Want to get your ar­ti­cle in a jour­nal? Na­ture’s edi­tor has some ad­vice

How­ever you pitch an ar­ti­cle to a jour­nal edi­tor, make sure to tap into their pas­sion for the sub­ject, writes Na­ture edi­tor-in-chief Mag­dalena Skip­per

THE (Times Higher Education) - - CONTENTS - Mag­dalena Skip­per is the edi­torin-chief of Na­ture. She has pre­vi­ously served as an edi­tor of Na­ture Re­views Ge­net­ics and Na­ture Com­mu­ni­ca­tions.

Imag­ine you’re in the fi­nal year of post­doc­toral work. You’ve had a few projects on the go and your work is pro­gress­ing rather well, and now one of these projects is yield­ing es­pe­cially sat­is­fy­ing re­sults. You’re con­vinced that you have a par­tic­u­larly un­ex­pected and in­trigu­ing chap­ter to add to your re­search field.

You al­ready have the first draft of the man­u­script. It’s still rough, and your col­lab­o­ra­tors and lab fel­lows are now por­ing over the text and fig­ures. “What now?” you ask your­self. Should you sim­ply fi­nalise the man­u­script and sub­mit? But what to in­clude in the cover let­ter? And should you try to reach out to an edi­tor in per­son too?

What fol­lows here are words of ad­vice from me and my col­leagues at Na­ture on how best to pitch to an edi­tor. The ad­vice of course ap­plies to any edi­tor on any jour­nal.

The most im­por­tant thing to re­mem­ber is not to be in­tim­i­dated by the busi­ness jar­gon that has crept into the way we talk about com­mu­ni­ca­tion be­tween ed­i­tors and re­searchers. The term “el­e­va­tor pitch” can be just as off-putting to you as a re­searcher as it is to an edi­tor; af­ter all, many ed­i­tors are aca­demics them­selves while pro­fes­sional ed­i­tors, like me, were ac­tive re­searchers at some point.

The strength of the work will of­ten speak for it­self but re­searchers can do a lot to en­hance the mes­sage. Clar­ity on what ex­actly was done, how some­thing was dis­cov­ered and why the re­sults are im­por­tant is para­mount. The edi­tor will ap­pre­ci­ate know­ing or be­ing re­minded about how the new find­ings fit within the broader back­ground of this field, how they ad­vance the field and what po­ten­tial fu­ture av­enues of in­ves­ti­ga­tions have opened up.

The edi­tor will of­ten be ask­ing her­self or him­self the fol­low­ing ques­tions: is the work an im­por­tant re­source for the field? Is it an­swer­ing a long-stand­ing puz­zle or over­com­ing a road­block? Is the ques­tion be­ing an­swered of key and broad in­ter­est? Will the find­ing open doors to fu­ture work? Does the work have im­por­tant prac­ti­cal im­pli­ca­tions?

Re­search find­ings don’t have to be in a “hot” field to be sig­nif­i­cant, and they don’t need to break records. They can be sig­nif­i­cant be­cause of how they are likely to change the way that oth­ers will think about a prob­lem or change the di­rec­tion of fu­ture en­quiry.

Although most pro­fes­sional ed­i­tors be­come spe­cial­ists in a given field, their fo­cus tends to be broader than that of a re­searcher. As one of my ed­i­to­rial col­leagues said: “We know a lit­tle about a lot, not a lot about a lit­tle.”

So when pitch­ing to us it is im­por­tant not to get lost in too much de­tail but in­stead to pro­vide a broad con­text to the find­ings.

Con­text is in­deed im­por­tant, as is an hon­est ex­pla­na­tion of how the new work fits within it. The edi­tor will check the re­lated lit­er­a­ture, so if there are pre­vi­ous pub­li­ca­tions that im­pact nov­elty it is much bet­ter to ac­knowl­edge them and to ex­plain how the new work is dif­fer­ent.

Pro­vid­ing en­dorse­ments from prom­i­nent re­searchers in the field should be avoided; un­for­tu­nately, it tends to have the op­po­site ef­fect of the one in­tended. The ed­i­tors will want to make their own as­sess­ment of the work, based on the facts pro­vided. Hype is eas­ily de­tected and is def­i­nitely not help­ful. In fact, what helps enor­mously is to make it clear ex­actly how con­fi­dent the au­thors can be about each of their con­clu­sions.

Ed­i­tors are pas­sion­ate about sci­ence and will be ex­cited about im­pact­ful and/or el­e­gant re­search. I en­cour­age re­searchers to take ad­van­tage of this en­thu­si­asm and when speak­ing to an edi­tor in per­son to try to lead them into ask­ing ques­tions about the work that is be­ing dis­cussed. This is a sim­ple but gen­eral prin­ci­ple – get your au­di­ence in­ter­ested in what you have to tell them. I would even go fur­ther and say why not tap deeper into the pas­sion that ed­i­tors have, by telling them which part of your find­ings you are most proud and ex­cited about, and why?

All these rec­om­men­da­tions are equally ap­pli­ca­ble to whether you are telling the edi­tor about your work in a cover let­ter, over the phone or in per­son – for ex­am­ple at a con­fer­ence. I al­ways en­cour­age re­searchers to speak with ed­i­tors about a forth­com­ing man­u­script sub­mis­sion if there is an op­por­tu­nity to do so.

Re­gard­less of how the mes­sage is put across, re­searchers should never feel that if they are at an early stage of their ca­reer they have less chance of gain­ing the edi­tor’s at­ten­tion. Ed­i­tors want to pub­lish the most in­ter­est­ing and im­por­tant re­search and they are wait­ing for you – which­ever stage of your ca­reer you’re at – to tell them all about your lat­est find­ings.

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