Understanding the Structure and Purpose of Systematic Reviews

Defining systematic review:

A systematic review is a well-planned literature review that basically answers a focused research problem, with pre-defined inclusion and exclusion criteria.

Steps involved in systematic review:

The first step involved in drafting a systematic review is identification of the REAL research problem. For this you need to search for valid literatures dealing with your subject area and locate the research gaps in those studies. This will assist you in devising an appropriate research question. In general, researchers use the PICO framework to define the question scope. Its anatomic parts are as follows:

P-Problem/Population

I-Intervention

C-Comparison, and

O-Outcome

The second step involves setting the inclusion and exclusion criteria that will further determine which studies are you going to include in the systematic review. Here are few parameters that are taken into consideration while zeroing down on a relevant study:

– Population

– Study design

– Type of intervention

– Grouping

– Outcomes of the study, and so on.

Thirdly, you need to carry out the real work of spotting out those inclusive studies by taking help of databases, such as online libraries, online searches, and so on. Then simply insert this retrieved information into a reference manager, such as EndNote, Cite This For Me, Reference Generator, and so on.

The next approach will be to extract data from these studies by using a tool, software or excel sheet. This will assist the researcher in evaluating the study bias if any. For this, you can use a risk of bias tool, such as Cochrane tool, for assessment of potential study or sample bias.

Finally, the results have to be presented along with the methodology section, which includes the criteria of selection, strategies, and so on. A meta-analysis is done, if necessary. Future recommendations can also be cited in this section, regarding any change in the policy or clinical/non-clinical practice.

In this blog, we have tried to summarize the complete process of writing a systematic review in a uncomplicated manner, and along with this, we have also tried to explain the quality elements included in each step of systematic review.

APA style: Author names

The American Psychological Association mainly developed the APA Style CENTRAL for academic institutions. The Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association APA (American Psychological Association) is most commonly used citation style used within the social sciences. This APA Citation Guide, revised according to the sixth edition of the APA manual, presents the standard format for in-text citations and the reference page. The APA style is most popular and used by many writers across the globe because it is simple and concise in comparison to the other style guides.

APA style has a number of key rules for using author names as part of the author-date system. Here are some common examples:

In-text citation

A Work by Two Authors: When citing a work by two authors, the APA style suggests naming both authors in the signal phrase or in the parentheses each time at all appearances in the text. The word “and” should be used between the authors’ names within the text and ampersand”&” must be used when the author names appear within the parentheses.

 

For instance: Study conducted by Rosemary and Paul (1997) supports…

(Rosemary & Paul, 1997)

References styling

The last names and initials must be used and the ampersand instead of “and.”

Paul, D. T., & Soll, R. E. (1996).Title of the study. Journal of XXXXX, 66, 1034-1048.

In-text citation

A Work by Three to Five Authors: The APA style requires that the authors be listed in the signal phrase or in parentheses on the first time the source is cited in the text. When cited in the text, the word “and” should be used between the authors’ names and ampersand should be used when cited within the  parentheses.

For instance: (Paul, Cornell, Soll, Springer, & Harlow, 2016)

In subsequent citations, only the first author’s last name followed by “et al.” should be mentioned in the signal phrase or in parentheses. the et al should never be followed by a period.

For instance: (Paul et al, 2016)

References styling

List by last names and initials. Commas must be used to separate author names and  the last author name is preceded again by ampersand.

Paul, M. H., Cornell, D. P., Soll, C. R., Mohanty, A., Harlow, T., & Bill, J. S. (1996). Title of the study. Journal of XXXX, 62, 1170-1304.

In-text citation

A work by Six or More Authors: Mention the first author’s name followed by et al. in the signal phrase or in parentheses.

For instance: Paul et al. (2001) argued…

(Paul et al., 2001)

References styling

List by last names and initials and commas must be used to separate author names. After the name of the sixth author, ellipses must be inserted in place of the author names. Then provide the name of the final author is written.

Kohli, F. H., Choi, M. J., Kaur, L. L., Desai, A. A., Sterling, J. A., Thomas, S. T., . . . Paul, L. H. (2009). Title of the study. Journal name, 57, 323-335.

