Stop, wait a minute: Are you submitting your best manuscript?

By: Kathryn J Smith, PharmD, BCACP and Kristin Janke, PhD

This post is part of our Educational Scholarship “Quick Start” series.  In this series, the editorial boards of Currents in Pharmacy Teaching and Learning and Innovations in Pharmacy are joining together to provide advice that helps authors avoid common problems in education-related inquiry.  A “Quick Start” is not only about being efficient – it’s about enhancing the impact and effectiveness of our scholarly contributions.  


Your cursor is poised over the submit button. You’ve triple-checked the submission guidelines, author names are spelled correctly, and tables are aligned.  You might find yourself thinking, “The other authors have signed off on this version – let’s keep this moving!” But are you putting your best manuscript forward? Will it make its way past the editor’s desk? Through peer review?  Into publication?  

Beyond adding to the existing literature, your paper should be clear and concise. To avoid prolonged cycles of peer review–or worse, rejection prior to peer review–rigorous scholarship and a polished submission are needed. Now may be the time to ask trusted colleagues to read through your manuscript. In this post, we will discuss the Who, What, When, Why and How of pre-submission peer review.

“An Advocate for Success”

Let’s consider why we ask others to review our writing prior to submission. Peer reviewer time is a limited resource, therefore editors may not send a manuscript to peer review if the authors haven’t submitted a cohesive, well-articulated manuscript. While we are the expert on our project, a set of “fresh eyes” can help us see unintentional omissions, confusing passages, or problems with flow.1 It takes humility to ask for help, but if we approach this process with a growth mindset, it could improve the manuscript and the chances at publication.

What type of feedback are we looking for when asking for pre-submission peer review? The more specific you are in your request, the more helpful the feedback can be. You may ask if the manuscript makes sense to someone who hasn’t been immersed in the subject matter. Perhaps you’re looking for analytical expertise on the methods used. You may wonder if you’ve included the most relevant references. If you aren’t sure what to focus on, consider asking your reviewer to comment on the story, the structure, and style. 2,3

Reviewing for….Examples of Questions to Ask
Adapted from Watling 2016 and Lindgard 2020
Story 
(paper-level feedback)
Does the study answer the research question(s) posed?
Does the introduction make the case for the research?
Is it clear how readers can use the research findings?
Structure
(paragraph-level feedback)
Do headers act as signposts, guiding the reader?
Do paragraphs start with a topic sentence and stay focused on that topic?
Do transitions between paragraphs help the reader make connections?
Style
(sentence-level feedback)
Can weak verbs be replaced by stronger ones?
What unnecessary words and redundancies can be eliminated?
Are there nominalizations to be reworded? 

Identifying the Best “Critical Friends”

Who should we ask to review a manuscript prior to submission? To maximize the impact of the feedback, it will be beneficial to seek out a Critical Friend or two. 

 A Critical Friend is a: “trusted person who asks provocative questions…and offers critique of a person’s work …[They take] the time to fully understand the context of the work presented and the outcomes that the person or group is working toward. [And, they]advocate for the success of that work.” 4 

Critical Friends have been shown to improve scholarly writing in medical education.5 This friend could be someone in an office next to you or at an institution across an ocean. Rather than asking someone who will tell us what we want to hear, it is worth hearing from someone who has read the work with a critical eye and our growth in mind. 

“The Ask”

When is the right time to ask someone to help? While it would certainly be wise to ask for feedback on the protocol and data-analysis phases of your scholarly project, pre-submission review assumes you are further along and have most or all of your manuscript written. Your manuscript should be “near submission ready” with the understanding that the feedback may prompt additions and/or changes, sometimes substantial!

When considering how to ask someone to review, be conscious of what’s reasonable for potential reviewers. Explain the intent, length and article type, so the potential reviewer gets a sense of the time they may need to complete the review. A Review with 70 references is different from a nine page Note with two tables or a three page Commentary. Let the reviewer know when you’d like to get the feedback and if you prefer written or verbal feedback.

Closing

Pre-submission review of a manuscript may feel like an unnecessary step that elongates the  scholarly process. However, while inside a chrysalis, a caterpillar is actively, slowly metamorphosing. As the author of a manuscript, your job is to do everything you can to ensure your paper has the best chance possible of emerging from its cocoon as a fully-formed, publishable manuscript. 

Disclosures
Kathryn J. Smith is an Editorial Board Member at Currents in Pharmacy Teaching and Learning.

Kristin Janke is Executive Associate Editor for Currents in Pharmacy Teaching and Learning, an Editor and Peer Coach for CPTL Pulses, and an Editor for Innovations in Pharmacy where she is responsible for the education section. 

References

  1. Watling C, Lingard L. Giving feedback on others’ writing. Perspect Med Educ. 2019;8::25–27. https://doi.org/10.1007/s40037-018-0492-z
  2. Watling C. The three ‘S’s of editing: story, structure, and style. Perspect Med Educ. 2016;5:300–2. https://doi.org/10.1007/s40037-016-0284-2
  3. Lingard, L., Watling, C. Beyond feedback: 11 tips for coaching writing. Perspect Med Educ. 2020; 9: 370–372. https://doi.org/10.1007/s40037-020-00630-z
  4. Costa A, Kallick B. Through the lens of a critical friend. Educ Leadership. 1993;51(2):49–51.
  5. Dreyer A, Keiller L, Wolvaardt J and Frantz J. Using critical friends to build writing success. Med Educ. 2016;50:1170-1171. https://doi.org/10.1111/medu.13167

Author Bio(s)

Kathryn J. Smith is an Assistant Professor at the University of Oklahoma College of Pharmacy. Educational scholarship interests include problem-solving, leadership development and professional identity development. In her free time, Kate enjoys watching Chicago Cubs baseball, listening to podcasts and dancing to Taylor Swift songs with her husband and their three daughters. 

Kristin Janke is a Professor in the Department of Pharmaceutical Care & Health Systems and Director of the Wulling Center for Innovation & Scholarship in Pharmacy Education at the University of Minnesota College of Pharmacy. Her scholarly interests include: unique methods for student leadership development, enhancing assessment practices in colleges/schools of pharmacy and broadening publication options for the scholarship of teaching and learning.


Pulses is a scholarly blog supported by Currents in Pharmacy Teaching and Learning

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