Article In Brief
Editors in chief of the major neurology journals share how their publications differ and offer advice to authors about how to get their research published.
The sure-fire way to get published is to conduct valuable research that journals are eager to snap up.
“Publication in a journal is at the end of the process,” said José Merino, MD, MPhil, FAHA, FAAN, editor inchief of Neurology. “I advise young colleagues starting a research project to work closely with their mentor to develop a good research question that addresses an important topic, develop a good experiment to test their hypotheses, and for interpreting the data. And then work with the senior members of your team to write a good, compelling story of what you did.”
That advice applies to all the top neurology journals, editors in chief told Neurology Today. While the major neurology journals all publish important content, they differ in some key ways, and understanding those differences may help authors find the right home for their papers more quickly. The journals’ editors shared their insights, tips, and advice with Neurology Today.
Do your research
First, research the journal before submitting an idea, because sending in an article that is inappropriate for a specific journal wastes time for the author as well as the editors. Authors can acquaint themselves with a journal’s content by reviewing a few issues and surveying their tables of content, said Kenneth L. Tyler, MD, FAAN, editor in chief of Annals of Neurology.
“We see papers that really fall outside of the scope of the journal, and you almost wonder if the author is randomly pulling the trigger,” Dr. Tyler said. “If you have never seen a paper on a particular topic in that journal, that may be a message that you haven’t matched the content of what you’re submitting to the content of what a journal produces.”
“We only publish papers on research involving human beings, but all the time– almost every week—we get a paper about an animal model,” said Elena Becker-Barroso, PhD Hon DSc, editor in chief of Lancet Neurology. “Sometimes these are good papers, but they are not for us.”
Authors also should seek advice early. “We like when people come to us with a proposal for a review that says, ‘I’m thinking of writing this paper. Is this suitable for Lancet Neurology?’” Dr. Becker-Barroso said. “We like to work with authors from the very inception—before a draft of the manuscript is ready—so we can help them write the paper that is suitable for our readership.”
At Annals of Neurology, Dr. Tyler encourages authors to send pre-submission inquiries directly to the appropriate subject editor listed on the journal’s website.
“Send us a description of the paper that you are thinking of submitting—of course, the more meat, the better,” he said. “We won’t guarantee to you that we will review it, but we can say if it is a reasonable fit for the journal.”
The Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery, and Psychiatry (JNNP) recommends that authors touch base with the editor in chief before submitting a paper. Karen L. Furie, MD, MPH, the journal’s editor in chief, said she receives several requests each week from authors working on manuscripts or who have ideas for a paper.
Complying with a journal’s manuscript style can be tedious and time-consuming—and you may not need to do it when you submit an article.
“As long as the content has been sent to us in a way that the editors and reviewers can look at it, we don’t force people at the submission stage to slavishly follow the reference formatting style of Annals,” Dr. Tyler said.
“We take papers in what I would call an open format. After the journal accepts a paper, authors are expected to format it according to the publication’s style guide.”
On the other hand, authors submitting articles to JNNP must format them according to the author instructions on the journal’s website.
“We do referrals to our companion journals within BMJ,” Dr. Furie said. “A number of BMJ journals are related to the areas that publish in JNNP, so if you were referred to one of those companion journals, there would not be a need to make any formatting changes.”
The vast majority of submissions to top journals are rejected without peer review, and authors are notified quickly.
At JAMA Neurology, authors of articles not sent out for peer review are notified within about 72 hours; if an article goes out for peer review, authors get a decision within about 30 days.
“We pride ourselves on a fairly rapid turnaround process so that authors can hear the decision and decide whether to move on to another journal,” said JAMA Neurology‘s editor in chief, S. Andrew Josephson, MD, FAAN.
“Spending decades of my career as an author, I know that if your paper is not going to make it, you want to know fast so you can send it somewhere else,” Dr. Tyler said. “Fortunately, there are a number of good journals, and not everybody’s going to have the same opinion.”
Distributed to members of the American Academy of Neurology, Neurology serves clinicians and investigators conducting clinical research. It publishes 48 issues a year, allowing it to publish more papers than any other neurology-specific journal.
Still, only about 10 percent of submitted articles are published.