Publication Cycle: An Overview

Every manuscript submitted to a journal has to progress through the complete publication cycle before it finally gets published. The publication cycle takes genesis with the research idea. The researchers take this idea to a new horizon by conducting experiments, taking into account the previous publications that deal with similar topic. The research draft is then submitted to a journal that is followed by the assessment, reviewing, and further production processing before being published. Let’s discuss the different phases in detail so that we can get a bird’s eye view of the entire publication process.

How publication cycle works?

After the manuscript is submitted, it is first screened by the Editor-in-chief; if rejected, the paper is returned to the author, and if accepted, it goes to the next level. Here, the paper is checked for plagiarism, and conformity to the journal guidelines. Once the manuscript clears this technical round it is then sent for review by a panel of reviewers, who are subject experts. Here, the reviewers either reject the paper for lack of novelty or other reasons that might be study specific or they could either accept the paper or suggest revisions before acceptance. The paper with revisions is sent to the Editor-in-chief for approval, before being sent for a second and final round of review. At times, the paper gets rejected even after coming this far. If the paper is accepted it then goes through the in-house publication process, before finally getting published.

Some journals forego this time taking and tedious process and instead publish all manuscripts after checking it for novelty, relevance to the field of study and compliance to the style guide of the journal. This ensures a shorter review time and faster publication.

How long can a publication cycle run?

The publication cycle time of a journal cannot be assessed unless and until it is specified by the journal. Hence, it is difficult to know which journals have a fast publication cycle. Some journals take months before they give their first decision whereas some let their first decision known in a couple of weeks. Generally, the time gap between submission and first decision varies between 2-3 weeks.

What if the publication cycle is slow-moving?

The slow decision process becomes mentally tasking for researchers, as they spent many anxious months and even years before they actually get to know if their manuscript has been published or not. If their manuscript does not get published they have to again go through the same process of preparing their manuscript according to the guidelines of a new journal, submit it there and again wait for its decision. This cycle sometimes goes on for a few years before the manuscript gets published. In this process sometimes it so happens that the relevance of the paper or the research gets outdated by the time it is accepted for publication, thereby making the efforts of the researcher futile.

It is for these reasons that the researchers earnestly want a fast publication cycle, where they do not have to wait for so long to get a decision on their manuscript. Also, the publication houses are trying their best to formulate ways to make the publication process faster so that good and relevant researches do not become irrelevant. However, the authors need to be aware of the millions of predatory journals luring them for publishing within a very short duration. The authors are the best person to judge their options and choose the one that helps their research best.

Usage of machine translation software in academic writing

The number of research articles submitted by non-native English speaking authors is increasing rapidly. However, the language barrier and time constraints are hindering their publication in English journals. With an intention to expand the reach of such innovative researches to other scholars and researchers, automated or machine translation software is a trending tool among academicians.

Akin to online proofreading software, the machine translation system is readily available on the web at little or no fee. Software such as Google Translate, Bing Translator, and Babel Fish are widely used in translating content through the rules-based systems. These systems are based on the translation techniques that analyze word patterns in the text in the documents that have been previously published or translated.

Cons of machine translation

Though useful to some extent, machine translation causes several errors in the document, thus affecting comprehension. Some serious mistakes recorded till date include:

  • Unnecessary fragments of the sentences in the translated material
  • Redundant and lengthy sentences creating confusion
  • Phrases ordered in an illogical manner
  • Word-by-word translation instead of contextual translation

The poor sentence structure along with errors in syntax and terminologies result in lack of clarity in the content and affect readability and comprehension. Eventually, the translated manuscripts or articles get rejected by journal editors because of a lack of clarity and coherence.

Machine translation software vs. Human Translators

Automated translation systems have been used for several years with the aforementioned drawbacks. Hence, the idea of utilizing machine translation software, i.e., Google Translate, Bing Translator, and Babel Fish, etc., is a risky one. Conversely, it is more advisable to use the expertise of academic translators to maintain or even enhance the integrity of the research material. Even if more expensive, manual translation services are worth it because they add credence to your manuscript.

