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I am starting a post-doc in Cognitive Neuroscience and I am interested in publishing my work in high impact journals (e.g., Nature, Science, Behavioral and Brain Science). I have already published review articles in not-so-high impact journals, and I would like to know your thoughts and tips for publishing in high-impact journals. I will be responsible for submitting these papers to these journals and I will be seeing them through to the end. Ay helpful advice and tips would be greatly appreciated!

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    Do you mean Science-Nature or more regular journals with high impact factors? depending on which the answer may differ. – Peter Jansson Jan 13 '14 at 18:17
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    Also some hint on which research field we are talking about would be great. – Benedikt Bauer Jan 13 '14 at 18:19
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    Do excellent science [that is interesting to a broad audience]. – user10782 Jan 13 '14 at 18:49
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    If your postdoc contract specifically asks you to publish in Nature and Science -- good luck. – xLeitix Jan 14 '14 at 7:50
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    Sad, dishonest, but important to know about in this context: Check a recent Science article on how to fast-track to publications in reasonably good journals (Science 29 November 2013: Vol. 342 no. 6162 pp. 1035-1039). TL;DR: money buys it for you! – walkmanyi Jan 16 '14 at 10:34
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High impact journals, or in other word, top ranked journals (based on IF) are those publishing the state-of-the-art research works with high percentage of novelty and originality. In my own opinion following tips are very important in getting into the high impact journals:

  • Select a real challenging problem whose solution/amendment significantly impacts on the domain.
  • Formulate the problem (using mathematical modeling, visualization, or empirical experiment depending on the domain) and let peers/reviewers see the significance of the problem.
  • Propose a solution with high degree of novelty in a way that has not been undertaken before for the same problem.
  • Throughout the research try to follow the conventions of research in your domain in the highest possible level, especially when it comes to evaluation and validation of your work.
  • In data collection phase, try to follow the most appropriate approaches and use accurate tools to measure/quantify. Maybe looking at similar papers can help you in this.
  • Avoid silly mistakes. Usually reviewers do not expect to see silly mistakes in the work. If you make small obvious mistakes, how can reviewers ensure the rest of your work is error-free.
  • Show high level of confidence in understanding and expertise over the domain. If you need to review related works in your paper, try to select those closely related to your work; not any work.
  • Present your work nicely. Avoid English errors (no grammar and no spelling). Use professional drawing tools to draw high quality figures, draw nice tables, use proper sizing for objects in the paper, not too big, not to small.
  • There is an approach by some young authors that leave some works to be done in revisions stage, which is not correct to me. Don't send incomplete work to any high quality journal. There will hardly be any chance to correct mistakes. The review is more to evaluate the significance of the work, the novelty, relevance to the journal, and research practice presented in the paper. Reviewers are not English proof reader and their job is not to correct you.

There may be lot more tips that I will compile as I noticed. Hope it works.

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Others have asked and tried to answer this question before. Here is an ad-hoc list of resources relevant to your question, both print and online.

  • Sternberg, R. J. (Ed.). (2000). Guide to publishing in psychology journals. Cambridge University. (field: psychology)

  • Bem, D. J. (2003) Writing the empirical journal article. url. (field: psychology)

  • Roediger III, H. L. (2007). Twelve tips for authors. APS Observer, 20. url. (field: psychology)

  • King, G. (2006). Publication, publication. PS: Political Science & Politics, 39, 119-125. doi:10.1017/S1049096506060252 (field: political science)

  • Senturia, S. D. (2003). Guest editorial: How to avoid the reviewer's axe: One editor's view. Journal of Microelectromechanical Systems, 12, 229-232. doi:10.1109/JMEMS.2003.814319 (field: mechanics)

  • Manuscript review histories of the Journal of Consumer Research. One can track the whole review history of a couple of papers including the submissions, reviews, resubmissions, etc. (field: consumers)

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There is really nothing special that causes your paper to be accepted in a high-impact journal. If we start by looking at Science and Nature, they publish material more like a newspaper would than a scientific journal ( I am not saying it is without worth, they just have different criteria for their selection). The material needs to be extraordinary by, for example, being "sensational" in some way, by affecting many, or by causing a change in paradigm. It is really hard to design your research to obtain such results. They may be a result of good design but also luck. So if we disregard from results that fall into the science/nature categories and focus on more normal science output the following (adapted from Lichtfouse, 2013) will be the basis for high-impact publications:

  • Select your journal carefully
  • Be careful to follow the instructions for authors
  • Focus the article on one finding
  • Prepare one figure that shows or illustrates the main main finding
  • Explain your new finding in the abstract, the discussion AND the conclusions
  • Delete any irrelevant results or those that are not explained
  • Distinguish clearly between the results from your study and those of others
  • Include a good dose of education and dissemination
  • Read your article at least five times before submitting it
  • make sure your manuscript is written in good English

While this may look like generic advise, it is followed by so few that it will set your manuscript apart from the majority. Some of the points also involve serious work so it is perhaps a deceptively simple list.

Lichtfouse, E., 2013. Scientific writing for impact journals. Nova, New York.

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    really nothing special that causes your paper to be accepted, but I think you missed two most important things top quality journals are looking for. They are looking for a paper 1- reporting results of a research on the state-of-the-art domain, 2- addressing an original problem using a novel approach. As an example, I was attending a talk by an EiC of top 1 CS journal where he discouraged submission of papers on routing in MANET since this is not he trend and there are already very large number of articles in this domain. Top journals do not publish a 50's research for sure. – Espanta Jan 20 '14 at 11:44
  • Let me give you another example. I prepared two survey articles with identical theme. One on the state-of-the-art domain and another one on a 20-year old domain. The first one published in the journal with the highest impact factor and the second one got rejected from the 30th journal because the topic was old. Timeliness is VERY VERY much important. – Espanta Jan 20 '14 at 11:47
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If you are publishing in emerging fields where much research has not been done, you have good chance to get published, even though its not groundbreaking. First movers are always at an advantage. Just like patents.

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    Isn't publishing something interesting in an unexplored field the very definition of 'groundbreaking'? – xLeitix Jan 14 '14 at 7:49
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Well, if "super cool" ... There was a history when one laboratory has published a highly impressive discovery in a very reputable journal. Then they found a mistake in they experimental setup, and applied with another paper to the same journal, just to say the previous result is wrong. This was also accepted and now they have two publications in highly reputable journal ... for nothing.

But I believe this "trick" was not intentional and I am far from recommending it.

  • Then one found by a PhD student, right? Yes, that was cool. I believe, lack of further amendment, is what is missing in today's publication, at least in online-only versions. Publishers may look at this issue seriously. – Espanta May 25 '14 at 8:30
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1) Produce good science 2) Go to groups which already published in Science, Nature, etc.

Both conditions are necessary (especially the second).

Slots in journals with IF>10 are practically "inherited" (you can publish there sth if your PI already published there etc.) - thus you need be very selective in case of where you want to do PhD, postdoc.

In simple words, if you are independent scientist without publication record in Science, Nature, Cell, ... Editors will reject your manuscript in one day without reading it (you will get this nice courtesy letter, that your work is nice, but does not have wide impact ble ble). Sad, but true.

This is hard rule, I know only one exception in which one scientist broke it, but it is single case in the 20-year history of science in my country and it was celebrated almost as national holiday, but he was already established scientist, EMBO member etc).

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