July 3, 2017
Clement Weinberger, PhD, Filipodia Editor
Planning starts before the study does and ought to be a part of your study protocol. Please consider that your study is not over until your manuscript is written, submitted, reviewed, revised, and accepted for publication. If your daily work includes basic or medical research, then in addition to time in the laboratory and time with your patients, you also spend time writing research grant applications and publication manuscripts. The research may be more carefully planned than the publications, but the combined objective is to obtain and communicate good results from well-designed investigations. A publication plan helps you achieve the goal of publishing your research in indexed journals with readers who will find it interesting.
That does require some planning, and the primary objective of a publication plan is to outline how clinical trial results can be communicated at congresses and in peer-reviewed publications in a timely manner, ideally within a year or two of study completion. As a rule, there should a congress presentation and an original research (primary) publication reporting on each trial or study. Why is this important? Prospective clinical trials in human subjects may need to be registered and posted on publicly accessible internet sites such as https://www.clinicaltrials.gov/ or https://www.who.int/ictrp/en before enrollment begins. The absence of subsequent publications is thus noticeable. Remember, publications are just about the only chance for peer-reviewed discussion of the significance of trial results.
So, what do you base your plan on? Start with a list of your ongoing and planned studies, and create a folder, database, or spreadsheet of working titles, study protocols, and summaries of completed studies. Given the information in the protocols and summaries, submission deadlines for relevant congresses can be matched to trials as data become available, and timelines can be generated for the primary publications of the trial results. You can make tables or graphs that show the anticipated and actual starting and finishing dates of each stage of each study. Choosing journals ought to be part of your plan too –see my previous blog posting about that. Publication of your existing or expected results in secondary publications, including subgroup analyses or systematic reviews, can also be included in your plan. Duplicate publication of results as original research must be avoided, but do take the opportunity to plan how and where to cite all your published original research in your planned publications.
How is all this done? Consider planning to be a team effort, include all your co-investigators, and be sure to include a colleague who is an expert in statistical analysis. Those who contribute extensively to the design and conduct of a given study and writing the manuscript can be considered as co-authors. The publication plan includes a broad view of everything that is “going on” in your laboratory and divides those efforts into independent but linked research findings that can stand alone as individual publications, but taken together they provide a comprehensive view of your research interests. There is more to say about who qualifies for authorship and the criteria that you can use to describe your “publishable units” – or individual articles – in future blog posts.