Academic researchers almost always want to publish as much as possible, as fast as possible, and in the best journals possible. The logic is that increasing your publication rate gets more recognition, more prestige, and more citations. It’s often not that simple, but in a publish-or-perish world, it’s understandable.
Publication rate is the number and quality of articles you output each year. The question is how to increase this rate while still doing unique and valuable work.
To maximize your publication output and citation rate you need to:
- Know why you’re trying to get published
- Choose broader projects
- Choose the right journals
- Communicate with journal editors to get published sooner
- Build relationships and collaborate
The last one isn’t something researchers commonly think about, but it’s a surprisingly effective technique. Here are the details.
Know why you want to get your work published
Academics was to publish their both because of the requirements on them and for personal/selfish reasons. Each of these reasons comes with different deadlines. But some researchers take them as one big pressure and thing they need to publish more, and faster. Find out why you need to get published and what’s really expected.
We’ve saved the best tip for last, so you’ll want to read on.
Institutional reasons to get published
Institutions have may hard or soft quotas and finding may come with deadlines. Find out what they specifically are. Consult with advisers. Plan ahead accordingly. They may not be strict as you think.
Personal reasons to get published
Personal reasons include wanting to advance the field or publish more just to beat whoever you think is the competition. That’s fine; being competitive is human.
But if that pressure is only making you pressure yourself into a non-existent goal of rapid and constant publication, it’s not helping you.
Early-career researchers might be required to place their work in a high-impact journal (in English) to be awarded their master’s or doctorate. Others at early career stages (postdocs, or new hires in academic positions) might need to get their work out to have a better chance of gaining the next grant, securing or applying for tenure, or going for promotion.
When top universities are hiring, they look very carefully at research output. And particularly, they look for high-impact factor (IF) publications (based on journal reputation and citation metrics), as well as grant money raised.
Senior-level researchers, therefore, might focus more on managing rather than writing and publishing. They might appear as a co-author on papers their grants have funded, though more junior members of their team may have actually written them and steered them through the peer review process.
All these reasons may motivate you to a higher goal. Just like climbing the corporate ladder. More money. More respect. And ideally, more world-changing scientific research.
When you know why you’re publishing, you can find and focus on your path.
With that in mind, you can choose the best paths that fit your output goals.
Choose the right topics to maximize your research publication rate
You can’t keep up a quick publication rate if you choose topics of narrow interest and with limited places to publish your work. Instead, cast a wider fishing net with your research. You don’t want to catch every fish in the ocean, just more than one.
The right topics are not too narrow but not too broad
The “right topics” are research questions that are interesting, topical, and that address broad issues of interest. These are topics that appeal to more than just the researchers working in your own area.
Take a step back, see the bigger picture, and place your research questions into a broader context that’s interesting to multidisciplinary readers.
Focus less on the specific details of your research.
Think about how the outcomes of your study are relevant to a bigger, more generally interesting question.
The sweet spot is between the super-broad and the super-narrow.
Sweet spot (good topic)
Chemistry of upper atmosphere reactive intermediates
Ozone reactions in the troposphere
Ozone intermediates and climate warming
Pediatric narcolepsy’s negative outcomes
Role of cataplexy symptoms in burden of illness for narcolepsy type 2 10-year-olds
Clinical characteristics and burden of illness in pediatric patients with narcolepsy
Finch nesting habits
Nesting behavior of a pair of Nesospiza buntings on the southernmost clifftop of Nightingale Island
Conservation implications of ground-nesting finches in the South Atlantic Ocean
Using personality tests to assess science teachers
Suitability of DiSC assessment for placing 25-year-old biology teachers in a rural Somalia
Suitability of DiSC assessment in placing rural African STEM teachers
Each of those take a specific and necessary topic of research, niches it down to a manageable level, but adds crossover potential with adjacent and intersecting specialties.
So if you’re working on river pollution, you might want to focus on a specific pollutant in a specific body of water. Fine, you may get precise data, but how can you situation this with bigger implications? How is the important at the larger ecosystem level or as a model for other similar systems globally in our current climate crisis?
You may still perform the same studies, but include a more comprehensive comparison and contrast with other studies, on other pollutants, in different climates, and so on. Then find intersections in climate research and even the social sciences.
An important point on specifics
The point of this section is to give ideas on how to increase publication rate by doing research with broader appeal. That does NOT mean that highly specific studies are not valued. Of course they are. In many cases, they are very timely and they’re in need. Do great research and publish them in a key journal, and you’ll be widely cited.
This is when it really helps to question the need for speed.
Choose the right journals
Journal selection is also key in how soon you’ll be published. Different journals publish and different speeds. Some are more competitive than others. You might choose a lower-IF journal, but are you selling yourself short? Could you find a more prestigious publication if you’re a bit more patient?
Check the range of suitable publications during, or even before, your research is ready for publication.
(Take an Edanz Learning Lab course on journal submission here.)
Learn more on journal selection from our Dr. Gareth Dyke in this video.
If you’re fixated on rapid publication, then look into how fast the journal normally publishes. This can often be found in the journal’s author guidance.
Interpret the publication speed
Journal websites can usually show the time between submission and online publication.
The average time is around 2–3 months for quarterly publications and 3–5 months for biannual (twice a year). These can vary widely, though.
