How to Develop Research That Medical Journals Want to Publish

Developing research that will get published by medical journals is an important part of advancing a physician’s career. To get insight into how to conduct research that medical journals will want to publish, we spoke with recognized author and hematologist, Dr. Mikkael Sekeres. Dr. Sekeres has authored or co-authored more than 350 manuscripts and 650 abstracts; served as the primary investigator of dozens of clinical trials, and the inaugural editor-in-chief of the ASH Clinical News magazine; has written over 60 essays for The New York Times and other venues; and has authored eight books, including When Blood Breaks Down: Life Lessons from Leukemia and Drugs and FDA: Safety, Efficacy, and the Public’s Trust.

Why is conducting research that gets published in medical journals important?

Mikkael Sekeres

I truly believe that in medicine, we should never be satisfied with the status quo of healthcare. We always have an opportunity to improve the way we diagnose illness and define risks for illness, develop treatments for disease, improve access to and quality of care, and identify ways that our patients can live longer and live better. 

Medical journals provide an outlet for communicating our research findings to a broad population of providers who can then implement those improvements, and include the critical step of peer review, during which the soundness and findings of that research is assessed critically.

Describe your process for developing a scientific research article.

A research project is a story with a beginning, middle, and end that should also include an element of suspense! In an introduction, I start with a broad statement about a disease (“Acute myeloid leukemia is a cancer of the bone marrow that mainly affects older adults …”) and drill down to a specific question, making the case for why it is an interesting question to ask (“It is unknown the degree to which ‘good risk’ mutations continue to confer a survival advantage in older adults. In this paper, we studied …”). The methods should be written clearly enough that another person could repeat your study with these instructions provided by you, and the Results section should include just the facts, without any editorializing! Finally, the Discussion section starts with the specific question posed in the Introduction, and then broadens to how the findings from the study “move the bar” of how we think about disease.

What advice do you have for getting a manuscript accepted to a medical journal?

It always helps to keep abreast of what types of papers a journal publishes, to make sure yours is a good fit, and of the same caliber of other papers in that journal! 

Follow the journal’s guidelines, too — if the maximum word count allowable for a manuscript is 3,000 words, and you submit a paper that runs 5,000+, it will not be accepted. Pay attention to manuscript nuts and bolts like section headers, style, and format. Run a manuscript by senior authors and ask their advice on where would be a good home for the research. 

And don’t be afraid of rejection. I was taught that if you don’t receive at least one rejection of a submitted manuscript, you didn’t aim high enough!

What is one thing you should always do when submitting an article for consideration to a medical journal? What is one thing not to do?

Always be polite and respectful of the editors and reviewers — they are people too! And they are the gatekeepers for publishing your research. Never antagonize an editor or reviewer — I have worked with scientists in the past who chose to berate editors and reviewers, and now have a hard time getting their research published.

What do you know now that you wish you’d known when you were first trying to get published?

Don’t overcomplicate the science – clear communication is always rewarded. And never lose that excitement over a discovery – enthusiasm is contagious!

Published October 24, 2022

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