Making a Book out of your Research Paper

Making a Book out of your Research Paper
Publishing a research paper as a book is every researcher’s dream, but it is a herculean task. It requires considerable effort and perseverance to get a book published. However, in spite of the apparent difficulties, researchers must realize that by writing the research paper, they have completed a big chunk of the work required for publishing a book.

Most researchers consider their research paper to be a final product and lose sight of the fact that they already have a proofread and peer reviewed manuscript in hand, which can be developed into a book. In the process of submission and publication of their research papers, the authors already have a very good idea of the changes needed to enhance the quality of the research. Besides, they receive feedback on their research from readers, editors, and peers, which could be fruitfully utilized to develop their search into a full-fledged book. Based on the number of citations garnered by the paper and the feedbacks received, the authors gain good insights about the demand for the topic in the market. They also find it easier to identify their target audience and market. Armed with all the information, the authors will be well-positioned to market the book at the right place for their targeted audience.

However, it is important to recognize the difference between a research paper and a book, and proceed accordingly. For instance, a paper prepared for a research journal is completely different from a manuscript prepared for publication as a book. A journal basically targets a select group, such as academicians, researchers or professionals related to that field of study, so there is extensive use of jargons that would be understood by its readers. Conversely, a book is targeted at a bigger audience and should be written in a language that can be understood even by the laity. Therefore, jargons should be used sparingly and properly explained in the context.

In contrast to the tone of a research paper in a journal, a book should be written in a lucid style with a fluid and smooth narration. It requires careful chapterization, preferably with small chapters so that it retains the reader’s interest till the end. Footnotes and citations should be minimized to prevent readers from being distracted. In a book, the focus should be on the bibliography. It is a good idea to include as many relevant images as possible in the book, so as to make it interesting and provide some visual relief to the reader. Attention needs to be devoted to designing and layout, with a good cover design to boot.
Generally, the first impression of a book is formed from its title. Therefore, it is important to choose a title that attracts readers as well as conveys the theme of the book. This helps market the book to a wider readership.

It is also crucial to seek the services of a professional editing house to give the book a stamp of flawless composition. Although there are many editing services available, it is important to choose the most appropriate professional group for your book. In fact, finding a good editor could be the hardest part in the process of publishing a book.
Finally, marketing the book is an essential part of the post-publication process. As the author, the onus of marketing and popularizing the book lies squarely on your shoulders. With social media marketing playing an increasingly important role in promotions and awareness building, you could use platforms such as LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook at almost zero cost. You could even set up a dedicated website to open new markets for your book.

Understanding Research Paper Retraction

retraction
“The main purpose of retractions is to correct the literature and ensure its integrity rather than to punish authors who misbehave.”- COPE (Committee of Publication Ethics)

An author is expected to submit a paper after checking and rechecking the paper to ensure that it adheres to the journal guidelines and also complies with the general ethics. The paper is again peer reviewed by the journal for accuracy. However, in spite of so many checks, some papers get published with gross discrepancies and are subsequently retracted. Most often, the authors are asked to retract the paper.
A paper is bound to get retracted by editors for reasons such as:

1. Presentation of unreliable data due to misconduct or an honest error
2. Unethical research
3. Plagiarism
4. Re-presentation of data published earlier, for which the author has failed to provide proper referencing or obtain necessary permissions.

Action after detection

In many cases, the journal thoroughly investigates the kind of flaws present in the paper after issuing a warning, which is generally termed as ‘expression of concern.’ If very serious kinds of flaws, such as in correct representation of data or unethical research or plagiarism to an extent where it cannot be ignored is found then in such cases retraction of paper becomes essential. Before the editors of the journal take any action the authors are given an opportunity to retract the paper themselves without citing any reasons. Editors retract a paper as a last resort.

