Step-by-step guide to publication strategy
Most of this book does not follow a step-by-step approach because each publication will raise fresh issues and readers have different needs. If you already have questions or problems I suggest you use the A to Z section to find the information you need, but if you want a general overview the following steps are designed to help you navigate around the book and reflect the stages common to most research publications. Bold print indicates an entry in the A to Z section, which you should consult if you do not understand the term or want more detail.
Identify the key message. (What do you want the publication to say?) For example, your findings show that Tumorzap increases life expectancy in patients with advanced cancer. That is your key message. Remember that a message needs a verb (i.e. an action word, in this case ‘increases’). A statement, without a verb, such as ‘The efficacy of Tumorzap in advanced cancer’, is not a message.
Identify the target audience(s) . (Who might be interested in your message?) The primary audience for this study would be oncologists, with a secondary audience of haematologists.
Finalise the authors and writing group for this publication. Ideally, you will have agreed some ground rules for authorship at the start of the study. The writing group may also include a professional writer who is usually not an author.
Agree responsibilities for preparing and reviewing the publication. Remember that more people than just the authors will probably need to review the publication before submission. For example, you may need sign-off from the research sponsor or approval from a head of department.
Agree the target journal and a second target in case your paper is rejected by the first. See journal choice for more details.
Agree a timetable and a list of responsibilities. (Who will do what?) Send these to all the key people.
Prepare an outline . This is especially helpful if several people are drafting different sections or if the paper is being prepared by a professional writer who is not an author. All authors should get a chance to comment on the outline and it is helpful to arrange a meeting or phone conference to allow discussion on this. Discussing the outline will save time and avoid disagreements later.
Prepare the first draft. There are plenty of books about writing but most start 4from this stage. For successful, and pain-free, publishing, you also need to pay attention to steps 1 to 7.
At the same time:
gather authors’ comments, circulate them and prepare subsequent drafts. This process continues until you reach consensus. While you might feel exhilarated and excited when you prepare the first draft, you will almost certainly experience other times when you feel fed up, frustrated and demotivated. Resolving petty disagreements between co-authors or doing tedious jobs like organising references is never much fun, but keep your publication goal in mind. Although word processing and e-mail have revolutionised the process of circulating drafts, collating comments and redrafting papers, the disadvantage of electronic communication is that you may rarely speak to, let alone actually see, your co-authors. Picking up the telephone or having a face-to-face meeting may lift your spirits and renew your energy. It is also often the quickest way to resolve minor differences over wording and definitely preferable to endless e-mail ‘ping-pong’. If at all possible, plan at least two meetings of the writing group: the first to discuss the data and agree the overall strategy (key message, target audience, etc.), the second to agree the final draft just before submission.
consult (internal review). This goes on in parallel with the tasks in the previous bullet point. Who you need to consult depends on the nature of the research and how it was organised and funded. It also depends on the skills of the author(s) and writing group. Consider showing drafts to the following people.
Prepare the submission package. Draft the covering letter and make sure you have gathered everything you need for submission. This might include (depending on the journal):
copyright transfer form
signed declarations of authorship
signed statements from everyone listed in the acknowledgements section
5statements on competing interest
permissions to reproduce figures.