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After making a presubmission inquiry to a journal with a high impact factor (NEJM), I received a reply that a Research Letter could possibly be considered for publication.

I am not familiar with Letters, my question is should I try to publish a Letter in a prestigious journal, or should I aim for an ordinary research article in a normally prestigious journal, such as BMJ or similar?

I am a postdoc and I want the most bang for my efforts, but I am not sure if a Letter in a prestigious journal counts heavier than an ordinary research article in a normally prestigious journal?

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  • Could you clarify, did the editors recommend you submit a letter to the editor about the work? They are not really true research articles, being <=400 words and 1 figure or table. They're typically used for commentary or highlighting particularly timely results rather than full research reports. As Clark mentioned, assuming your work has more detail than would be covered in the letter you would likely be able to submit a full article to another journal (appropriately referenced), even if the novelty is slightly reduced by the Letter. Jul 29, 2021 at 9:23
  • Yes, part of the response reads "It sounds interesting and we would be interested in a Research Letter." <400 words, five references and single table or fig. Given that the results will be the same in the Letter as well as in the full report, I doubt I can make a double publication.
    – pha
    Jul 29, 2021 at 9:28
  • This probably depends on your research. Do you just have a single result which will be fully expressed in the Letter? If so, then a second publication wouldn't be possible. But if your research has additional supporting data developing the underlying hypothesis, validation in other endpoints etc, then a second publication may work. This can include the NEJM-published results, formatted and cited correctly - this is not uncommon for the outputs of large projects. Some high-IF journals may be slightly put off by a perceived reduction in novelty, but the NEJM approval may offset that. Jul 29, 2021 at 10:07

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This is a good question, pha. The answer is "it depends."

If the Research Letter is peer-reviewed, I would suggested trying to publish in NEJM. I checked NEJM's website and didn't see a listing about how they do peer review.

If the Research Letter is not peer-reviewed, then I would try for a typical research article in one of the other journals you mentioned.

Whether the work is peer-reviewed speaks to the scrutiny given to the work, and is evaluated as a higher bar on search committees or other evaluative bodies.

I would suggest a third option, which is to publish both a Research Letter and a typical research article if possible – the former in NEJM and the latter in another journal. Again, I'm uncertain of the scope of a Research Letter (NEJM in my search didn't list this as an option), but letters are generally scholarly commentaries rather than reports of original research, so the duplicate publication concerns shouldn't apply.

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  • Thanks for your answer. NEJM Research Letters are peer reviewed but obviously not as rigorous as full reports. As to the third option: given that the results would be the same in both publications, I doubt that the journal that would consider the full report would find any reason to publish? Many journals require that the data has not been published beforehand, other than in Poster sessions.
    – pha
    Jul 29, 2021 at 9:33
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The New England Journal of Medicine seems to publish two kinds of material under the general submission rubric of “Letter” or “Correspondence”—critical comments about articles published previously in the New England Journal of Medicine (including original research, perspectives, and commentaries) and “research letters,” which report original data about topics that are “timely.” An example of the first type of “Correspondence” (critical comment) is here.

Comment about a publication in the NEJM. https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMc2107926

Following are selected examples of data published in the “Correspondence” section of the New England Journal of Medicine about COVID-19 over the last 18 months and the number of citations to the Correspondence (AKA Research Letter) through July 29, 2021. All three examples are about COVID-19/SARS-CoV-2 because only this correspondence is reliably available online in full-text form for free.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7121177/

Lu X, Zhang L, Du H, et al. SARS-CoV-2 Infection in Children. N Engl J Med. 2020;382(17):1663-1665. doi:10.1056/NEJMc2005073

This March 18, 2020 research letter had 804 PMC citations on July 29, 2021.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7304421/

Solomon IH, Normandin E, Bhattacharyya S, et al. Neuropathological Features of Covid-19. N Engl J Med. 2020;383(10):989-992. doi:10.1056/NEJMc2019373

This June 12, 2020 research letter had 222 PMC citations on July 29, 2021.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7727324/

Widge AT, Rouphael NG, Jackson LA, et al. Durability of Responses after SARS-CoV-2 mRNA-1273 Vaccination. N Engl J Med. 2021;384(1):80-82. doi:10.1056/NEJMc2032195

This December 3, 2020 research letter had 134 PMC citations on July 29, 2021.