PNAS reports it averages 10 days from submission to initial decision, 45 days from submission to decision on a full review, and 6.4 months for submission to publication. PNAS is, however, prestigious, and only takes 14.6% of direct submissions.
Social Science & Medicine (IF 4.634 and a highly regarded multidisciplinary journal) reports somewhere around 3 to 5 months, depending on peer review, revisions, any necessary legal review, then online publication, and finally print publication.
Well-regarded open-access journal PLOS ONE? About 43 days to first decision, but then, it’s not clear. More variables come into play.
You may have to compromise on prestige if you want speed. Faster publication? Aim a bit lower. But again, why sell yourself short unless you’re truly pressured to publish?
You can also stay a step ahead by contacting journals before you submit your work.
Give journal editors what they want, by asking them what they want
Journal editors are busy people, so they typically have short attention spans and have to make quick decisions.
These overworked folks are the gatekeepers and they stand between you and publication. Consider them a prospective customer. Think like a marketer and think about the customer’s (i.e., the editor’s) needs rather than yours.
Journal editors want articles that capture their attention, that will sell magazines, boost citations, and increase the journal’s prestige.
They want to see publish articles that are attractive to their specific audience, but that can pull in other audiences.
They’re looking for work that meets the journal’s scope, novelty, additions to active research in the field (and maybe other fields), ethical work, and then actual readability and clear scientific language communication.
Most researchers submit their work and hope for the best. But what if they asked the journal first? You can actually do this.
Use presubmission inquiries
Pitch your work to editors before submission with effective presubmission inquiries.
Although you’re only able to make one final submission (multiple submissions are unethical and dangerous), there’s no limit to the number of presubmission inquiry emails you can send out.
You can send these to editors at different journals while you’re still writing up your research, or before you even start.
Maybe you have data and you’ve analyzed them and know the key outcomes of your study. This is a good time to start dialog with editors. Give them a brief overview of your focus and findings (or aims) and see if they would be interested in publishing the work.
It’s like connecting with someone at a target company before you apply for the job. No harm in that, and they’ll learn who you are.
Receiving a positive response from an editor before writing and submitting and when you do make the submission you’re already ahead of the game, already in the editor’s memory. This can speed things along, which the main theme here.
Of course, even if you’ve picked a journal with good turnaround, gotten the journal’s go-ahead, and submitted, there are parts of this process you can’t influence. In these cases, you can still try and move things along a bit faster.
Take this short course to learn more.
Speeding up the wait for publication
It’s possible that your manuscript can get “stuck” in the submission system or peer review. Communicate with editors if your article does experience a delay. This is well within your right.
Studies show that sometimes authors do end up waiting for a very long time for their papers to appear in journals. In some cases up to several years.
- The editor is still looking for peer reviewers
- Reviewers are being slow
- No reviewers accepted the invite
- The editor forgot or got sidetracked
- Your submission got “lost in the system”
These are sad realities, but they’re unreasonable and they’re stalling your own progress.
It’s your career; don’t wait, communicate.
As a general rule, if you end up waiting 6 to 8 weeks and still no reply, it’s time to write a polite email to your editor and ask for a status update.
Checking in with your journal
When you write to see what’s taking so long, be polite and try to give something back to the editor.
A good tactic is to write and offer additional suggestions for possible peer reviewers. This is because editors having trouble finding suitable reviewers is a common cause for delay.
You can also preempt this by submitting reviewer suggestions when you submit your manuscript. PLOS ONE, wisely, requires selection of reviewers. This helps the journal manage the huge volume of submissions it receives.
Even if you’re feeling anxious or a bit angry, never show this in your contact with the journal. The same applies when you send a response letter to revision requests.
In the broader scope of publication speed, you can improve your whole approach to research so that you’re never relying on one study getting published. It’s less of an issue when you have many logs in the fire.
Collaborate broadly and widely with others
The most successful researchers use collaboration as a sort of “secret superpower” to boost their publication rate is to collaborate.
Collaborate, collaborate, collaborate
Reach out to other researchers, other institutions, and even to industry, around the world and talk about your work. Start with your research plan.
If you frequently and thoroughly discuss your experimental plans with your colleagues/supervisor before carrying out your experiments, you can chew through any issues there may be in the experimental design and/or someone can spot any weaknesses you may have overlooked.
If you do this for all your work, then the odds of having useless data or failed experiments should decrease.
–Vishal Gor, PhD, Edanz Author Guidance Consultant
Share your abstract, share your title. Tell people about what you’re working on and collaborations will come. Be prepared to share data. Give and take.
This is at the heart of open research. Beneficial for you and for greater science.
Collaboration was at the heart of producing COVID-19 vaccines at unprecedented speed.
Collaboration may in fact be the best way to maximize you publication output. Studies have shown that the more people you work with, the more papers you’ll write and co-author.
This is strategic thinking, focused on the medium-to-long term, rather than short-term results. It’s like money in the bank, with interest.
I published more because I collaborated
Many of my publications owed to collaborations. I worked with lots of people and so when my papers appeared, they were cited by larger networks – rather than just my own network of connections.
More people learned about my work and so I collaborated more and more and published more and more papers.
— Gareth Dyke, PhD, Edanz Author Education Manager
Final thoughts on how to increase your research publication rate
Maximizing research publication rate is a key goal for all researchers.
Know why you’re doing it, choose your research and journals smartly, and over the longer term, benefit from collaboration and openness.