groups » Training and Career Development » Nov 2015: Ask the Expert with Trish Groves, Editor-in-Chief of BMJ Open
As part of Global Health Trials' Writing and Publication Skills month, we are absolutely delighted to welcome Dr Trish Groves, Editor in Chief of BMJ Open, to answer all your questions about publications and writing. Dr Groves has extensive expertise in this area and a specific interest in developing research capacity in LMICs. Please add your questions below, and Dr Groves will reply to them as soon as she can.
About Dr Trish Groves:
Trish Groves trained in medicine and psychiatry before going to The BMJ in 1989, where she is deputy editor and head of research. She is also editor-in-chief of BMJ Open. Her current focus is to explore how BMJ might help to build capabilities for health research in low and middle income countries.
While at The BMJ Trish has been an honorary research fellow at the School for Public Policy, UCL; served on the council of the Committee on Publication Ethics, co-authored the HarperCollins Consumer’s Guide to Mental Health (1996), taught around the world, and talked quite a lot on radio and TV about health research. She is now on the steering groups of the AllTrials campaign and the EQUATOR Network on transparent health research.
Thank you for your question. Unfortunately the expert panel is now closed (as of Nov 30th) - massive thanks to Trish for her excellent guidance. Afisulahi, you may want to post your question on a new discussion board? The Global Health Trials community can then assist and guide you.
The Editorial Team
Thanks Dr. Trish for this opportunity.
Please, my major problem with research is deciding what to study in the first place. I don't know what subject will be relevant enough for publishers. Every topic I think of appears either too trite or exhausted. Can you help with some guidelines on choosing a right topic?
(Note:I am a resident in Family Medicine.)
Hello Angelica, and thanks for your question.
Yes, in principle you can publish parts of your study separately. But it may not be a good idea to do this. If you published the separate elements first, then editors may well say that the full research paper was no longer a sufficiently original article - and vice versa.
It is, of course, possible to publish a literature review. But most journals require these to be useful, balanced articles aimed at meeting readers' educational needs. A literature review conducted as part of a study may be too narrow to stand alone as a review article and it might need expanding, restructuring, and clarifying to provide enough useful, clear, lessons.
Some journals publish articles about study methods and methodological advances. We publish lots in The BMJ's "Research Methods and Reporting" section:
However, such articles are also educational papers aimed at teaching readers. Unless the methods in your study were particularly unusual or new with lessons for a wide range or readers, I suspect few journals would want to publish them in a standalone article.
There is, however, one very good way to publish the literature review plus methods for a study in one combined article - by publishing the study protocol. Our "Research to Publication" elearning programme has a detailed, free module on how to publish protocols as journal articles:
In BMJ Open:
we publish lots of protocols: however, we will consider these only if the full study has not yet been completed.
Here's our advice to authors about protocol articles:
I'm not sure if these are the answers you wanted, but I hope they're helpful.
It is good to be here. Thank you Dr. Trish for your dedication in this area of research,my question is simple, Can you publish one section of your research e.g methods,literature review?
Thanks for your question, Tshiamo:
Q: How old should a research paper be before it's considered outdated for publishing?
A: I can't give you a specific timeline, I'm afraid. The definition of "outdated" will depend on whether the study was in a faster or slower moving field. If a field in science, clinical medicine or public health is rapidly generating new studies, techniques, practices, and interventions, then a study can go out of date within a year or two.
But most knowledge doesn't progress that quickly (sadly for patients). And it's important to write up and publish every study. If you don't, you may have wasted your time and the usually publicly funded resources you used to conduct the study. If the study involved patients or animals that were put at risk of harm (or even just inconvenienced), it's unethical not to share your experience and findings.
Indeed, there's a big international movement to reduce waste in research - a problem that was explored thoroughly in an important series in The Lancet in 2014 and is being tackled by a group called the REWARD ALLIANCE. if you're interested, read more here: http://researchwaste.net/ (I must declare a conflict of interest, as part of that alliance).
There's also a movement to dig out and publish old clinical trials that were abandoned or buried, called RIAT (http://www.bmj.com/content/346/bmj.f2865). Here's a very nice example, where the senior author confesses why it took 19 years to publish a clinical trial done in 1995. In essence, the team got busy with other things after the paper was initially rejected: http://blogs.bmj.com/bmj/2013/12/12/simon-wessely-the-lost-trial-a-christmas-story/
So, you should always try to write up and publish all research. It's never too late, though you may have to aim for a journal with a reasonably high acceptance rate and either a low Impact Factor or none at all. You should explain the delay to the editors, in your paper's cover letter, and should explain in the paper's introduction why the research question is still relevant enough.