Information about the citation history of these three research letters shows the potential impact of even a short publication in the New England Journal of Medicine.

OTHER PUBLICATION OF SAME MATERIAL FOR THREE RESEARCH LETTERS

This is clearly a small (very small) sample. But, for the first two research letter publications (Lu, Zhang, Du, et al. and Solomon), no subsequent publication reporting the same data could be identified (as of July 29, 2021). For the third research letter (Widge et al.), a second research letter with different co-authors but based on the same 34 (or 33) subjects in an on-going follow-up of antibody responses in people vaccinated with the mRNA-1273 vaccine (Moderna) was published in the New England Journal of Medicine June, 2021.

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33822494/

Doria-Rose N, Suthar MS, Makowski M, et al. Antibody Persistence through 6 Months after the Second Dose of mRNA-1273 Vaccine for Covid-19. N Engl J Med. 2021;384:2259-2261. doi: 10.1056/NEJMc2103916. Epub 2021 Apr 6. PMID: 33822494.

Using Doria-Rose et al. as an example of publishing longer term follow-up of subjects in an existing study in the same journal (here, the New England Journal of Medicine), the practice if "publishing more about the same people" is clearly acceptable to the editors of this journal. Whether publishing the longer-term follow-up in another journal would be considered a breach of publication ethics is unclear.

Also, considering these examples, publishing a follow-up “full” paper for a Research Letter is not (small sample) universal.

INTERNATIONAL COMMITTEE OF MEDICAL JOURNAL EDITORS (ICMJE)

Historically, in medical journals, publication of exactly the same data in another publication would be considered to be duplicate publication and has been generally discouraged/frowned upon. Simultaneous submission of exactly the same manuscript to two different publications without disclosure (see below) is prohibited.

The International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE) provides detailed guidance on the topic of “overlapping publication” for variety of situations.

http://www.icmje.org/recommendations/browse/publishing-and-editorial-issues/overlapping-publications.html

Pertinent to your question regarding submission of a research letter to the New England Journal of Medicine with a plan to submit a “full manuscript” to another journal, the ICMJE states:

“When authors submit a manuscript reporting work that has already been reported in large part in a published article or is contained in or closely related to another paper that has been submitted or accepted for publication elsewhere, the letter of submission should clearly say so and the authors should provide copies of the related material to help the editor decide how to handle the submission.”

A sequential publication might be justified best in cases where the “full manuscript” based on the same subjects with the same general findings includes more (and important) methodologic detail, more detailed results, a more comprehensive review of the pertinent literature (5 references is not a lot), and an expanded discussion of the implications of the findings and limitations of the data. If the methodologic detail and the literature synthesis will support future work, the plan for an expanded manuscript and a "new" publication find further justification (to the science community and to journal editors).

Questions of copyright may come in to play, especially in publications that involve Figures and photographs. If a subsequent publication is submitted, pay attention to copyright issues.

BOTTOM LINE (OPINION)

Bottom line (this is an opinion). A nice result that can be conveyed clearly in the Research Letter format gets a lot of mileage when published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Consider carefully what you (and the world) gain (or lose) by publishing "the same thing" someplace else. Will readers be "confused" by having two publications about "the same thing?" Will readers think the publications are (prohibited) duplicate publications? How much time will the second publication (submission) take from other work?

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  • Thank you for putting so much time into this. Excellent reasoning. I think NEJM will be my first choice.
    – pha
    Jul 29, 2021 at 23:11
  • @pha Good luck. If NEJM doesn't take it, you can always submit elsewhere. They are likely to make a quick decision. Jul 30, 2021 at 15:16

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