, qualitative research is harder to do and harder to publish. And we have our own qualitative research experts for methodology, and you can't get past them, you can't proceed. So, what happens when it's actually accepted while it gets accepted right after all those things happen. And then there's a whole rig morale process now with production. You then have to typeset layout, and they'll come back to you with yet more questions, and they might want to change the words around, or remove bits, or add bits, or whatever. Again, just be careful about being too difficult on these points generally just agree with them. It's much simpler. Sometimes it just gets rejected. Hopefully you get reasons, but not necessarily and If it gets rejected, well you need to, after you overcome your shock, an anger, and generally feeling bad about it. You need to think about. Why did that happen? What can I do to improve things? Is it fixable? Is this just a case of It's the wrong journal. It's too long. I didn't write it well; I need to go back and re-analyse my data when it depends what advice you're being given. But if they reject it with advice of this is the problem, rejecting their rejection. Advice is usually not a very good strategy. So, it is a very emotional topic. I've had lots of papers rejected. It's not very much fun. Everybody gets upset about it. Don't be emotional about it. One of the worst things you can do is fire off an email to all and sundry twelve seconds after you get the rejection email that you haven't even read carefully. We look at the date timestamp when we send out correspondence by email, and when the author responds, there's no point in us sending out a letter with long detailed description of what you need to do to fix things and you writing back that it's all fixed in about forty-five minutes. We know straight up you haven't fixed it even before we don't even need to look at the paper. We know that's not going to work. If there’s six authors, and you respond within an hour or two you clearly haven't discussed this with your co-authors. So usually, these things happen very quickly because of emotion.
Academic papers, they're non emotive. That's a key component. So yes, of course you're emotional but you need to wait till that subsides before you deal with it right. And sometimes there's a lot of work you have to do, but I've been down that path, and you go and fix it, and eventually it gets published. Challenging the rejection by complaining to all and sundry. Well, you know, I mean I've never done it. I mean if the if the journal doesn't want my paper, I just go by and just go somewhere else. But then when I send the next paper in there, forgotten already about the last rejection. Every paper is taken on its merits so challenging it well people do. It's really not a very good path, I mean as editors we have our like own, you know, International Blond group whatever we talk about this sort of thing. It's usually just a waste of time, and then just go back to basics.
Stephen Margolis - So, the most important thing is, if you want to get published, do some great research um, and choose the right journal and follow their rules and remain objective. Don't get to emotive but use it as a learning experience. I mean clearly, it takes longer to do a PhD than it takes to do the medical degree. Okay, research is not easy. It's not an intrinsic skill for those who have medical degrees. Medical people often get rapid promotion within the academic system in Australia, anyway. However, that doesn't necessarily correlate with rapid development of research skills. So, you just need to be a bit wary about conflicting these two different things. The other thing to say is, I've kind of talked about this, mostly from the context of research papers. But clearly all of the things I've said would apply to any other kind of paper. Okay, I've probably talked enough at this point. Perhaps we'll move on to some questions.
Gail Roberts - Thank you, Steve, that's a lot to chew over. What came to mind when I was listening just now. There are the research skills, but there's also the writing skills as well, and that takes a lot of practice.
Stephen Margolis - Yes. If you're strategic about it in your research group, you would have a methodology expert, a person who's an expert collecting the data, a person who's expert in organizing the funding and a person who's expert at writing, so writing it's like you know musicians. I mean it's a specific skill. It's got nothing to do with medical practice. In fact, it's got nothing much to do with anything. Some people are just really good writers. They know how to bring the reader in. They know what words work, clearly you want that person on your team. Now that also leads to the topic about professional writers. Just that's a bit of what ghost riders are absolutely forbidden. That's where drug companies get a bunch of professors and pay them to allow a ghost writer to write the paper. Okay, that's actually not very ethical, and it's not a good strategy. But we do get papers where people have said that they've paid someone to right it, and that person is either an author or acknowledged, and they're upfront about it. There are people out there who write your paper for you as long as you're up front about it, and if you write in your covering letter, you know English is not my first language. I can't write properly. I can't write the pros. I can write it brilliantly in Arabic. It just doesn't work in English. I want to mention that because lived in Middle East for a long time, I mean people would come to me and go can you help me write my paper? I used to do that all the time when I worked in the Emirates.
Stephen Margolis - So, if you explain what you're doing and it's reasonable, no one's going to be upset about it. Yeah. Tricky skill.
Gail Roberts - We've got one question. The person is very patiently waited. Can you see that one?