Lastly, authors sometimes realise , with hindsight, that their study was too flawed to be useful. In that case it may be very difficult to get it published in a journal. Even in that case, it's good practice to share the experience and insights by writing it up and making it public somehow - perhaps in a blog, and then using Twitter and facebook to tell others about it. We can all learn from mistakes, and researchers shouldn't be ashamed if they made mistakes when they were learning.
I hope this helps.
Demian - thanks for your questions, which I've summarised and replied to here:
1. Q: How and where can a new researcher publish?
A: Firstly, journals should not be prejudiced against new researchers just because they're new. I hope you'll be at least partly reassured to hear that many editors - including those at The BMJ and BMJ Open - focus on the quality, relevance, and importance of the submitted article. Indeed, I often don't even notice who the authors are until I've read the paper and made my initial assessment. If the study is good and well reported in the paper, the status/place/experience/reputation of the authors would not affect our decision (unless we realised that it was completely impossible for the authors to have conducted the study!).
Secondly, many journals have high rejection rates and their editors are very choosy. Such journals - especially those with many highly cited papers and high Impact Factors - often give highest priority to cutting edge science. Others, like The BMJ, prioritise research that provides enough new, high quality evidence to change clinical practice and improve readers' decision making.
Either way, these journals are unlikely to publish studies that are purely exploratory (lacking clear, actionable, conclusions), confirmatory (without adding much new information), relevant to only one place (perhaps by describing or auditing local practice), or nor using the best methods. These are the kinds of studies often done by new researchers. Such studies are, however, usually publishable somewhere, as long as they are written up clearly and fully and their results are interpreted cautiously. They may have greater chances of publication in local journals, or in international journals with relatively high acceptance rates (eg BMJ Open http://bmjopen.bmj.com/).
2. Q: How do I get to do and publish research in a LMIC? This is sometimes rejected because editors say there's research already done on this, ignoring the fact that there's a difference between an LMIC from the Caribbean region and from Africa.
A: Originality is a subjective concept with lots of different elements. When editors say a study isn't original or important, they're usually talking about the research question, not the answer.
You can help the editors and peer reviewers understand the originality and importance of your research question by careful, thoughtful, writing in your paper's introduction. The introduction to a research paper is not there to display your literature review and show much you have read. Its only purpose is to explain your research question: what's the topic, what's your overall hypothesis, and what specific question did you try to answer in your study?
Here's an example of how to explain a research question and say why it's original:
Start the introduction by stating the incidence of infant malaria in the area/region/country and stating the mortality rate (study topic). Then explain that previous studies, official statistics, or other reports suggest that lower mortality in infants with malaria is associated with mothers' level of schooling (hypothesis). Then state clearly that this study asked "in children aged under 1 year in this region during the past 6 months, was malaria-related mortality lower among infants whose mothers said that they had attended school beyond the age of 12?" (research question).
For each part - the topic, hypothesis, and research Q - add relevant references. You might be able to cite a study, for example, showing that in rural parts of Brazil that infants are more likely to survive malaria if their mothers had higher levels of schooling and literacy. Then you can say "but we don't know this for Malawi, where we're trying to educate mothers about infant malaria and need to work out who most needs our help".
An introduction like this will engage the editors' interest and it will show clearly that your question is original. Sorry if this isn't a very convincing example; I made it up to illustrate the point, and I hope it's helpful anyway.
Thanks Tshiamo, Trish will get back to you soon regarding the first question.
In relation to the second question - perhaps the answers need to come from the researchers in Africa! I would turn this around and ask YOU, as a researcher in Africa, what you think the barriers are to this? Perhaps this could be a separate discussion though. There are many substantial and free programmes which can support researchers - they don't fill in ALL the gaps, but they provide plenty of free support and resources. For example The Global Health Network has thousands of articles, resources, tools, eLearning courses etc available freely, and the EQUATOR, AuthorAid and BMJ's new eLearning courses provide substantial support for publishing. If you think there are specific gaps and barriers, specify what they are, and perhaps the Global Health community can work together to fill them.
Could we keep the questions for Trish related specifically to issues regarding publications? Thank you!
The Editorial Team
Thanks for joining us as an expert in the area of research.
Two questions I need assistance with;
1. How old should a research paper be before its considered outdated for publishing? Most of us do thesis write ups then time elapses before we realize we could have actually published our findings.
2. I share the same sentiments voiced out by Peter James, when are we going to see research from Africa spearheaded by young and vibrant African researchers? And what is the research community out there doing about this issue to date?
Thanks for today's questions.