“Sometimes we have to reject some very good research just because we have a limited number of pages,” said Dr. Merino, professor of neurology at Georgetown University School of Medicine,
Neurology is the flagship of several AAN journals: Neurology: Genetics, Neurology: Education, Neurology: Clinical Practice, and Neurology: Neuroimmunology & Neuroinflammation. Papers that Neurology editors consider to be high quality but which do not fit the scope of Neurology or are a better fit for other journals in the family can be sent to the other journal for consideration if the author approves. Dr. Merino said that’s one of the advantages of submitting to Neurology.
“We publish articles that answer the big questions in clinical neurology—anything that studies the epidemiology, pathology, clinical manifestations, or treatment of neurologic disease,” he said. “Every paper gets assessed in these terms: Will it help clinicians or patients or researchers in the field?”
Neurology publishes 10 research papers in each week’s issue. It also publishes clinically focused review articles that highlight the advances in the science behind the question being addressed.
“We are interested in papers that translate developments in science to clinical practice,” Dr. Merino said. “And we publish papers that have to do with contemporary issues, such as ongoing debates about education or research or clinical care.”
The journal does not publish any animal studies or research that addresses a very narrow field of neurology. Case reports rarely make it into Neurology outside of the Resident & Fellow section, which residents and fellows manage.
Authors do make some common mistakes, according to Dr. Merino, including focusing on unoriginal or unimportant research questions.
“It’s just replicating what other people have done,” he said. “Another [common mistake] is the lack of clarity about the research question. With some papers, even after reading the introduction and the methods, I still don’t understand what question is being asked. And, particularly for clinical trials, a major limitation is not reporting the registered primary outcome.”
Dr. Merino advises authors to use the reporting guidelines on the EQUATOR (Enhancing the QUAlity and Transparency Of health Research) Network website to help structure their papers and make sure no important information has been omitted.
“Poor writing is also an issue,” he said. “Writing well is something we all have to learn to do, and we develop this skill over time. It is difficult for any editor to be sympathetic when reading the paper is a struggle.”
“And we’re also on the lookout for people who include too much hype or spin in their papers,” Dr. Merino said. “Trying to convince me that a paper is great by stating it’s the first time one ever has been done on a topic does not work. Let your data and work speak for itself.”
The Lancet Neurology
The Lancet Neurology is part of The Lancet family of journals and shares its mission: to publish the best science for better lives.
“Quality is paramount for us, but also what we publish must be useful for its clinical relevance or for its public health, social health, or planetary health relevance,” Dr. Becker-Barroso said. “The focus on the social determinants of health, inequalities, and the impact on diversity and inclusion is a strength here.”
All members of the Lancet family of publications—including The Lancet Public Health, The Lancet Global Health, and The Lancet Child and Adolescent Health—publish neurology articles. Regional journals focusing on Asia, Brazil, and other geographies also publish articles about neurology.
The Lancet Neurology readership is broad and clinical in general.
“They come not only from the academic field in neurology but also include nurses, psychiatrists, geriatricians, pediatricians, and others,” Dr. Becker-Barroso said. “Every paper needs to be understood and interesting for those that care about a specific kind of research, but it also needs to be appealing to those that don’t know anything about it.”
Like all journals in The Lancet family, The Lancet Neurology content is divided into three major sections: peer-reviewed original research reviews, opinion, and news. An extensive selection of reviews, also peer-reviewed, are mostly commissioned by the editors.
“We can only publish four papers per month of original research, so obviously our acceptance rate is really low,” Dr. Becker-Barroso said. “That means that we have to give priority to papers that we believe are going to change clinical practice.”
Dr. Becker-Barroso thinks many authors fail to recognize the news and opinion sections as a good opportunity.
“There are many things that fit into this section, and those are not necessarily peer-reviewed. We even consider things that are sometimes really quirky, like reflection,” she said. “This section is especially good for young people, for instance, who have a cause or a concern or a complaint or just want to share something with their peers. They can communicate that in a letter or a small feature or a comment in this section.”
All results are good. “We are not biased against negative results—that’s a very well-established editorial guideline here,” Dr. Becker-Barroso said. “We choose based on the originality and quality of the study. We believe negative findings can be as relevant, sometimes even more so, than positive findings.”
Authors should remember that adhering to reporting guidelines—CONSORT (Consolidated Standards of Reporting Trials) for reporting randomized controlled trials, STROBE (Strengthening the Reporting of Observational Studies in Epidemiology) for observational studies, and the rest of the guidelines that most high-impact medical journals use—is essential.
