Choose your target early

July 1, 2009 at 9:15 am Leave a comment

post-it maniaWhen you’re feeling pressure to write a paper quickly, it can be very tempting to start typing before thinking much about the journal you’ll be submitting to. I’d urge you, however, to do at least some investigating and narrowing of your options before diving into writing. Why? Having a clear idea of your target journal can save a lot of time: in revising text, reformatting (especially the references), cutting words and – most time consuming of all – dealing with rejection because your paper didn’t fit within a journal’s scope.

Luckily, it’s not too hard to discover what specific journals want. They all have detailed instructions to authors on their websites that cover everything from the audience to word limits. And another way to glean this information, of course, is to read the abstracts or full text of several recent papers.

As an example of what I’m talking about, consider these excerpts from the websites of three journals that accept manuscripts in computational biology:

PLoS Biology features works of exceptional significance, originality, and relevance in all areas of biological science, from molecules to ecosystems, including works at the interface of other disciplines, such as chemistry, medicine, and mathematics. Our audience is the international scientific community as well as educators, policy makers, patient advocacy groups, and interested members of the public around the world.

Molecular Biology and Evolution welcomes manuscripts reporting both empirical and theoretical work, as well as significant new statistical and computational methods. All work must have a solid biological basis…MBE will only publish work focused on taxonomy and systematics or descriptive studies of genetic diversity and population structure, if they are of interest and relevance to a broad audience.

Bioinformatics provides a forum for the exchange of information in the fields of computational molecular biology and post-genome bioinformatics, with emphasis on the documentation of new algorithms and databases that allows the progress of bioinformatics and biomedical research in a significant manner.

What I can deduce immediately is that PLoS Biology looks for research of the broadest possible significance; Molecular Biology and Evolution also strongly emphasizes biological relevance but perhaps isn’t trying to reach quite as wide an audience as PLoS Biology; while papers submitted to Bioinformatics can – and possibly should – focus more on methods. In other words, although each journal accepts computational biology manuscripts, they all have different audiences and emphases that you need to pay attention to when writing. This is especially true when you’re setting up for readers the larger context for your work – why it’s important and what your findings mean.

That’s not to say you should inflate the importance of your results in an effort to please a certain journal. What you should do, though, is identify your audience ahead of time (both the journal editors and the scientists/readers they represent), and then think about how to best reach them.


Entry filed under: Audience, Getting started, What journals say.

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