I'm in India and am about to go to a Diwali party, so I apologise for not having time now to answer all of the questions. I'll catch up as soon as I can.
Here are some of my answers:
Q: Is there any policy or incentive available for BMJ articles access to developing countries students or government organizations as they can't afford to pay for every article?
A: All research papers in The BMJ are published with Open Access (OA), and this means everyone, everywhere, can read and reuse them without payment or permission. The same applies to all of BMJ’s fully OA journals, which include BMJ Open and, coming soon, BMJ Global Health. BMJ publishes more than 60 journals (http://journals.bmj.com/) and they all have at least some OA research papers.
In addition, many publishers, including BMJ, make all of their content free to academic and healthcare institutions in lower income countries through the Research4Life programme (http://www.research4life.org/). This includes the HINARI programme that gives free access to health research (http://www.who.int/hinari/en/).
I realise that these programmes aren’t the answer for everyone, not least because countries fall off the HINARI list as they become richer and/or become a viable market for international publishers. For example, India has many poor people and many health workers who can’t afford journal subscriptions, yet the country’s overall wealth keeps it out of HINARI. Sometimes publishers decide to go beyond HINARI and, indeed, all content in The BMJ is currently free to readers in India and across South Asia.
Q: Is it important to include the key results of the findings in the abstract? and is it mandatory to go by the IMRAD structure while writing manuscripts because I've seen many studies without IMRAD structure.
A: Yes, it is important to give the key results in the abstract. These should be the main outcomes/results that were planned for at the start of the study, in order to meet the goals of the study. Here are three reasons to give these results: 1) The abstract is the world’s window into your study. It may the only part of your paper that people will read and, in many journals, it may be the only part they can access without paying 2) At big journals with too many submission, editors sometimes screen papers by reading only the abstract. If they’d don’t see there a good research question (objective/hypothesis), a sound method to answer the question, and the answer (main results) they may simply reject the submission without reading the full paper 3) Journals with web submission systems don’t usually send out the whole paper when seeking peer reviewers: they email only the abstract, or a link to it online. So the abstract needs to be clear, accurate, and as informative as possible.
The IMRAD structure (Introduction, Methods, Results And Discussion) is still the clearest format for explaining the “Why, How, What, and Who cares?” elements of your study, and it reflects scientific method (Hypothesis, Testing/Methods, Findings, Interpretation). This is why the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (http://www.icmje.org/) and most biomedical journals strongly recommend the IMRAD format - it’s a good, structured way to tell the story of your study.
Thanks, and see you again soon.
Hello Trish, my questions are simple.
1) How can a starting researcher publish? what should the characteristics of the journal be when trying to publish (because most of the big journals wont publish research from new researchers), so how and on where do i start when do i try to scale to a bigger journal?
2) How do i get a to do a joint research on a LMIC, because most research done are by diseases that bigger countries would like to work or that generate profit form something such as HIV, and researches done on other countries that one would like to do in an LMIC sometimes its rejected because they say theres research done but theres difference between an LMIC from the caribbean region and from africa, but some people forget about that, so what can be done in those cases?
Thanks in advance.
Hello Trish ,I'm Mr.Joby George.Research nurse from India also member of GHT .
Nice to be on board with GHT,My question to you that Is it important to include the key results of the findings in the abstract? and is it mandatory to go by the IMRAD structure while writing manuscripts because I've seen many studies without IMRAD structure
Is there any policy or incentive available for BMJ articles access to developing countries students or government organizations as they can't afford to pay for every article ?
Judith - thanks for your questions. As a medical editor, I'm not able to offer any expert advice on where to find good evidence on enviornmental science. But I would start by searching Google Scholar. I just tried, using the term "land based pollution research" and yielded >140k results
I also found this review of such research:
Nor am I an expert on Evernote or other apps/software for referencing, but I've found that the websites of university libraries often provide handy tips, guides, and comparisons of reference managers. Here's some advice from the Oxford University libraries:
And I hope this link might help to answer your query about Evernote:
Thank you for your welcoming messages.
Peter: you make an important point. Although many papers on Ebola in NEJM, The Lancet, and other journals have included African coauthors, I agree with you that it would be very good to see studies initiated and published solely by African researchers and clinicians.
One key reason for the lack of African-authored papers must have been that those doctors, other healthcare workers, and scientists were too busy at the front line. Tragically, some died: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/africa/ebola-virus-five-co-authors-of-latest-study-on-outbreak-died-before-research-was-published-9701346.html
Another key reason was the lack of local research infrastructure and expertise. It's very good, therefore, to see organisations such as EDCTP and TDR putting money and energy into building research capacity:
It is my great pleasure to be among you, and I do hope that I will learn a lot.
