Tips to prepare a scientific manuscript that gets published

Recently, I gave a webinar on publishing a scientific manuscript for the American Medical Writers Association (AMWA). [An archived version of the webinar is located AMWA On Demand Webinars.] In the webinar, I reviewed topics including selecting a compatible journal, online resources for literature searches, and writing strategy.

Following the webinar, there was a Q&A session in which I was asked some great questions by the audience. Here is a condensed version of the questions and my answers from the webinar on publishing a scientific manuscript:

How do you word an acknowledgment to a medical writer who has searched the literature, prepared an outline, and prepared a first draft?

I would suggest including a statement in the Acknowledgements section of the manuscript such as “The authors wish to thank Agnella Izzo Matic, AIM Biomedical LLC, for her assistance reviewing the literature and drafting the manuscript.”

Is it OK to repeat wording from a Methods section verbatim?

The literature on plagiarism pretty clearly puts this practice into the category of self-plagiarism. From his lengthy paper on plagiarism, Michael Roig indicates that “recycling sections of a complex method section from a previously published paper” falls into the category of borderline/unacceptable text recycling. In addition to the concept of plagiarism, this practice may also run afoul of copyright laws.

It is certainly not an uncommon practice and I don’t think it is the most egregious publication misconduct. However, you can avoid this practice with two easy fixes. First, cite the previous literature where the methods were published, and then describe the methods briefly in the current paper by condensing or paraphrasing the original instance.

How important is the word limit to selecting a journal? Are there any tools to use?

Word limit doesn’t seem to be the most important factor when selecting a journal. Within a particular journal, there are usually different types of articles that have different word counts, so I think you could find something to suit most types of manuscripts at any journal. As far as I’m aware, there are no resources other than the individual journal websites that provide that information.

Where can I find information about journal acceptance rates?

The journal website may list this information. Sometimes the journal publishes an editorial in which they discuss the number of manuscripts submitted, reviewed, and published. Several websites contain information about journals, including acceptance rate (Eigenfactor, JANE, JournalGuide, Journal Finder, and PubsHub). And, if you can’t find the information there, you can always email somebody at the journal to request this information.

For project billing, if the manuscript is not published, will final payment will not be received?

I would strongly suggest NOT agreeing to terms that hinge the final payment on the paper being published. There are so many factors other than a medical writer’s involvement that can affect whether a paper gets published or not. I usually send the final bill once the manuscript is approved by my client. In my contracts, my definition is that the manuscript is approved after 2 weeks on my client’s desk or after verbal/written notice from my client, whichever comes first.

What fee ranges are typical?

It really depends on the type of publication, how much leg work the client has done, and the timeline for delivering the document. In the webinar, I mentioned that it typically takes 60-100 hours of work on a manuscript for a clinical study and a medical writer will need to be compensated accordingly for the estimated time it will take for any particular project.

If you have any other questions about the webinar or the information listed here, please let me know. I would love to hear from you.