“Young investigators sometimes believe that having a very remarkable finding overrides all sorts of format considerations, and this is not the case for a clinical journal,” Dr. Becker-Barroso said.
JAMA Neurology serves a wide audience of practicing neurologists and academics, trainees at all levels, and people in neurology-adjacent fields, such as neuroradiology, neuropsychology, and psychiatry.
“We want to disseminate the absolute most important original research, opinion, and education for a really broad set of neurologists,” said Dr. Josephson, chair of the neurology department and the Carmen Castro Franceschi and Gladyne K. Mitchell Neurohospitalist Distinguished Professor at the University of California, San Francisco. “We’re trying to find material that will truly be impactful for a wide variety of readers.”
The journal editors like to publish clinical trials and important epidemiological observations. “We also have, perhaps a bit uniquely, a very large opinion section where, in addition to editorials, we have a viewpoint section where people can publish their thoughts on a controversial topic,” he said. “And we have a humanities section called ‘On the Brain’ where authors share personal stories about patient care or neurologic conditions.”
The journal also includes large clinical review and education sections and “Images in Neurology”—images or brief clinical videos that tell an interesting tale or make an important clinical point.
The journal does not publish studies based on animal models in general or single case reports unless it is a truly groundbreaking observation.
“Last year, our acceptance rate across all articles was 8 percent, and our acceptance rate for research articles was 5 percent,” Dr. Josephson said. “So it’s a competitive journal, but at the same time, it’s a journal where truly outstanding work can be published.”
One common mistake authors make is not following guidelines. If a specific type of article has a certain word count, he said, authors must stay within it.
“I always encourage authors to read very carefully the instructions to authors to make sure that they are meeting those requirements,” Dr. Josephson said.
The biggest mistake researchers make is not submitting an article to JAMA Neurology because they assume it would be rejected.
“And then I see that article in another journal and say, ‘Oh gosh, I really wish they would have submitted to our journal because we would have loved to publish something this important and novel,” Dr. Josephson said.
Annals of Neurology
Annals of Neurology, the official journal of the American Neurological Association and the Child Neurology Society, focuses exclusively on academic neurologists, including clinicians, basic research scientists, clinical researchers, outcomes researchers, and other specialists. It publishes original research and brief reports. Annals prints fewer reviews than other neurology journals, and the editors typically solicit the ones it does run. The journal includes some neurologic images and very few case reports.
“We publish experimental animal or even in vitro studies related to human disease,” said Dr. Tyler, the Louise Baum Endowed Chair of Neurology at the University of Colorado. “But that is only if, when clinicians see the article, they can understand why we published that. If a clinician wouldn’t understand that, the article may be better placed in one of the neuroscience journals.”
At least two-thirds of articles submitted are rejected without external review. Of the papers that are reviewed, between a quarter and a third ultimately are published. Articles not chosen for Annals might be referred, with the author’s permission, to one of two sister journals, Annals of Clinical and Translational Neurology and Annals of the Child Neurology Society.
The JNNP, one of the British Medical Journal publications, serves three constituencies, making it unique among the major neurology journals.
“In contrast to specialty journals that focus on only one of those populations, we look for manuscripts that have overlap between those areas,” said Karen Furie, MD, MPH, JNNP editor in chief.
The journal publishes original research, invited reviews, brief reports, systematic reviews, and meta analyses. It does not publish study protocols, and it rarely uses case reports and neurologic images. Commentaries and special reports are included by invitation from the editors.
“We focus on clinical topics,” said Dr. Furie, chief of neurology at Rhode Island Hospital, The Miriam Hospital, and Bradley Hospital and chair of the department of neurology at The Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University. “We have published some translational studies, but we rarely, if ever, publish basic science.”
“It’s important to recognize that we tend to publish larger studies and particularly multi-center studies,” she said. “So if you’re proposing a publication based on a single-center experience, or perhaps [it is] retrospective and modest in terms of size, it may not be appropriate for a full, original manuscript, but it might be appropriate for a letter.”
The journal accepts about 9 percent of submissions. Study methodology is the most common reason for rejecting an original research paper.
“It could be a small sample size with inadequate power, inappropriate statistical analyses, or drawing the wrong conclusions from the results,” Dr. Furie said