Information of retraction

After the decision to retract the paper has been made, the online version is marked and (or) the pdf version is watermarked ‘retracted.’ A statement is issued clearly stating all the related information about the paper and a valid reason for the retraction. The statement also states who retracted the article. Care is taken to avoid a defamatory statement and. any harmful repercussions that could mislead publications.

Effect of retraction

Retraction of a paper is a source of shame and disgrace for all stakeholders, including the author(s) and the journal. The journal has to bear the shame of not being able to filter the paper before publication and the author gets a black mark on his academic profile forever.

Purpose of retraction

Retraction is a mechanism for alerting the readers and the research fraternity about the publication of the erroneous data and findings published in the paper. It is also a warning against the use of flawed data by others.

Best time to retract

It is best to act as soon as the editor detects the flaws to avoid further damage. This will prevent readers and other researchers from being misled.

The adage “prevention is better than cure” holds true for retractions too. Therefore, the authors should take great care to check the paper carefully before submission to avoid discrepancies and the ignominy of having their paper retracted after publication.

The best time to employ an Editing Service

best time to employ English editing service
Each day, hundreds of researches are conducted around the world. These findings and discoveries need to be presented in a way that can be understood by all stakeholders in the relevant field of study. Therefore, the paper needs to be written in a language that clearly communicates the author’s intentions and simultaneously avoids ambiguities that hamper comprehension. This is essential because a well-written paper appeals to a larger audience and hence garners higher citations.
This is where a professional editing service can step in to iron out several crucial roadblocks on the publication route.

Overcome the language barrier

Often, the author belongs to a country where people are generally not proficient in English. This makes the job of the author harder because greater effort is needed to present the research in a lucid manner. If this is lacking, a brilliant discovery could very well be overshadowed by poor language. Consequently, the researcher’s painstaking work will largely go in vain.

Guarantee error-free language

Apart from the problem of communicating with their readers, authors are also susceptible to errors of omission and commission because they get very involved in the research content of the paper and have probably gone through the paper a hundred times from that point of view. Consequently, they tend to overlook spelling, grammatical and syntax errors. Only a fresh look by a professional reviewer can detect those errors. Conversely, if the paper is reviewed by a friend or a colleague, there are chances that they may not give an honest review.
Therefore, it is always advisable to employ the services of a good editing service. The trained eye of a professional editor can detect the errors in a manuscript and rectify them. Often, the editor also gives useful inputs to enhance the quality of the paper and thus minimise the chances of rejection by the target journal.From this vantage point, is it not better to employ the services of a professional editing service from the outset instead of seeking numerous reviews from other quarters?

Ensure compliance with journal guidelines

The primary objective of a research paper is to be published in a journal. Each journal specifies its own style guide, which needs to be strictly followed by the writer. This might be a difficult task for writers because their primary attention is on the research content. On the other hand, a professional editor keeps doing similar jobs day in and day out and is therefore well conversant with the specifications of various journals and better equipped to modify research papers according to journal guidelines. This saves the researchers considerable time and effort, which they can instead devote to enhance the research content. It will also help writers avoid the trap of aligning their current research with their past work, which increases the chances of rejection on the grounds of non-compliance with the stipulated journal guidelines.

Therefore, it is very important for a research paper to be presented in a manner that best justifies the research ideas of the writer, communicates clearly to the reader, and satisfies the guidelines of the target journal.

Use of flawless English brings the main idea of the paper to the fore, making it a paper worth reading for a large number of people interested in that field of study. To ensure such an outcome and enhance the chances of publication, it is critical for writers to hire a good English editor having sound knowledge in journal editing services.

Open Access Journals: The new era of publishing

benefits of open access journal
As the name suggests, the main benefit of an open access journal is that it is free for viewing by all. It can be viewed without making any payments and even downloaded for free. This is highly advantageous for libraries and researchers, who would otherwise have to access each journal through a paid subscription. With subscription rates usually very high, it became very difficult for budding researchers to subscribe to all relevant journals. Besides, researchers often have limited finance to access many journals. Conversely, with open access journals, researchers can access several journals, while libraries can add a large number of journals to their collections and thus benefit the research community as a whole.