Stephen Margolis - It's broad and clark. So broad and clark is very interesting because they're basically the most popular and probably the most appropriate methodological experts for qualitative research within the general practice context. Okay, the biggest problem we have with people saying they have used broad and clark is that we're actually pretty much on top of exactly what the broad and clark method is. And if you say you're going to use it, and then don’t this is definitely going to seek your paper and this is something that we've seen many times, so especially with our methodological experts like qualitative experts that all over this. As far as checklists, as I stated very early on, I would encourage you to use checklists right at the very beginning of your research to help ensure that you've covered all of the important features of the research, whatever it is going to write. Okay, you need to be sure you've actually met all of the criteria, because they're the same checklist that we're going to be using. And then you submit the checklist as a supplementary file with your paper, even if it's a checklist that isn't part of the journal, if you include it as a supplementary file, and you talk about it in your covering letter. Almost all editors will go. Wow! That's really good. That's great, because what they want is they want you to demonstrate to them you that you understand the process that you're using. The other thing to say about checklists is, you need to fill them in properly. One of the things we don't like is when there's a question and you go. Yes, I've done this. See page forty, six lines, twenty, three. No, that's not how you fill in a checklist. Checklist’s is the other way round. You fell in all the material, and then you use the checklist to write the paper, because if you do that, all I go is yeah, you haven't really used it, but not really. Do you really understand what it is that this is about? I acknowledged that different journals have different checklists. However, there's only a few, and it is important to use the one that the journal wants. But again, if you're thinking about, I’m going to publish in this journal, so use their checklist at the outset. I'm going to publish in this journal, or this journal use both their checklists at the outset. It is actually a really good method, it's also helpful if you're going for funding, it's also helpful if you are actually a research student, because your supervisor will want to see this it’s pretty much these days’ part and parcel of the whole research learning process.
Gail Roberts - I don't know if we've got a shy audience tonight, or a tired audience, or they're absorbing everything you've been saying to us over the last hour. Has anyone else got any questions before we finish? I thought that was an interesting point Steve, you made about, you really need a team to help you get your research published. A team of people who've got different skills because you're not necessarily going to have all the skills yourself, and not to take it personally that its actually feedback is critical feedback that's designed to help you not wound you.
Stephen Margolis - So, on that point, we like almost all journals, probably will not accept research an actual research paper as opposed to meta-analysis systematic review. But standard research, if there is only one author because, excuse me, because we know that it's not plausible. You can have one author papers as editorials. You can have one author papers for a viewpoint, but anything with any kind of real substance to it, unless you're a mega expert. Most journals would expect it to be more than one author. Another thing that we commonly see, as is common in many journals. Lots of people want a publication because it's part of their career enhancement process. We'll have lots of papers from budding ENT surgeons who incidentally they're registrar’s or GPs, and you know they want to publish something. And some of those papers are good, and most of them aren't, but some of them are go, so you might have the lead author as somebody who's a quite junior person. But the last person mentioned in the list might be a very senior person in that particular super specialty, but it’s usually a bunch of different people. Sometimes we get legal papers where there's only one person, a lawyer. But I think the way to think about it is that teams work better. Now, another critical point with teams, and this is very important, you need to have a written agreement at the outset, who's going to go where on the paper? If you don’t do this, it's all going to end in tears or litigation. If you think I’m joking about this, just check with your commercial law and legal friends about what goes on.
Gail Roberts - And there are guidelines aren't there, Steve, about them who can be an author.
Stephen Margolis - Correct, so there are cope guidelines, defining what an author is. So that's the absolute rules. But you need to define within your own group who is going to do what. I've been a professor for a more than ten years. Yeah. Well, you know, theoretically, I always got to last on the papers right. That's fine. I don’t really care. But if you're not in the first three, it's sort of, you know Smith Jones, Robinson at all. So before you're not really there, so you want to be in the first three people. And in order for being in the first three people you have to have a reason for being there. What you don't want, is that you do all the work because this is your PhD program, and then at the last minute somebody else from another department wonders in and says, no, I’m putting my name first. So, you can save yourself a lot of grief if you just do this?
Gail Roberts - I've got another question.
Stephen Margolis - So, the answer to that anonymous attendee number two is it's usually related to student research. So, I've published a lot of stuff where I've worked with research students, either medical practitioners, but also just science grades whatever, and it doesn't always work out some things just don't get published, and that's because their research wasn't very good, or they didn't do it very well, or because they were just insistent that they were right, and they didn't want to do anything that the editors said that they needed to do so. It's usually for the reasons that I've suggested. Research that I've led, like as this is my personal research. As I said, the worst I ever had was the twelve goes to get something published. I can't remember what it is.
Gail Roberts - And it hasn't done you any harm, has it?
Stephen Margolis - Ah, look! You know weirdly in terms of promotion; you know you just need the one killer paper. If you've got one giant killer paper that probably is enough and just a few others.
Gail Roberts - So That's a good, we're going to have to finish Steve. Unfortunately. Um! But that's a good note to finish on. Don't give up. Write a killer paper eventually. Um! Before we finish tonight, I'd like to thank Steve very much for, generously giving your time and sharing your knowledge, and hopefully inspiring some people not to give up with their writing as mentioned earlier, we are recording this, and it will be available on demand in the next few days. We welcome your feedback. We're going to make the evaluation available straight after this webinar, but it'll also be emailed to you tomorrow. We'd love to get your frank feedback. Um, and any suggestions for webinars for the future that might be helpful to you. Um! Our next webinar will be in early 2023, and thank you all audience as well as Steve, for tonight. It's been fabulous, and that's it. Good night.

