Why should you choose a journal before writing a first draft?

In life it often pays to be prepared. For example, before going for a night out we check that we have enough cash to avoid embarrassment when trying to get drinks. This same level of preparation and preparedness is also essential when you are writing a manuscript for submission to a journal.

Each journal is different and may have different rules on how much you can write and how to structure your manuscript. This might limit the number of figures or references you can include, or request specific details be included in subsections. You may think that you can edit your manuscript to meet these guidelines at a late stage, but this can be hard. If you have cited 100 references and are allowed a maximum of 30 which should you cull?

Maybe you think that you do not need to abide by these rules and your work will be accepted whatever. I have found that this is often not the case. For example, if you submit a manuscript that is overly long the editor will send it back with a request to edit the word count down and resubmit. This is additional work and time that could be better spent moving the research forward or writing grant applications.

I would, therefore, advise you to select your target journal, having written an outline and before you write a first draft. This enables unconstrained creativity when developing the initial flow of the article and deciding what to include, but then allows a targeted approach after this, which can maximize your chance of being considered by your chosen journal. By selecting the journal after the outline you also have more information at your disposal about the proposed manuscript and can reject journals if they do not allow a particular aspect of your manuscript, possibly seven huge tables or a video.

So be prepared and increase your chances of success!

Why selecting the correct journal is important.

When I was doing research in Chemistry I thought that the work I was doing was highly important and sure to get published in the highest tier journals. However, now that I have been advising on journal selection for a while I can see that I, like many people, was most probably deluded. The work I was doing definitely added to the scientific body of knowledge but was not of world-changing importance. However, the potential impact of the work is not the only consideration when selecting a journal to submit a manuscript to. The main considerations are listed below:

What is the quality/impact of the work being reported?

This will allow you to select a journal with an appropriate impact level, however, other considerations will modify this.

What is the intended audience for the manuscript?

It is important that your peers working in the same area as you get to see your work and this can partly be managed by selecting a journal that is read by them

Where are your ideal audience located?

Different journals have different footprints and this may influence your decisions. A journal widely read in the West might be less popular in Asia.

Which journals have published similar work before?

If a journal is publishing on a particular topic it is more likely to want to publish again on that topic. There is the exception of reviews, where if a similar review has been published they are less likely to want to publish yours for fear of being repetitive.

What are the submission to publication lead times?

Do you need to publish rapidly or can you wait 6 months to have a citation?

What is the rejection rate?

This is often related to how the journal is rated in a particular field, with more people submitting and being rejected from high-tier journals. A low rejection rate might increase teh chance of acceptance.

Do the journal offer other advantages, for example open access or are they online only?

Open access can be very beneficial as your work will be available for a greater number of people to read. Online only journals are not constrained by physical size so can accept more articles.

Having selected a journal it is then essential to read the author guidelines to ensure that the journal will accept your type of submission, for example some journals will not accept unsolicited review articles. Furthermore, the word count and other requirements (e.g. number of figures or references) may mean that your manuscript is unsuitable.

It is important to research and think about journal choice, and by considering all of these points and your manuscript in a critical manner I feel you can increase your chance of being accepted for publication.

Why is brevity often important when writing science?

Often when we are writing about our work we want to wax lyrical about how important it is and provide as much detail as possible. However, I believe that this is often not the best way to get your worked published and achieve maximum impact.

Think back to the last few papers you read. How much of each one did you actually read? What bits were you actually interested in? Did you fully read the introduction and conclusions?

When I read a paper, unless it is a review, I am most interested in the hypothesis being tested. What was it? What was done to investigate it? Was the hypothesis proved or disproved? If it is long I will skim read the introduction as often what is included is repeated by many other manuscripts in the same area. For example, in diabetes I am already aware that it is a major global issue and that incidence is growing, as well as the general treatment approach. This filler that tries to make the work seem more important than it often is, is unnecessary and might make me judge your manuscript to be less good than it is.

That is why I suggest that you focus in on the immediate problem being addressed and if you want to say more, publish a separate review.

Whilst I wrote this I was listening to Back to Basics Vol. 1 by S.P.Y

Why is everything a story?

When we think about scientific and technical writing we generally do not think of the outcome as a story. Indeed, saying that it is a story might be considered by some people as an insult, as they consider stories to be made up and not based completely on fact. However, to me every time we communicate we are trying to tell a story. We are trying to convey ideas in a logical and step-wise manner, leading people through our considerations and thoughts and showing how we reached our conclusions.

To demonstrate my thinking I shall break down a manuscript into its constituent parts and highlight how this links to story telling.


This is you ‘hook’ into your research or review. Why are you asking these questions? What led you to make the decision to undertake this project? It generally ends with you hypothesis and ideally readers will be asking the same question as you at this point.

Methods and Results

These are the story of what you did to test your hypothesis and the data/results you obtained. Once again there should be a logical flow as to why you did the experiment based upon your hypothesis and how further experiments and analyses build upon this initial experiment.


This is the denouement of your story where you pull together everything you have learned from your research, together with what was known before and discuss what you have learned and how it affects thinking on the topic being researched. It may also include a cliffhanger where next steps are discussed.


Whilst I wrote this I was listening to Decade of Viper

What are the four types or reviewing?

In my thinking there are four main types of reviewing:

  • General review for story flow and sense
  • Copy edit
  • Proofread
  • Data check

Each of these is done for a specific reason and aims to potentially identify different issues with a piece of writing. However, they should not be thought of as exclusive activities. We might copy edit to some degree whilst undertaking a general review, or data check whilst proofreading. Nonetheless, it should be noted that if you are asked to do one type of review you should not undertake another without ensuring that the author of the piece is happy for you to do so. It can be distracting, as well as dispiriting, if lots of minor grammatical and spelling errors are pointed out when someone is expecting you to highlight major issues with story.

General review

This will check that the ‘story’ flows well and that everything makes sense. At this stage you will be ensuring that each argument builds upon a previous one and links to it, without anything being missed or detours being taken. To do this it is important that the objective of the piece of writing has been communicated to the reviewer as well as any issues that the author might be aware of that they want the reviewer to concentrate on. In order to provide the most useful review an understanding of what is being discussed is needed.

Copy edit

This is performed to check that sentences flow well and the most appropriate language is used to make it easy to both read and understand. This might include trimming the piece to make it more streamlined.


This should check that spelling and grammar are correct and that the document makes sense. It can also be a final check before publishing to ensure that typeset text is correct and that layout is appropriate.

Data check

This is exactly what you might think and should ensure that all references are appropriate and any data from analyses and study reports have been input correctly

Whilst writing this I was listening to Hyperdub 10.3.