Advice from the Editor

by Cynthia E. Dunbar, M.D., Past Editor-in-Chief (2008 to 2012)

The most important factors for publication of primary research papers in a highly regarded and thus competitive journal such as Blood are the inherent quality and importance of the clinical, translational, or laboratory results you have obtained. I cannot tell you how to design experiments or carry out clinical trials, so let’s assume here that you have come up with a great idea and are capable of carrying out the best possible research. In this brief commentary instead, I will provide advice on how to present your research most effectively to achieve the goal of publication in Blood or other similar journals.

When you perform your laboratory experiments, think of the figure that may result from the data when you set up controls, decide how many replicates to run, load lanes on gels, or obtain images. If you don’t, you will regret it later when missing controls, spliced lanes, or inadequate statistical power decrease reviewer enthusiasm. Follow our guidelines for preparation of images carefully; our rules are designed to give readers the most accurate depiction of data and are not negotiable. Revocation of an acceptance or a delay in publication can result if we detect image abnormalities during our final image screening processes. For clinical studies, be sure you have appropriate ethical board/IRB permissions and documentation of informed consent, and that your clinical trial was registered prior to patient entry, as currently required by Blood and most other reputable journals. If you ignore these steps, it will be too late to go back and rectify the situation later. For any study, keep meticulous records, and insist that your collaborators and trainees present you with primary data sets, so that you can validate the findings independently and can have access to information necessary for later revisions, even if your co-authors are no longer involved in the project.

So now you have collected and analyzed your data and are ready to begin the process of publication. Decided on your target journal. Scan the table of contents of journals to see what type of papers they accept. Ask a senior colleague who is not an author to read a draft or go over the data with you and get suggestions regarding a realistic journal. Read the instructions to authors carefully. These documents often give clues regarding what the editors are looking for. First ask if the topic of your paper fits within the scope of the journal. Blood covers a wide range of topics in hematology and related areas: our most difficult areas regarding scope are immunobiology, tumor immunology, non-hematopoietic stem cell biology, and vascular biology. We try to publish only immunobiology papers that have direct relevance to human hematologic diseases or stem cell transplantation. We do not publish in the area of atherosclerosis, feeling these papers are more appropriate for the cardiovascular literature. I receive 10 or more papers per week at Blood that fall unequivocally outside our scope, on topics as diverse as muscle exercise physiology, diabetes, solid tumor oncology, cardiac regeneration, and kidney transplantation. Some papers argue that use of any assay on a blood sample places the work within the scope of our journal. One quick way editors often use to gauge whether a paper is likely to fall within the scope of the journal is to scan the references. If none are from the hematologic literature, the paper is quite unlikely to be appropriate for Blood.

Next, ask if your paper is likely to be successful in terms of priority for publication in Blood. Is it novel? Does it ask and answer an important question definitively? Does it stimulate further research? We can very rarely accommodate case reports or a small case series. Phase 1 clinical trial results generally are not high priority for publication. On the other hand, we would like to encourage submission and publication of important clinical trial results, even if the trial is “negative,” if that negative result is an important one in defining appropriate clinical care. Laboratory studies that focus on a single or a few cell lines, instead of primary cells or in vivo models, are much less likely to be accepted. If you have any question about whether your paper is likely to be within the general scope of Blood, please send a presubmission inquiry to my office: I cannot carry out a detailed review, but at least I can advise you on whether the over-all topic and experimental design are likely to be appropriate for Blood, and I can save you the time and expense of a full submission if the paper has no chance of acceptance.

Finally, the actual writing. Be clear and succinct. Do not use “jargon.” Do not describe your own results as “amazing” or “dramatic”: let the reviewers and reader decide. Place your results in appropriate context, and if the studies may seem not fully novel, explain why your study adds significantly to the prior literature. This is a much better approach than ignoring prior literature in hopes the editors and reviewers will not notice the lack of novelty. If English is not your primary language, get help either from fluent coauthors or colleagues or from professional editorial services (listed on the Blood Web site in the Author Guide). If you have any outside help with writing or editing, you must disclose the nature of the assistance and its funding during the submission process. “Ghost” authors or editors are not allowed.

Even if you are not successful, we hope that the review process will help improve your paper and that you will try again in the future. We are not perfect. We make mistakes and publish papers we should not have and reject papers that later turn out to be truly important. However, the editors, staff, and reviewers do all that we can to try and present the best in hematology to the community via Blood. As we move forward, we hope to introduce features that allow more rapid and direct communication between authors, editors, and readers, including a rapid response on-line feature, e-Letters, that will replace most of our Letters to the Editor section, allowing dialogues in just about real time about papers published in Blood. We hope that this section will also allow all our readers to participate in and give feedback about the journal.

Part 1 - Planning and Execution Part 2 – Choosing a Target Journal
Part 3 – Preparing the Paper Part 4 – Special Content and Images
Part 5 – Manuscript Submission & Post-Submission