I have got a somewhat general question about scientific writing to discuss.
I think, everybody agrees that the paper is the major output of a scientist's work, so producing perfect papers is the primary goal of a research fellow. But what is a perfect paper, and how can we judge about the quality?
There are various criteria, like number of citations, number of downloads, etc, but they all refer to already published and discussed papers. Imagine the paper is newly born. How can a scientist write a nice paper? How it is recognized by the editor? How it is graded by the scientific community?
Thinking of this, I have come to a naive conclusion that a "perfect" paper means different things for different people.
First, the author as a paper producer. He/she wants to present own striking results in an interesting, attractive, and clear manner. From this point of view, writing a perfect paper is a matter of collecting proper data, analyzing it, and presenting it in the logical, properly illustrated and conclusive manner. This is more or less clear, and has been discussed in a number of lectures, books, and publisher workshops.
An author as a member of research department wants to advertise the institution and to get a huge number of citations: good or bad, but now the quality of a researcher and thus the future funding are getting more and more dependent on the formal citation criteria.
Then, an editor wants basically the only thing - to maximize the impact factor of the journal while keeping the scope within preset frames - this means merely less papers and more citations needed. An additional attitude might be to minimize the paper length at the same time, however, with Supplementary material available online this gets minor issue, I think.
As most of the scientists may play different roles (author of the own papers, reviewer of the others' papers, research fellow using the results of others' papers as inspiration, or even editor accepting or declining papers), at different moments he has to analyze the papers quality from different points of view.
So, my questions are as follows:
- When you are writing your own paper, you are the best expert in your particular field, and likely you know well some broader context. How do you make your research appealing and exciting to others? How to provoke the widest possible discussion of your work? How to make the paper interesting even to people outside you particular area (which may lead to fruitful multidisciplinary work)?
- Staying in the frame of the certain scope of the paper (it is more or less fixed by your work already done), how can you inspire more citations of your paper? Imagine that your work is not worth publishing in the TOP journal at the moment, and it will appear as one of the tens or hundreds of papers published this month in your field. How can you attract more attention from your colleagues?
- Imagine that you are a journal editor (again, not of Cell of Nature, but of a middle-class journal), and you receive a paper submitted. The paper is not directly related to your own research field, and the broad context may be unclear. How can you estimate whether the paper will be hot and well cited, or it will be hardly noticed in spite of the properly done research? (Assume for a moment that you don't have ideal peers, or their opinion is unclear, and you should decide about the acceptance yourself).
I would be glad to hear your opinions (especially the point of view of practicing editors is interesting for me). If the topic has already been discussed elsewhere, could you please give me a reference?
I have got some ideas on the subject, but I would prefer to share them after I get some feedback from others.