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Just got a DM from a grad student asking how I approach journal submissions. This process is full of uncertainty. You can’t totally eliminate this uncertainty, but you can increase your chances by reducing this uncertainty as much as possible.

Here’s how I do this...

The first step is coming up with an idea for a paper in the first place. Get feedback on your idea as early as possible. In academia, you typically don’t get feedback until the review stage, and we all know how long this can take...
Three ways to get early and FAST feedback on your work are to tweet, blog, or preprint. If you’re worried that people are going to steal you ideas (and I think this risk is overblown) preprinting provides great scoop protection
Here’s an example from a recent preprint of mine
A legit criticism to this approach is that people won’t see your tweet/post/preprint. One solution is to directly contact people asking for comment. Sure, some will ignore you, but if you contact people you’re citing then they have a strong interest in checking your work...
I’ve had people contact me with a preprint I’ve missed. They said, “hey,
I cited your ideas, can you check we got this right?”. Of course, I made the time to check. To boot, they kindly acknowledged my comments.
When it comes to paper submission you want to reduce as much friction as possible. I’ve touched in this before regarding manuscript revisions, but the same rules apply for new submissions
Get the basic stuff right, read the submission rules carefully. Read your manuscript out loud to catch typos. Make your reviewer’s task as easy as possible by adding continuous line numbers and figures/table in the text
Spend a disproportionate amount of time getting your figures right. Everyone is time poor and people’s attention often go to figs first to get an overview of the paper. For professional-looking figures, check out @BioRender. I can’t believe *I* made these
Also spend a disproportionate amount of time on your abstract. Don’t oversell, but think carefully about how to best summarize your study. I always read abstracts *last* when reviewing but many make up their minds when reading abstracts first, unfortunately...
Reverse engineer your goals. If your goal is to get your paper into Fancy Journal X then you need to look at papers in that journal and then work backwards. Subscribe to the journal’s RSS feed to get a good idea of the sort of standard you need to reach
And before you say, “why target a Fancy Journal?”, the reality is that many people, especially ECRs, need this for their careers, so don’t @ me about this. Believe it or not, it’s possible to publish an open and reproducible paper in a Fancy Journal 😱
Whether you like it or not, cover letters are important so spend time on them
You can never reduce the uncertainty of publication to nil. I’m 0/4 for submissions to my “white whale” journal (which I’m about to try again, because I’m A MUG) but you can take these small steps to reduce this uncertainty.
If you’re into podcasts, check out my @startup_sci series, which covers lots of these ideas shows.pippa.io/startupscienti…
My DMs are open so feel free to ask questions and I’ll do my best to help
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