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There are no secrets to getting your clinical cardiology research published in a high-impact journal. Indeed, there are many online and print resources that detail how to perform and publish high-quality research.1–8 This article provides a very short summary of the essential elements and some tips for getting started (table 1).
Why you should publish your research?
Publication of your clinical cardiology research in a peer-reviewed journal ensures that the data are available to other investigators, promote discussion among the research community, serve as basis for future research and ensure that your methodology and results are permanently archived. Ultimately, the goal of clinical cardiology research is to improve the care of patients with heart disease; each valid piece of data adds to that knowledge base.
Plan the paper from the start
Novice researchers often erroneously think of the published paper as the final step in the research project. Experienced researchers recognise that thinking about the paper actually is one of the first steps in planning clinical research. Using the reporting guidelines appropriate to your study type will ensure your protocol meets the highest research standards.2 3
Your research (and the paper) should start with an important clinical or scientific question and should have a clearly articulated hypothesis. Helpful approaches for defining the question include the FINER criteria (feasible, interesting, novel, ethical and relevant) or the PICOT approach (population, intervention, comparator, outcomes and time frame).4 A study question is well constructed regardless of whether the results either confirm or disprove the initial hypothesis.
Your research (and the paper) should have appropriate and clearly defined methods and a robust approach to statistical analysis. Your research plan should include all the data elements needed to populate the anticipated tables and graphics in the eventual publication. Thus, the introduction, methods and results sections of the papers can be ‘drafted’ even before the research is started because the research plan should exactly match these sections.
Of course, the discussion is left until after the research is complete, although some components such as study limitations and the context of the research are known in advance. Thinking about your research plan in terms of anticipated publication will improve the quality of your research.
Choose the right journal
Although all research, in theory, can be accessed by everyone once published, it still makes a difference where you submit your paper. Look at the journal aims and what types of papers have previously been published in that journal to make sure your research fits within that journal's scope of interest. Consider the journal readership, reputation and social media activity as markers of who will notice your paper. Look at the journal track record for time to first decision, acceptance rate and time from acceptance to publication to gauge whether your paper is likely to be accepted and when it would be in print.
Understand the peer-review process
Most journal now reject many papers ‘instantly’ or ‘without review’. This simply means it was the wrong journal for your research so your response should be rapid resubmission to a different journal. If you are asked to revise your paper, be humble and carefully answer each reviewer comment (even if you think the reviewer missed something or is wrong) in the cover letter and make appropriate changes in the paper. Most journals also send papers for statistical review so be prepared for two (or more) cycles of revision before eventual publication. Remember that the Editor's goal is to help improve the quality of your final published paper. The rate-limiting step in the time from initial submission to final publication usually is the time authors take to revise the paper, followed by the time reviewers take to return comments. You cannot speed up the reviewers but you can be faster yourself.
Use tables and optimal graphical displays of quantitative data
Tables provide detailed data in a compact format.5 Optimal graphical displays allow presentation of the data distribution, as well as median or mean values, and other descriptors in a format that is easily understood and communicated. As Edward Tufte has taught us so elegantly, visual graphics allow ‘simple design, intense content’.6 Recommendations for graphical displays of common types of clinical cardiology research data are provided in a recent series of review articles in Heart.7–10
Acknowledge limitations of your data
Present your research honestly and acknowledge the limitations of your study design and data. Focus the discussion on your own study with balanced conclusions based on the data presented. Suggest future directions for research but be cautious in recommending changes in clinical care or extrapolating your results beyond the types of patients included in your study. A common error is to use wording that suggests causation, which requires a randomised trial, when only an association has been demonstrated. Wording should be specific and precise.
Sell your story
Ultimately, research publications are about telling the story of your research. Be precise and accurate but also put your message across in the most positive and exciting way. Impart your enthusiasm to the reader and the Editor—if you are not excited by your own work they certainly will not be. What is the most important and exciting aspect of your work? How will it change or inform clinical or scientific practice? This importance and interest has to come across readily, and especially in the abstract.
Become a reviewer
Serving as reviewer is both your responsibility as researcher and provides recognition of your professional accomplishments. Reviewing other people's research helps hone critical thinking skills which will enhance your own research and publications.
Design and do high-quality clinical cardiology research
High-quality publications start with a good question, a robust study design, meticulous methodology and honest reporting of results. Only then can editors and journals assist you in optimising the presentation, disseminating the results, putting your contribution in context and promoting further discussion by the research community and general public.
Competing interests None declared.
Provenance and peer review Commissioned; internally peer reviewed.
Correction notice This paper has been amended since it was published Online First. Owing to a scripting error, some of the publisher names in the references were replaced with 'BMJ Publishing Group'. This only affected the full text version, not the PDF. We have since corrected these errors and the correct publishers have been inserted into the references.