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Editorial

Ten Simple Rules for Getting Published


Philip E. Bourne

journal in which you plan to publish. Rule 6: The ingredients of good


Outstanding editors demand and get science are obvious—novelty of
he student council (http://www.

T iscbsc.org/) of the International


Society for Computational
Biology asked me to present my
outstanding reviews. Put your energy
into improving the quality of the
manuscript before submission. Ideally,
the reviews will improve your paper.
research topic, comprehensive
coverage of the relevant literature,
good data, good analysis including
thoughts on getting published in the strong statistical support, and a
But they will not get to imparting
field of computational biology at the thought-provoking discussion. The
that advice if there are fundamental
Intelligent Systems in Molecular ingredients of good science
flaws.
Biology conference held in Detroit in reporting are obvious—good
late June of 2005. Close to 200 bright Rule 4: If you do not write well in the organization, the appropriate use of
young souls (and a few not so young) English language, take lessons early; tables and figures, the right length,
crammed into a small room for what writing to the intended audience—
it will be invaluable later.
proved to be a wonderful interchange do not ignore the obvious.
This is not just about grammar, but
among a group of whom approximately Be objective about these ingredients
more importantly comprehension. The
one-half had yet to publish their first when you review the first draft, and do
best papers are those in which complex
paper. The advice I gave that day I have not rely on your mentor. Get a candid
ideas are expressed in a way that those
modified and present as ten rules for opinion by having the paper read by
who are less than immersed in the field
getting published. colleagues without a vested interest in
can understand. Have you noticed that
the most renowned scientists often give the work, including those not directly
Rule 1: Read many papers, and learn
the most logical and simply stated yet involved in the topic area.
from both the good and the bad
work of others. stimulating lectures? This extends to Rule 7: Start writing the paper the
It is never too early to become a their written work as well. Note that
day you have the idea of what
critic. Journal clubs, where you critique writing clearly is valuable, even if your
questions to pursue.
a paper as a group, are excellent for ultimate career does not hinge on
Some would argue that this places
having this kind of dialogue. Reading at producing good scientific papers in
too much emphasis on publishing, but
least two papers a day in detail (not just English language journals. Submitted
it could also be argued that it helps
in your area of research) and thinking papers that are not clearly written in define scope and facilitates hypothesis-
about their quality will also help. Being good English, unless the science is truly driven science. The temptation of
well read has another potential major outstanding, are often rejected or at novice authors is to try to include
benefit—it facilitates a more objective best slow to publish since they require everything they know in a paper. Your
view of one’s own work. It is too easy extensive copyediting. thesis is/was your kitchen sink. Your
after many late nights spent in front of papers should be concise, and impart as
Rule 5: Learn to live with rejection.
a computer screen and/or laboratory much information as possible in the
A failure to be objective can make
bench to convince yourself that your least number of words. Be familiar with
rejection harder to take, and you will
work is the best invention since sliced the guide to authors and follow it, the
be rejected. Scientific careers are full of
bread. More than likely it is not, and editors and reviewers do. Maintain a
rejection, even for the best scientists. good bibliographic database as you go,
your mentor is prone to falling into the
The correct response to a paper being and read the papers in it.
same trap, hence rule 2.
rejected or requiring major revision is
Rule 2: The more objective you can to listen to the reviewers and respond
be about your work, the better that in an objective, not subjective, manner.
work will ultimately become. Reviews reflect how your paper is being
Alas, some scientists will never be judged—learn to live with it. If
objective about their own work, and reviewers are unanimous about the Citation: Bourne PE (2005) Ten simple rules for
will never make the best scientists— poor quality of the paper, move on—in getting published. PLoS Comput Biol 1(5): e57.
learn objectivity early, the editors and virtually all cases, they are right. If they Copyright: Ó 2005 Philip E. Bourne. This is an open-
reviewers have. request a major revision, do it and access article distributed under the terms of the
address every point they raise both in Creative Commons Attribution License, which
permits unrestricted use, distribution, and
Rule 3: Good editors and reviewers your cover letter and through obvious reproduction in any medium, provided the original
will be objective about your work. revisions to the text. Multiple rounds of author and source are properly credited.
The quality of the editorial board is revision are painful for all those DOI: 10.1371/journal.pcbi.0010057
an early indicator of the review concerned and slow the publishing Philip E. Bourne is Editor-in-Chief of PLoS
process. Look at the masthead of the process. Computational Biology. E-mail: bourne@sdsc.edu

PLoS Computational Biology | www.ploscompbiol.org 0341 October 2005 | Volume 1 | Issue 5 | e57
Rule 8: Become a reviewer early in which is an important ingredient in like Google Scholar and the ISI Web of
your career. deciding where to send your paper. Science are being used by tenure
Reviewing other papers will help you committees and employers to define
Rule 9: Decide early on where to try metrics for the quality of your work. It
write better papers. To start, work with
your mentors; have them give you
to publish your paper. used to be that just the journal name
This will define the form and level of was used as a metric. In the digital
papers they are reviewing and do the
detail and assumed novelty of the work world, everyone knows if a paper has
first cut at the review (most mentors
you are doing. Many journals have a little impact. Try to publish in journals
will be happy to do this). Then, go
presubmission enquiry system
through the final review that gets sent that have high impact factors; chances
available—use it. Even before the paper
in by your mentor, and where allowed, are your paper will have high impact,
is written, get a sense of the novelty of
as is true of this journal, look at the too, if accepted.
the work, and whether a specific
reviews others have written. This will When you are long gone, your
journal will be interested.
provide an important perspective on scientific legacy is, in large part, the
the quality of your reviews and, Rule 10: Quality is everything. literature you left behind and the
hopefully, allow you to see your own It is better to publish one paper in a impact it represents. I hope these ten
work in a more objective way. You will quality journal than multiple papers in simple rules can help you leave behind
also come to understand the review lesser journals. Increasingly, it is harder something future generations of
process and the quality of reviews, to hide the impact of your papers; tools scientists will admire. &

PLoS Computational Biology | www.ploscompbiol.org 0342 October 2005 | Volume 1 | Issue 5 | e57