I am happy to join this team.
I would love to know if any one has some easy hints, instructions for using evernote on a mac computer.
A quick way to enter references would be appreciated
Also where is the best place to search for land based pollution policies?
Thanks Trish for your response and time and hello colleagues.
I observed that the story of the current Ebola outbreak is being told by outsiders not African researchers which is obvious since they have the resources and expertise to conduct such studies. 90% authors that have written about Ebola are not Africans I do wonder if a paper written solely by African researchers who are not well known by the western scientific community will be considered for publication in those "IV" journal. I wish one day we Africans are in the position to tell our own stories rather than others telling it for us .
Once again, thanks for your help and time.
PS apologies for the typos - even editors make mistakes! Next time I'll type into a Word document and spellcheck before posting...
I'm pleased to be here, and very interested to read your comments and questions.
I'll do my best to answer your questions, as quickly as possible. But please bear with me if there's sometimes a delay. And I'll be away travelling over the next week.
Special thanks to Phans, Jerome, Augustine, Desalegn, and Tatah for starting us off.
Here are my answers:
1. Q: Why do journals reject research, even when a study was well conducted and had ethics approval?
A: Most of the big journals eg The BMJ, The Lancet, NEJM, and many specialist journals, are highly selective. They need to be, as they receive many more submissions than they can publish. The acceptance rates at such journals is usually very low - between 5-8%.
Imagine you're the editor, and you have in front of you 10 papers reporting good studies that have all had positive reports from the independent peer reviewers. You need to pick just one or two. You will choose those paper that you believe - in the light of the editorial team's experience, knowledge of the evidence base, and knowledge of readers' needs - will be the most interesting, relevant, new, and important to the majority of the journal's readers all round the world.
In the past week, you and your fellow editors will also have rejected many other papers because they weren't close enough to the journal's scope, didn't add quite enough to knowledge because they were too preliminary or not original enough, didn't report the methods and results clearly enough, tried to hype the findings and overstate their importance, or had scientific or ethical problems that weren't fixable.
It sounds unkind to say it, but big journals are largely rejection machines and most of our "customers" are disappointed. Given this, we try to say "no" quickly, so that we don't waste your time.
If your paper did get as far as independent, external peer review, then we will also send you the reviewers' comments. Do discuss with your coauthors any such feedback from the journal and reviewers. Use it to try and make your paper clearer, and then send it to the next journal on your list.
2. Q: what is BMJ doing to encourage and support researchers in LMICs?
A: We have more than 60 journals, several of which particularly welcome research from LMICs and have relatively high acceptance rates eg BMJ Open http://bmjopen.bmj.com/ BMJ Innovations http://innovations.bmj.com/ and - now welcoming submissions - our new journal BMJ Global Health http://promotions.bmj.com/globalhealth/ (submit via https://mc.manuscriptcentral.com/bmjgh). These are all open access journals, and all do ask for an article publishing fee if your article is accepted after peer review. We hope research funders will cover these fees but, if not, all these journals do offer discounts and waivers according to HINARI band.
We are also launching, early in 2016, a big eLearning programme for researchers. It's called BMJ Research to Publication http://rtop.bmj.com/ The main route to this will be through a subscription via your university or medical school, and we are making sure that this is available at very low cost in low income countries.
We've also made two modules from the programme free, via The Global Health Network's eLearning pages.
BMJ Research to Publication takes you through every step: from developing a good research question, through planning and conducting a scientifically and ethically strong study, to writing clear papers and successfully achieving publication. We have teamed up with the University of San Francisco, California (UCSF), and the programme combines their research expertise with BMJ's knowledge about getting published.
The programme aims to help all researchers everywhere, whether they're aiming for publication in The New England Journal of Medicine or a good local journal.
3. Q: I would like to prepare a systematic review protocol, and need some mentoring.
A: it's great to hear you're planning to do a systematic review: when well conducted and reported, these are very important and are often picked up in clinical practice guidelines and national policies.
One of the two free modules - available now on The Global Health Network - from the BMJ Research to Publication eLearning programme is all about writing up study protocols and getting them published.
I hope you'll try this module (it's a presentation that lasts about an hour, with 2-3 hours' further reading and tests), and I hope you'll find it useful. One key resource that it refers to is the PRISMA-P reporting guideline, which is an evidence-based tool to help authors plan their systematic reviews and write up their protocols. Along with many other research reporting guidelines, PRISMA-P is freely available at the EQUATOR Network website: http://www.equator-network.org/reporting-guidelines/prisma-protocols/
That's all for now.