Are you looking to share research or an interesting case report with your fellow optometrists? Publishing in a peer-reviewed journal can be rewarding, advance your career, and contribute to the field of optometry. While it is a worthwhile endeavor, working toward publication can also be daunting and difficult to navigate.
This article will discuss how to select an appropriate topic, get yourself organized, and present your idea to the right audience. From choosing a publication that is the best match to proper communication and writing etiquette we will walk you through the process to getting your manuscript published.
1. Query an idea
Are you considering writing a research paper or presenting a case report and not sure where to begin? Start with the simple questions of “what do I want to say?” and “has this been done before?”
Collect and assess previous research published on your topic via a literature review. This will ensure you are presenting a new idea or building on one that is already accepted in an interesting and unique way. This can give direction to your paper by asking what is already known and what is currently unknown.
Next, create an outline of your idea. This helps to establish the purpose, scope, audience, and impact goals of your paper. It also prevents you from digressing from the intended message to the readers. Establish main headings and subheadings that you intend to use and list the key points or elements that could potentially be included in each.
2. Choose your submission type
After you have brainstormed and established the backbone of your topic in Step 1, you will choose which type of manuscript to compose. Options for manuscript type often include, but are not limited to, editorial, case report, literature review, and original research paper.
An editorial shares the writer’s viewpoint on a certain topic; it can contain data but is not the route for the initial presentation of new research. The author will present the topic, take a stance and present supportive research and reasoning behind that stance in an attempt to persuade the reader.
Some optometric journals accept clinical communications or scientific letters. These may be shorter pieces on a particular topic or viewpoint, like an editorial. They also offer a route to share an interesting observation or unique case presentation that is not substantial enough for a full research paper.
A case report, as the title suggests, presents the readers with a clinical case from start to end. It can introduce the reader to something new, introduce the reader to a rare condition or presentation, or lend support to a new optometric approach. A case report is a great place for new writers to start since the content organization is the most straightforward and focused. A case series format can be used to present a group of related cases.
A literature review is a larger project summarizing and reviewing all that is known on a particular topic. This type of manuscript involves in-depth research collection and analysis. It may investigate key sources on a topic or research on a topic from within a certain time frame.
Statistical methods and meta-analyses are often used to group similar research and look for trends. This type of paper essentially builds on the work of others but is still very important in establishing the bigger picture on a topic or creating a go-to article where all of the topic information can be found in one place.
An original research paper is used to present an experimental study and is being presented by the researchers themselves. Needless to say, the writing and/or research must also be original, in that it is not published elsewhere; there is usually a waiver requiring signature to attest to this as part of the submission.
The authors must pose a clinical question or hypothesis then perform an experiment to test it. Experiments and research performed at academic institutions will fall into this category. Statistical analyses will be used to establish causation, or lack thereof.
3. Break down the manuscript sections
Breaking down your manuscript into its smaller sections can make it easier to tackle and keep you on track. Section formatting will ultimately depend on your manuscript type but most papers progress in a similar flow despite differences in formal section titles.
Appropriate sections for an editorial, letter, or communication would be:
- An introduction to the topic.
- Body with supportive information.
- Conclusion to re-emphasize the writer’s viewpoint.
The main sections required for a scientific paper are:
- Key words
- Materials and methods
If you are opting for a case report the methods and results sections may become treatment and management sections instead.
The paper title should be an accurate and succinct description of the paper content.
Three-to-five keywords are often required to assist with topic searches.
The abstract should present the most basic content of the paper while piquing the reader's interest in the topic. The scope and purpose of the research, overview of methods and findings and principal conclusions or takeaways should be included. It should only be a few sentences long with the length often specified by the journal’s word limit. References, abbreviations, figures and tables should not be in the abstract.
The introduction section should provide all of the relevant background information the reader needs to establish context for your paper. It should open with a broad overview of the topic and followed by specifics that are relevant to your particular report and hypothesis.
Materials and methods
When writing the materials and methods section remember that you should write with enough detail that someone could use this section to replicate your results. Be specific and concise when describing your subjects and equipment.
Present the steps you took in chronological order using subheadings when needed if the experiment was completed in multiple steps or phases. The steps should be described in past tense, since at this point, you have already completed them.
Note: Ensure subject consent where required. The general rule is if any identifying factors or information are present, consent is required. Some journals require consent regardless, review the specific journal instructions to authors for protocol. Your institution may also have its own set of guidelines.
In the results section, you will present your data and statistical analyses in an objective way. Use graphs, tables and charts to pictorialize the important trends and make them clear and digestible for the reader. Make sure you are consistent with data presentation, ie., rounding to the same number of decimal places throughout and consistent units of measurement.
