On-line guide to scientific publication


Initial planning

Producing the outline

Producing the manuscript

Finishing touches

Submitting the manuscript

The refereeing and publishing process

Initial planning

Choosing your journal | Your key message

Choosing your journal

Before you begin to construct the paper you should consider who you want to read it.  Is it your peers within your own institution?  Is it directed at an audience within your own country?  Or, do you want it to be read by the international community?  Once you have a clear idea of the scale of your desired readership you then need to look at the potential journals available to fit that audience and determine whether the information you hope to produce is suitable for that journal.  All reputable journals define their scope either in the journal itself or on their website.  Some are broad, for example

The International Forestry Review states that it 'is a peer-reviewed scientific journal that publishes papers, comments and book reviews covering forest science, policy, management and conservation.'

while others are more specific, for example

The material published in JEM focusses on the interests and concerns of scientists in natural and social sciences, policy makers, administrators and practitioners in environmental management.  Subjects must concern environmental management but may range widely to include theoretical and conceptual aspects, environmental system analysis (including modelling), policies, legal aspects, planning and practice of environmental management.  Topics may be covered at the international to national or global to local scales and may deal with terrestrial, aquatic or atmospheric systems.  Ecosystem concepts and integrated perspectives of natural and cultural ecosystems should be adopted and developed wherever feasible.

Make sure you read these statements to guide you in your search for potentially suitable journals.

Another point to consider is when you want your paper to be published.  Most journals indicate the average length of time between submission and publication and it is worth taking note of this otherwise so that you get a realistic indication of how long you might have to wait.

Your key message

This is one of the most important parts of writing your paper, and one that is often overlooked.  Think carefully about what it is that you want your readers to understand about your work.  Remember, we are all busy and we need to absorb key messages quickly and clearly.  Try these exercises:

  • Write down the three key points of your paper.

  • Summarise your paper in one sentence.

  • Describe your work to a colleague in one minute.

These might sound easy, but try them and you'll find out they aren't!

Don't rush this part of your planning.  It really is worth spending time getting it right.  Once you have mastered these exercises you will feel more confident about the whole writing process that follows.


If you find it difficult to summarise your work in one sentence then these examples might help you:

  • A firm's size, type of tenure holding and reliance on export markets are important factors in explaining why forest companies consider certification.

  • The investigation indicated that while D. edulis is an important tree for farmers its value to the rural economy could be increased through further domestication.

  • This paper seeks to describe and explain changes in forest cover, and highlight the need for more accurate and reliable data collection in the future.


A common problem with summarising work is that there are several key findings.  Remember this exercise is simply meant to focus your thinking on the key issues.  It is not going to form the published abstract.  So, if you really can't squeeze your key message into one sentence don't worry.  Try to do it in two. If you can't do that then you need to take a careful look at the reasons.  Is it because you aren't confident about your work, or maybe you aren't too sure yourself what are the key findings.  Remember, this is a very important part of the process for writing papers so work at it.  Talk to your colleagues and see if between you it is possible to highlight the key message of your work.  Don't go on to the next section until you are confident that you have summarised your main message.


Supported by the Commonwealth Foundation