Teaching About Publishing

Course on publishing for groups of up to 30 PhD students:  "What you need to know to be effective in publishing your work"

A naturalist’s life would be a happy one if he had only to observe and never to write
Charles Darwin, Letter to C. Lyell, 1867

This quote from Darwin very appropriately summarizes the sentiment of scientists through the ages. Doing and publishing science are two very different activities, involving different perspectives and employing different techniques. Arriving at the PhD level means that we have a demonstrated desire and ability to conduct scientific research, but we are usually not trained formally about how to publish our work. Such training is important, because publishing is not only a requirement of institutions such as universities and granting agencies, but it is also a formal vehicle for communicating discoveries with our contemporaries and with future scientists.

"What you need to know to be effective in publishing your work" capitalizes on my experience as Editor in Chief of the journal
Ecology Letters for over a decade, to provide students with unique insights into the publishing world. Understanding the many facets of publishing will help your development within the scientific community, and provide the tools to communicate your science more effectively.

The course will include both lectures and practical work over three days. The lectures will be interactive, and cover a wide range of topics, including why we publish, the importance of impact factors and how they are calculated, different journal types, and how journals are run and what editors are looking for. I will go into depth regarding ethical issues such as concurrent submissions, plagiarism, citing previous work, acknowledgments, authorship, copyright issues and publication bias. I will stress the importance of obtaining feedback on manuscripts before they are submitted, writing the cover letter, and how to write inquiries to editors. Finally, I will discuss journal decisions, including reasons for rejection, replying to decision letters calling for revision, and appealing decisions of rejection.


The practical work will provide training in several important ways. First, the quality of cover letters (content and style) is increasingly regarded as essential to getting manuscripts assessed by editorial boards and external reviewers. Students will participate individually and in groups in drafting a cover letter for a manuscript. Second, attracting potential readers to your work means that you are able to effectively write titles, abstracts, and choose keywords that will catch the attention of both specialists and the wider scientific community. Students will have the opportunity to practice these skills for different prospective journals. Third, students will be placed in a situation where they have to deal with a manuscript rejection, including contacting coauthors, deciding on a plan of action, and writing an appeal letter. Finally, scientists have an important role in guaranteeing the quality of colleagues’ work, though manuscript assessments. Reviewing colleagues’ manuscripts also increases our ability to exercise self-criticism. Students will be asked to conduct an assessment of a short manuscript, paying attention to the objectives of writing a useful and responsible review.

For more information about teaching this course at your university or research institute, please contact me at mehochberg AT gmail DOT com