How can institutions help researchers navigate the publication process?

By: Laura Graham-Clare, Tue Jun 14 2022
Laura Graham-Clare

Author: Laura Graham-Clare

Publication is a key part of both a researcher’s career development and the way the impact of a research institution is measured. Unfortunately, researchers aren’t always aware of how to give their research the best chance of being accepted by their chosen journal, or the issues that might lead to delays in the publication process. However, as Springer Nature’s new white paper ‘Research, Publication and Beyond’ shows, many of the most common pitfalls could easily be avoided with the right tools or training. The white paper brings together an analysis of journal rejections with the results of different surveys into researchers’ training needs. Learn more about the rejection analysis below, and for more information download the full white paper

The importance of publishing to a researcher’s career development is widely recognized. Independent research undertaken for Springer Nature on researcher priorities in professional development has found 93% considered ‘Scientific writing and publishing’ an extremely or very important skill (n=1,332, March-April 2021). Publication cannot be guaranteed, however, authors can give themselves the best chance of timely acceptance by avoiding some of the most common causes of delays or rejection. 

What causes a scientific article to be delayed or rejected?

The quality control emails and statements from editorial board members of the open access multidisciplinary journal Scientific Reports were analysed for 8,553 rejected manuscripts (Jan-Jun 2020), with each manuscript potentially having multiple rejection classifications. ‘Not scientifically sound’ was the most commonly stated problem at the editorial review stage and the pre-review stage (a subset of the editorial review stage), but a significant proportion of the other problems could be easily dealt with.

One of the most common reasons contributing to a paper being rejected at the quality control stage of the submission process was simply that it was ‘Out of scope’ of the journal. This accounted for 30% of the problems identified at that stage of the peer-review process. 

‘Language, presentation and structure’ were also issues that could delay publication or make acceptance less likely. It accounted for 12% of the reasons given that authors’ articles were not accepted at the editorial review stage, and 19% of the reasons at the pre-review stage.

Different journals will each have proportionally different reasons for manuscript rejection, and there is no guarantee that removing one rejection reason will impact an institution’s acceptance rate, but these problems can contribute to delaying acceptance or making it less likely. 

How can researchers speed up the process?

Quality peer review will always take time as editors work to ensure that research falls within the scope of the journal, is factual, and is clearly presented. However, researchers can help ensure the process is as quick as possible from training and tools to help them plan and write their papers, and help them identify and match the needs of their chosen journal. 

While the analysis didn’t consider the relationships between the different reasons, it can be seen how one problem can exacerbate another. If an article is ‘Out of scope’ of the journal to which it is originally submitted the researcher is not only likely to require time to reformat the article for the more appropriate journal it is to be submitted to, but may also need to tailor the content to the new journal’s domain.

How can institutions help?

Researchers recognize their training needs and they are looking to their institutions for more support. The same survey which found that 93% considered ‘Scientific writing and publishing’ an extremely or very important skill also found that 79% felt that they would benefit from training in it (n=1,332, March-April 2021). While a survey of researcher professional development needs (n=427, August 2021) found that 82% wanted their institution to provide them with more professional development opportunities.

Springer Nature has been developing a range of tools and services that can help institutions to provide researchers with the skills that they need to successfully navigate the publishing process. In a survey of attendees of Nature Research Academies workshops, 83% of respondents had written and submitted a manuscript since attending. Of these 95% felt that attending the workshop had helped them to publish their manuscript, with 48% publishing in a higher impact journal than normal. 

Publication can never be guaranteed, but with the right training, tools and services, institutions can help researchers better navigate the publication process. Programs like Nature Masterclasses can offer live and on-demand training to improve the professional development of your researchers.

You can read more about the reasons journal articles can take longer to be accepted, along with researcher’s training needs and the support that they require, in the new white paper ‘Research, Publication and Beyond: the support researchers are asking for’.

Laura Graham-Clare

Author: Laura Graham-Clare

Laura Graham-Clare is Head of Community Content, based in London. Working between our publishing, sales and marketing teams, she is focused on thought leadership trends, content creation, and developing insights and information resources for staff, librarians, researchers and information professionals.