In the discussion section, you will discuss what your results mean in terms of application to patient care or disease management. Essentially tie them into broader knowledge of the topic. Was your result new or similar to others before you? What further research should be done to support your findings? What were any challenges or limitations present in your research?
A conclusion should sum up the purpose, procedure, and relevant findings in a succinct manner. If the research is clinically relevant it can end with a clinical pearl or “takeaway” for the clinician.
Each journal will specify which style to use for the reference section, though most commonly used is the American Medical Association format. Make sure to follow the provided guide and if you need additional help, look at a recently published paper in that journal and use their reference list as your initial guide.1,2
4. Find the right publication
Start with your literature to see which journals have been interested in your topic. Make a list of the journals you are considering in priority order. There are several journal options for optometry specifically, but optometry manuscripts can also be considered for ophthalmology journals or applicable to other medical fields such as endocrinology, emergency medicine, rheumatology etc., so don’t limit yourself.
A peer-reviewed journal is preferred, this means each manuscript is read/verified by peers in the field who are considered experts. This lends credibility and is the highest quality level for scientific journals. Below is a list of well-respected publications to get you started.
Peer-Reviewed Optometry and Ophthalmology Publications3
Consider the impact factor
Impact factor is another aspect you might consider when selecting where to submit your manuscript. Impact factor suggests the “importance” of a certain journal to the profession. It does this by providing a ratio of the number of articles from a given journal cited in other research in the past two years to the number of new articles published in that journal in the past two years .In other words, how many times did other authors reference material from that journal?
An advantage of a higher impact journal is more visibility and prestige, however, a disadvantage is that the journal may have longer turn-around time and be generally more difficult to be accepted for publication. Impact factor is not considered a reliable measure for new journals that have existed less than 3 years.4
Before you submit your manuscript, review (and re-review) the author submission guidelines and checklist provided by the journal.
“Save yourself the frustration and get formatting right the first time.”
If you do not have the proper formatting ( i.e., figures embedded in text when they should be attached as a separate file), you can be sure the paper will be returned to you immediately without consideration. The same goes for word count, layout, and category of paper submission.
5. Tailor your writing to the audience
Use simple and precise wording that is to the point. Use an active voice and proper tensing. Make sure you proofread your writing eliminating spelling and grammatical errors. Remember who your audience is and utilize the appropriate technical terminology.
The way you describe diagnostic testing or findings may differ based on the journal, (i.e., if you are publishing in an optometry journal versus another discipline, like rheumatology), due to the audience knowledge base. Similarly, the conclusion may differ based on your audience and your intended take-away points.5
6. Don’t get discouraged
It can take several months to hear back from the journal editor and reviewers regarding your manuscript, so be patient. If the first manuscript you submit for publication is rejected, don’t give up! Scientific writing takes practice. It is rare for a paper to be accepted on the first submission and is very common for it to be returned with requested revisions—take that as a win!
The peer review process usually involves multiple reviewers and so you may receive several sets of comments and revision requests. Try not to take the reviewer's comments personally if they are negative. Review them carefully, make the requested edits or changes and draft a response to each reviewer for each point raised.
“Remember to also thank the reviewers for their time and consideration of your work—they don’t have an easy job.”
When you resubmit your paper, you will submit comments to the reviewers along with it. As you practice and build a solid foundation in your skills, more opportunities will present themselves and the writing and process will come more naturally.
7. Promote your work
Your paper was selected for publication? Congratulations, you have contributed something important and worthwhile to the field of optometry! Seeing your work in print or an e-publication is awesome, a proud moment of accomplishment.
Don’t forget to promote your work by sharing with your coworkers, clinic and institution; some positions offer promotions or awards for professional publications. And of course, don’t forget to add to your curriculum vitae, LinkedIn, and to share on your professional social media.
- Tischler, M. Scientific writing booklet. Retrieved August 14, 2022, from https://cbc.arizona.edu/sites/cbc.arizona.edu/files/marc/Sci-Writing.pdf
- Turbek SP, Chock TM, Donahue K, et al. Scientific writing made easy: A step-by-step guide to undergraduate writing in the Biological Sciences. The Bulletin of the Ecological Society of America. 2016;97(4):417-426. doi:10.1002/bes2.1258
- Approved Ophthalmic Journals for Publications. National Association of VA optometrists. NAVAO. https://navao.org/. Accessed August 14, 2022.
- Sharma M, Sarin A, Gupta P, Sachdeva S, Desai AV. Journal impact factor: its use, significance and limitations. World J Nucl Med. 2014 May;13(2):146.
- Sharma S. How to become a competent medical writer?. Perspect Clin Res. 2010;1(1):33-37.