Publishing your research

Publishing the results of your research is vital. It helps your academic career prospects and plays a vital part in securing research funding.

A laptop and notebook The IET publishes top quality journals in all fields of research, from electronics, communication and power to IT and biotechnology. Further information on the IET academic journals can be found on the Journals webpages

As you will know if you are engaged in research at any level, whether as a postgraduate or professor, publishing the results of your research is vital. It helps your academic career prospects and plays a vital part in securing research funding.

The pressure on academics to publish their research is huge, which is why journals get hundreds, sometimes thousands, of submissions a year. The job of the journal editor is to identify from these hundreds of submissions those that are sufficiently original, interesting and well written to merit publication. They do this, of course, by sending the papers out to referees for expert analysis, a process known as peer review. But they will only do this for papers that they think merit it.

Often the editor will reject a paper immediately, on the basis that there is not enough there to warrant peer review. It is important to remember that peer review is there to improve a well-written paper, to make it even better and more citable. It is not there to point out mistakes and failings that could have been corrected before submission.

Author tips

So remember this when you submit your paper. Editors and referees are busy people. They do not have time to look at every paper in detail to discover the small bit of useful information that may be buried in a poorly structured paper. The following tips may seem obvious, they may be something you already do, but they are important nonetheless. They won't guarantee immediate acceptance of your paper, but they will help make a good impression with the editor.

Basics

Check the author guide of the journal you are submitting to. All journals are different, and all publish their author guide on their homepage. You will help your cause by adapting the format and style of your paper to the journal in question. For example, is there a word length restriction? Does the journal have a preference for US or UK style English? Is there a house style for quantities and measurements? Do figures need to be to a certain resolution?

Spell check your paper. There is no excuse for not doing this. A spelling mistake, especially in the abstract or early in the paper, will create a poor impression.

Similarly, check your grammar and punctuation. It should make the paper easier to read, not more difficult. Referees are more likely to recommend rejection if it is very difficult to read the paper.

Read the paper through without thinking about the science. Treat it almost like a story. Is it well written? If you're not sure, ask a colleague (ideally one who studies language or English), to comment on it.

Is the structure good? Your paper is an argument, designed to convince the reader of the importance of what you have done. Is the argument convincing and does it flow well?

Motivation and structure

An editor will look for three main things: the paper should be in an area of current interest and importance; there should be clear motivation for the paper (and this should be made very clear early on in the paper) and a thorough review of other work should have been conducted.

Choosing an area of current interest and importance

  • Do as much background research as you can before choosing your project;
  • Choose a topic that will be interesting in the future - not one that was interesting in the past;
  • Attend the main conference in your area of research. What topics were covered in last year's conference? What are the research interests of the technical program chairs?
  • Speak with your professor;
  • Identify the research interests of the editor-in-chief;
  • Write to the editor-in-chief and ask them what topics they would particularly like to see published in their journal;
  • Identify the research interests of the editorial board;
  • Look at the most recent issues of the journal. What sort of papers has it published? What have been the subjects of recent special issues of the journal?

Providing clear motivation for your paper

You should be able to answer yes to at least one of the following questions:

  • Do I have significant new results to present?
  • Do major assumptions made in previous research by other groups need to be challenged and changed? If so, why?
  • Does my paper cover significant new aspects not covered before?
  • Your work is not ready for journal publication if it is detailed and highly mathematical but is not a significant contribution, since it represents work that is very similar to previous work by other authors and differs only in small changes in assumptions or problem setup;
  • It is purely methodological, and considers a problem of only limited scope or is studied in only a limited way.

Conducting thorough research of other work

  • Provide a comprehensive, up-to-date and critical assessment of what research has been done before;
  • Cite an adequate number of references (at least fifteen);
  • Ensure that the majority of references are from the last five years;
  • Cite high-quality papers (in order of importance: journals, conferences, book chapters, symposia, workshops);
  • Cite work by other groups and not just your own work;
  • Cite recent work by the editor-in-chief and editorial board.

Structuring your paper well

Construct your paper logically so that the reader can easily follow the development of your argument:

  • Abstract;
  • Introduction (including related work);
  • Experiments;
  • Results;
  • Discussion;
  • Conclusion and future work;
  • Acknowledgments;
  • References;
  • Appendix.

Abstract

The abstract is a one paragraph summary (150-200 words) of the entire work described completely in the article. The abstract should be a self-contained unit capable of being understood without the benefit of the text, it should contain these four elements in brief:

  • Motivation (The problem and why it is important);
  • Methods (What was done);
  • Results (what was found);
  • Discussion (what was concluded).

Introduction

  • Identify the problem and explain why it is important;
  • Summarise your method and results;
  • Summarise how other research groups have tackled the problem;
  • Summarise the structure of the paper.

Related work

It is very important that you include a section on related work. Papers with inadequate references are often rejected. By citing an adequate number of recent and high quality references you show the editor that:

  • You are working in an area of current interest;
  • You have researched the area thoroughly and put your paper in the context of recent work;
  • When citing conference work, cite relevant work from the last two or three conference proceedings;
  • When citing journal work, cite journal papers published in the last two or three years.