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Discover How To Publish in High-Ranking Journals With Barbara Cheifet

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Barbara Cheifet, chief editor at Nature Biotechnology, is responsible for reading and reviewing submitted manuscripts across a range of fields, including epigenomics, single-cell biology, and plant biotechnology. She also corresponds with reviewers and makes decisions on publications for the journal.

Technology Networks invited Barbara to an Ask Me Anything session to answer your questions about the publishing process and how to publish in high-ranking journals. These are just some of the questions that we asked Barbara, click below to watch the full AMA.

Lucy Lawrence (LL): What is the biggest challenge when trying to publish in high-impact journals?

Barbara Cheifet (BC): The hardest part is getting your paper peer-reviewed because reviewers have limited time to review papers. We have to acknowledge that they may be busy, which can make it difficult to get reviews back on time. Because of this, journals have to be very strict about what they send out for review. We set a very high threshold for sending a paper for peer-review. For some of the highest-impact journals, the rejection rate at submission can be around 90%. But of the ones that we do send for review, we hope that the majority will be published. 

LL: How do you know if your research is right for a top-tier journal?

BC: It can be hard to know the best journal for your work. There is a lot to consider when you go to submit your article. Firstly, it is important to think about the audience of a particular journal. For instance, Nature Biotech has a very specific audience. It’s aimed at biotechnology researchers but also includes people involved in start-up businesses or the biotechnology industry. Nature Biotech is a great fit if your research is relevant to that audience. However, if the work is focused on fundamental biology or plant research, for example, there will be other specific journals for those communities. The second thing to consider is the existing content that a journal has already published. This can give you an idea of the type of work that you need to include, such as how much follow-up or validation is needed, whether there are any requirements for clinical or pre-clinical work, or if you need large-scale models.

Looking at similar research that the journal has published can help you understand the scope of the work that is required.

This can tell you whether your work will be enough to be considered high-impact research.

LL: Are there any specific writing techniques or styles that high-ranking journals prefer to see in submissions?

BC: We don’t have any writing style preferences, but each journal will have its own formatting style that it will use when publishing. You will find that when your article is accepted, an editor’s job is to change the title and the abstract to fit the journal style. This ends up happening for the majority of papers and, unfortunately, this isn’t usually negotiable. Journals want to use their own style when it comes to framing your research, they want to make sure that nothing is oversold or exaggerated. For example, the journal will want to include the highest impact part of the work at the beginning of the title, then follow that with the specific method that was used. That is part of our job as editors, we don’t expect a perfect title or abstract. In terms of formatting, we aren’t as interested in what your paper looks like when you submit it. The main goal should be that the work is readable and that the science is clear, consistent and accurate.

LL: What are the characteristics that make a research paper stand out to journal editors?

BC: Every type of work is different, and it is a tough question to answer because it depends on the field that you are talking about. For a technology-based journal, like Nature Biotech, we are looking first at the technology itself.

If you are presenting an innovative technology that has never been demonstrated before, that will catch our eye first.

Then, we will look at how you apply that technology. Alternatively, you could be using an existing technology and applying it to generate unique and original results. It does vary depending on the field, but in general, a good, well-written abstract can also go a long way to getting an editor's attention. Likewise, you will want to place your work in the context of the wider field, so that it’s clear to the editor why it’s important.

LL: What is the process of submission like for a high-impact journal like Nature?

BC: Each journal will have their own submission process set up through their website. Generally, you would need to attach the manuscript file, figures and supplemental information that you have. You will then have to enter the author's information and correspondence details. Then, you can attach a cover letter to the submission, which is very important don’t forget to write a cover letter and include it when you submit. Once everything is submitted, that information is given to an editor who will then review the submission and make sure that it contains everything that is needed.

LL: Does timing affect acceptance rates for submissions, is there an ideal time of year to submit a manuscript?

BC: The time of year has no impact on acceptance rates. Your paper will go through the same process no matter when you submit your work. However, if you want the review process to be done quickly, there are some times of the year that I would discourage you from submitting. For instance, it is very difficult to get reviewers to agree to review a manuscript around the Christmas period. It is also very difficult to get reviewers in August, when a large portion of Europe has its holiday season. We have many reviewers who are based in Asia or the US who can be used during that time period, but if you submit during that time, there is still a risk there will be a delay in getting reviews back.

Barbara Cheifet was speaking to Lucy Lawrence, Senior Digital Producer & Editor for Technology Networks.

About the interviewee

Barbara completed her PhD in Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology at Yale University. She then spent 7 years at Genome Biology, including 4 years as Chief Editor, before joining Nature Biotechnology at the beginning of 2022, where she has become Chief Editor.