Other RACGP online events

Originally recorded:

14 September 2022

The webinar will help you develop strategies for successfully publishing your research, by embracing the following key points:
  • Publication is a rewarding but hard-earned experience!
  • Publication strategy planning is best started at the beginning of the research program
  • The pathway to successful publication is a complex process that is best achieved with formal process training

Learning outcomes

  1. To understand the key steps for moving your research to successful publication
  2. To be able to develop a publication plan for your research program
  3. To understand how to navigate your submission through journal processes
This event attracts 2 CPD points

This event attracts 2 CPD points

This event is part of GP research webinar series 2020-2022. Events in this series are:


Gail Roberts
RACGP Research and Ethics Senior Project Officer

Gail Roberts is the RACGP Research and Ethics Senior Project Officer and coordinates the RACGP Ethics Committee (NREEC). Gail has worked as a tertiary health and legal researcher, tertiary educator, research consultant, as well as a senior health policy advisor to the Victorian state and Commonwealth governments. She was also a Divisions Consultant with the Victorian state-based organisation, (then) GPDV, and the inaugural Victorian PHCRED Partnership State Coordinator.


Professor Stephen Margolis
Editor in Chief of the Australian Journal of General Practice

Prof Stephen Margolis OAM is the Editor in Chief of the Australian Journal of General Practice following an extended international career in medical research. He is also a member of the RACGP Expert Committee- Research that initiated this RACGP research webinar series. His clinical practice at the Royal Flying Doctor Service encompassed primary and secondary health care for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People as well as rural & remote medicine.


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