Monthly Archives: December 2013

Publish (by the rules) or Perish!

Planning to write a research paper? Make sure you read the journal rules first!

So says Margaret Cargill, whose workshop on ‘Publishing your research’ I attended in November as part of the Society for Experimental Biology’s career masterclass series. Even before you start writing you need to consider which journal you plan to target. This will determine the structure and style of the paper, it will influence the way in which your data are presented, and even the format of your references. So, to avoid a lot of re-working of your paper, or instant rejection by the editor, you can save time and avoid disappointment by paying attention to the aims and scope of the journal, as well as adhering closely to the author guidelines. Choosing a journal may depend on a number of factors, including the importance of your paper’s contribution to the field, the journal’s impact factor and scope. If you aim too high you could be rejected, which will delay publication, so make sure you target your paper well. Reading the ‘Instructions to Authors’ guidelines, usually readily available on the journal website, is highly recommended!

Margaret’s workshop, in which we deconstructed and analysed a variety of journal papers, was a real eye-opener. Did you know there are four main journal structures? See the Figure opposite. Take a look at journals where you’re considering submitting a paper and see which structure they adhere to.

Ø  AIMRaD – the one most commonly used in bioscience journal papers. The paper starts with an Abstract, followed by Introduction, Methods, Results and Discussion. The width of the each section indicates where you should focus on the breadth of the field and where you should focus on specifics. For example, the Introduction should start with a broad review of the current knowledge of this research field, focussing down towards the end to introduce the aim of your study and the significance of its contribution to the field.
Ø  AIRDaM – this is more commonly used in molecular and chemistry journals.
Ø  AIM[RaD]xC – with a combined Results and Discussion section.
Ø  AIBC – commonly used in mathematical/theoretical journals. The paper starts with the Abstract and Introduction followed by the Body of the paper containing subheadings you choose based on the content of the paper and a Conclusion section at the end. 
Another excellent piece of advice for preparing your paper for publication is to consider the journal referee review form. How will they assess its suitability for publication? For example:
Ø  Is the contribution new?
Ø  Is it significant?
Ø  Do the results support the conclusions drawn?
Ø  Is the paper too lengthy?
Ø  Are all the tables and figures necessary?
Ø  Are the references up to date?
Not all editors and reviewers will read a paper from start to finish in the first instance. They are more likely to skim read it to start with until they decide it is worth a closer look. Margaret presented the results of a recent survey which showed that only 50% of journal editors read the Methods section ‘in place’, with 21% reading it earlier and 29% reading it later. Therefore, this section must be understandable in its own right, without the presumption that the Introduction has already been read. There should be clear links between sections to cater for readers reading in many different orders.
Further Information
Unfortunately, it’s impossible to impart all the invaluable insights and advice Margaret provided during her one-day workshop. This included further detail on effective ways to write each of the sections of the paper, how to write a covering letter, nominating referees, how to deal with reviewers comments and to respond to the editor’s decision letter. However, if you scroll down to ‘Further Reading – Communication’ on my Career Resources website you will find book references to help you find out more, as well as a link to Margaret’s website.
Good luck with your writing and, remember, nothing can beat experience. Read published papers and pay careful attention to the way they’ve been written. Find a good mentor (maybe your supervisor or a more experienced colleague) to help you to learn and hone your academic writing skills in this quite unique and critical area of your research experience.

Blogging: the long and the short of it

Image credit: Pete Simon, Flickr

The following article first appeared in Funding Insight on December 3, 2013 and is reproduced with kind permission of Research Professional. For more articles like this visit

I’m always slightly incredulous when I run career workshops for researchers and discover that only 5 per cent of the participants are using social media. Having been around when email came into common use in the early 1990s, it would have been hard to find a single PhD student or postdoc, five years on, avoiding this new communication revolution in favour of posting letters and phoning.

Access to a global network of information, opinion and jobs relevant to a huge range of disciplines, personal interests and careers is just one of the reasons to sign up to social media. More significantly for researchers, I recently heard a professor say in a practice interview session that he wouldn’t consider researchers seriously if they weren’t on ResearchGate or a similar social network such as Mendeley. 

So you can see how potentially detrimental it could be to your career if you continue to avoid getting on with social media.


The Society for Experimental Biology’s recent career master class series included a one-day workshop entitled Social media – communicating your way to a successful career. Well known for her social-media expertise, tutor Anne Osterrieder delivered a highly interactive and engaging workshop aimed at showing researchers the value of social media.
During her workshop, Anne described the wide variety of social-media platforms available, reassuring participants that they need not engage in everything, since this would be overwhelming and too time-consuming. Instead, she walked us through the social media ‘building blocks’, demonstrating which types might suit particular interests and purposes.
Tuned in
This is where I discovered social media sites for specific purposes such as Soundcloudfor audio, Vimeofor video and Imgurfor photos. The nature of your research will determine the social media that you choose to engage with. For example, does it generate lots of interesting images? Does the discipline lend itself well to public interest?
Equally, factors such as how confident you are to write about your research or express an opinion to a global audience, how often you will realistically be able to update your site, and whether you are looking to promote yourself to potential new employers will all (and more) determine how best to take part in social media to your advantage.
There are four things to take into consideration before you decide what to do.

· Breadth vs depth: Do you want to write about your discipline, your research area or a specific project?
· Focus: Will you present concepts or actual data?
· Access: Will you present published or unpublished research?
· Issues: Intellectual property, copyright, collaborative research, peer review.

Commit yourself
After the morning’s introductory session on the range of social media out there – while acknowledging that within a few years some of them may have disappeared, supplanted by as yet unimagined new ones – Anne moved on to blogging. This social medium has been around since the late 1990s and is usually a commentary on a particular topic by a single author, or sometimes multi-authored. Anne’s own blog, Plant Cell Biology, is a great example of a bright and informative site, and there are many more covering all sorts of topics from policy and careers to personal diaries.

Commitment is required if you decide to set up a blog. Questions to ask yourself include
· Do I have enough to say over a sustained period of time?
· Do I feel confident to talk about this subject?
· Do I have enough time to write 700-1,000 words every few weeks?
· Who is my audience?
However, if you don’t feel ready to devote the time and effort required, you may prefer to try your hand at micro-blogging.
Blog “light”
Micro-blogging will take up much less of your time and in many cases, you can be relatively passive and still benefit from an online presence. This is when I discovered that Tweeting could be considered to be ‘micro-blogging’. Anne believes Twitter is the best example of micro-blogging, allowing you to blog in just 140 characters, amplifying your message with links to other sites or images.
Tweeting also allows you to hear what others have to say on subjects that are of interest to you, as well as linking you to people with whom you would never normally be able to communicate. You can use Twitter and other people’s Facebook sites to make sure as many people as possible see your messages, especially if you have spent time writing a great blog.
Another micro-blog, LinkedIn,connects you with professionals and employers in readiness for your next career transition. These networks are highly diplomatic enabling you to access organisations and personalities that previously would have been outside of your sphere of influence.
Virtual you
As you engage with social media you will find yourself building an online identity. This needs to be consistent and portray you professionally. Whichever platform you are using, make sure that you have completed the majority of the ‘profile requirements’. For example, always use a picture of yourself which shows you at your best (especially on the professional LinkedIn site) and always add an informative profile— you can look around at others to get ideas.
Social media is a great way for you to communicate your way to a successful career. Just bear in mind Anne’s parting warning: Whatever you put on social media can be seen by your boss, your family and your competitors.
Anne Osterrieder is a research and science communication fellow at Oxford Brookes University and tweets on @AnneOsterrieder.