First impressions count: why getting published is like dating

Two people sit opposite each other at a table in a hall full of other couples. They smile and start to make small talk. It doesn’t really matter what they say at this point – they’ve most likely already made up their minds about each other.

Speed dating is designed to play on first impressions. Two people have just a few minutes to decide whether there’s a click and if they want to spend more time getting to know each other.

It’s not entirely unlike the process of applying for a job, entering a competition or getting an academic paper published. In each of these scenarios, first impressions are vital.

Let’s look at the process.

1.       You submit your manuscript for publication

2.       The editor decides whether to send it to review

3.       The reviewer(s) give feedback to the editor

4.       The editor decides whether to accept your submission

5.       Your paper gets published (or rejected)

First impressions can make a big difference, particularly in two of these stages: when the editor decides whether to send it for review and when the reviewer first reads your manuscript.

If an editor receives hundreds of submissions a month, they’ll be on the lookout for telltale signs that a manuscript is worth taking through the peer review process. And the first impression a reviewer gets from your manuscript could affect the way they look at it throughout the process.

To make sure you’re making the right first impression, you need to think about the first things they’ll see.

Your title will jump off the page first; this is the front cover of your paper, the moment it walks into the speed dating room. How does it look? Does it represent your paper accurately? Is it as good as it could be?

If you’ve got a graphical abstract this might form part of the first impression too – it certainly will for your readers. Is it really adding something to your paper? Does it give more than the text alone? Could it do with a bit of refinement?

Your abstract is key when it comes to making an impact. Be sure to make clear why your research is important, and outline your main findings. Make sure it’s effective – this is the summary that will tell readers what to expect from your manuscript.

In addition to these elements, the general look of your submission is important: make sure the figures are accurate, neat and tidy, clean up your data and double-check that everything is correctly labeled.

Most importantly, make sure you haven’t made any avoidable language mistakes in your manuscript – these can give a bad first impression that may mean you don’t get to the second “date.”