"Authors should be very clear and crisp about the question they're trying to ask," said Herbert Y. Kressel, M.D., Radiology editor and the Miriam H. Stoneman Professor of Radiology at Harvard Medical School in Boston. "It's not infrequent that we'll see a statement of purpose that is vague, or one that changes in different portions of the manuscript. If you put effort into really understanding your purpose, then your methods, results and discussion should directly relate to that purpose."
Despite the variety in subject and content, many manuscripts share common problems in research design, description and style, said Dr. Kressel, who became Radiology editor in January 2008 and served on the journal's editorial board from 1985 to 1991.
Common author pitfalls were among the topics covered in the RSNA 2010 refresher course, "Publishing in Radiology: What You Always Wanted to Know and Never Asked," presented by Dr. Kressel, Senior Deputy Editor Deborah Levine, M.D, and deputy editors Alexander Bankier M.D., David Kallmes, M.D., and Elkan Halpern, Ph.D. Slides from the course that also covered manuscript writing, preparing images for publication, statistical issues, authorship and redundant publications are now available at rsna.org/publications/rad/PIA/index.html.
The presentation offered insight on how editors select manuscripts from more than 2,400 pieces of original research Radiology receives each year.
"We're looking for research that is novel, informative and important—that affects the way physicians practice, that introduces new concepts, new technologies—and we're always cognizant of the need to provide practical, useful information, Dr. Kressel said.
Editors strongly urge researchers to consult Radiology's Publication Information for Authors section, accessible online and in every print issue before preparing and submitting a manuscript.
With those points in mind, Dr. Levine also urges authors to take advantage of the Institutional Review Board (IRB) process used by investigators working with human subjects.
"That process compels the researcher to ask questions about the number of patient records, whether the study is prospective or retrospective, to talk about informed consent—those processes you work through when submitting an IRB can actually help in writing a good research paper," said Dr. Levine, a radiology professor at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston.
Dr. Levine also offered advice for authors whose native language is not English, which can hinder the review process.
"Authors are at a disadvantage if reviewers get stuck trying to understand what's being said, versus dealing with the principles of science," Dr. Levine said. "Those authors should get help with their manuscript from a native English speaker to make sure their manuscript reads well."
Ultimately Radiology editors—authors themselves—stand firmly in the writer's corner, Dr. Kressel said.
We try to be author advocates," Dr. Kressel said. "If the ideas are good and have the data to support their analysis and conclusions, we'll work with authors. Editors sometimes spend hours clarifying the language and, more importantly, making sure readers can understand exactly what was done, the data obtained and the importance of the research." Concurred Dr. Levine, "Authors should describe their methods in enough detail so that somebody else could perform their experiment."
Communication among authors, editors and reviewers has been dramatically streamlined since the all-online submission system was implemented in 2004, Dr. Levine said. "It eliminated the mailing time back and forth and the mailing expenses," she said. "It enabled more rapid communication when questions arose—every step of the process was shortened."
All accepted original scientific manuscripts are sent out for statistical review; currently, the first response, on average, is about six weeks.
Radiology online has become more dynamic, with website-only features including articles published ahead of print, podcasts, videos, interactive poll questions and virtually unlimited space for supplemental materials that won't fit in the print journal.
"An online appendix is a wonderful way of making details about the experiments available for other researchers," Dr. Levine said. "Also, if someone has multiple images showing different pathologies, we can include those online."
Authors whose manuscripts are not accepted should understand the decision doesn't necessarily mean the work wasn't high quality, Dr. Kressel said. "We accept less than 15 percent of submissions," Dr. Kressel explained. "It's not at all uncommon that we receive perfectly good manuscript that we're not able to take."
When a manuscript isn't accepted, Radiology reviewers offer constructive comments that authors can use to strengthen the manuscript if they choose to submit it elsewhere. Even manuscripts that are accepted are often returned with multiple comments and suggestions for revision.
"Authors may find this overwhelming, but my advice is to take a deep breath—literally—and answer questions one at a time," Dr. Levine said. Many suggested changes are relatively simple—such as rewording statements or reexamining references, she noted.
As far as his own background, Dr. Kressel has authored or coauthored nearly 200 peer-reviewed scientific reports, books, book chapters, and invited papers and has published more than 60 articles in Radiology over the past 30 years.
Dr. Levine's research was first published in Radiology as a resident when she took over a research project from an attending physician. Her publications include a study funded in part by a 1995 RSNA Research & Education Foundation seed grant. Despite her status as a veteran investigator, Dr. Levine said she has never gotten over the "Radiology rush" common to many authors.
"It doesn't matter how much research you've done—it's always a real thrill to get that letter from Radiology saying, 'I'm delighted to tell you that this manuscript has been accepted.' Now that I'm on the other side and I tend to have my papers published elsewhere to avoid conflicts of interest, I miss that thrill. It's the preeminent research journal for radiologists. It's prestigious to be published in Radiology—it means your peers appreciate your research."
The RSNA 2010 Power Point presentation, "Publishing in Radiology: What You Always Wanted to Know and Never Asked," is available here.
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