Understanding Types of Scientific Publications

Edanz–BioMedCentral white paper

It’s important to be aware of the different types of literature that exist and the variety of publication types within each class. It’s also important to honestly evaluate your work to determine what publication type is most appropriate for your study.

Determining the appropriate target journal and publication type in advance, and complying with the instructions set out in the Guide for Authors of the target journal, as they relate to the relevant publication type, will increase your chances of acceptance for publication and shorten the time from initial submission to acceptance.

Primary vs. secondary literature

The most important distinction among publication types is that between the primary and secondary literature. The primary literature refers to the places in which original scientific research is first published in a publicly accessible document.

This includes most journal papers, conference proceedings, theses and dissertations. The information published in the primary literature is later condensed and reorganized into the secondary literature, which includes textbooks, book chapters, review articles, indexing and abstracting services and various other forms of information compilation.

The role of the primary literature is to share new findings with the broader community; the role of the secondary literature is to compile and organize the information in the primary literature into an easily accessible and understandable format.

Some journals publish papers of both types in addition to features, news and other sections, while some journals can be considered exclusively primary journals (that is, publishing solely primary literature, the results of original research) and others can be considered secondary journals (specializing in review articles). It is worthwhile being aware of this when choosing journals and establishing relationships with journal editors.

It’s also worthwhile thinking about possible review article themes when you have established some authority in your area of research.

Types of publications

Among journals publishing primary research there is a great variety of publication types. It is helpful to be aware of these when starting to think about writing up your work, because one type of primary publication format might be more appropriate for your work than another.

Most academic journals list the publication types they publish on their web pages. Some of the possible types of manuscript include the following:

  • Full-length papers
  • Rapid communications
  • Short communications
  • Letters to the editor
  • Case reports
  • Technical or Laboratory notes
  • Methods

Each of these publication types will have a slightly different format that will be set out in the journal’s Guide for Authors.

When preparing any manuscript, read the instructions in the Guide for Authors closely and follow them precisely.

Choosing a journal that’s right for you

Once you’re satisfied that you have sufficient findings to warrant publication, you need to decide on your target journal and the publication type. To determine the best publication type for your work, you need to self-evaluate it.

It may also be helpful to ask a colleague to evaluate it and provide an independent assessment.

Is there sufficient material for you to write a full article?

If so, great! If not, perhaps a short communication or letter would be more appropriate. Are the results particularly exciting and timely, or are you worried about a competitor publishing similar findings before you can?

If so, you might want to consider writing a rapid communication article. A number of journals, such as Biochemical and Biophysical Research Communications, specialize in this type of article and strive to achieve a very short lag between acceptance of a manuscript and publication.

Sending an inquiry

If you are not sure what format or journal is best for your work, you can always send a journal editor a pre-submission inquiry. Many journals offer this facility, and even for those that don’t, the editors will likely reply to a polite inquiry about possible publication.

Such an inquiry should contain a brief outline of the research you wish to publish and why it is particularly timely and of relevance to the readers of that journal. You should mention how many potential display items your paper will contain and what each of them shows.

Unlike manuscript submissions (see our information on ethics), pre-submission inquiries can be sent to multiple journals simultaneously. When you receive a favorable response, you can proceed with writing the introduction, discussion and abstract, and reformatting the methods and results sections as appropriate.

This approach enables you to use the correct amount of references (many journals/publication types have a limit on the number of references that can be included) and comply with section word limits, preventing the need for rewriting an existing manuscript.

Choosing the right journal can optimize the communication of your research to the world. Expert insight can help you find reputable publishers and make sure that open access is the right platform for you.

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