Open access journals have high citation because they are freely accessible and referred by many people. For writers, too, open access journals give their papers much greater exposure than subscription based journals. It is also observed that there is a sustained number of downloads over a longer period, while non-open access articles have a shorter attention span. There is no need to pay subscription charge or pay-per-view charges to reach the full material. Open access journals are more likely to be indexed in databases and enlisted in search engines.

Some journals ask the author to pay for making their paper free to viewed, but this amount is nominal. After the manuscript has been accepted, the author also needs to pay a onetime charge for processing and handling. This sum is far smaller than the amount paid for publication in non-open access journals, both printed and online.

The best part of an open access journal is that it gives wider scope of access to researchers in developing countries. Since publication of papers is free in many journals, researchers from developing countries have a better chance to publish their papers and present the results of their study to a global readership.

In contrast to traditional journals, open access journals have a short production cycle, which enables quick publication of accepted papers. Some open access journals also offer fee waivers or discounts for authors from developing countries.

Sometimes, due to negligence or oversight, editors of traditional journals omit few good papers, but the chance of a similar occurrence in an open access journal is much less because the journal’s teams of editors carry out a rapid peer review so that the paper is published without delay.

There are advantages and disadvantages of open access journals, but the advantages surely outweigh the disadvantages. With the arrival of open access journals, accessibility to research papers has increased manifold. Besides, a wider audience prompts higher number of citations. Open access publications have thus come as a boon for researchers and libraries in developing countries.

Post-submission actions: Editorial decision and peer review process

Post submission action : Peer Review

Annually, approximately 3-4 million manuscripts are submitted to various journals for publication. Each journal initiates the ensuing publication process with the screening of the manuscript before finalizing it for the peer-review process. Screening includes analysis of the paper based on the journal’s aim, scope, and reader’s interest. The decision is also influenced by the clarity of the content and adherence to journal instructions. In most journals, around 60-70% manuscripts are rejected during the initial screening process.

Once selected by the journal editors, the paper is sent to peer reviewers. Peer reviewing is a critical assessment of the manuscript by subject experts who are not part of the journal’s editorial team. Hence, journal editors carefully select the reviewers, also known as referees, based on the latter’s expertise in the subject area so that they are competent to review papers that include technical aspects. Some journals ask the authors to recommend both preferred and non-preferred reviewers to save their time while searching for appropriate reviewers for the paper.

Peer review has become an intrinsic part of the journal publication process because it gauges the quality of the paper and determines whether the manuscript is worth publishing. Generally, journals complete the peer-review process within 3-4 weeks; however, some journals have no time restrictions.

The peer review process is categorized into three types: single-blind, double-blind, and open. The first type hides the identity of the reviewers, whereas the second hides the identities of both the authors and the reviewers. Conversely, an open peer review reveals the identities of the authors to reviewers and vice versa.

Based on the feedback received from the reviewers, the journal arrives at the following decisions:

  • Acceptance. The manuscript can be published in the submitted format.
  • Rejection. The manuscript is rejected.
  • Acceptance with minor revisions. The manuscript needs minor revisions and can be published after incorporating the revisions.
  • Acceptance after major revisions. The manuscript needs major revisions by the authors and can be considered for acceptance after the revisions are incorporated.
  • Revision and resubmission. The paper requires additional statistical and/or editorial revision followed by resubmission.

Apart from these decisions, there are few more scenarios in which a manuscript can be published. Some journals follow a reject and resubmit policy. For the authors, this involves a repetition of the entire submission process after making fundamental changes in the paper as advised by the journal editor and peer reviewers. On the other hand, few publication houses reject the paper for the target journal and advice the authors to transfer the submission to another journal within the same publication house. This is referred to as the journal cascading process.

Even if the post-submission processes apparently showcase more cons than pros of the submitted manuscript, they eventually help enhance the quality of the manuscript.

Preparing tables for research papers

How to effectively prepare tables for research papers

Tables and illustrations are important tools for efficiently communicating information and data contained in your research paper to the readers. They present complex results in a comprehensible and organized manner.

However, it is advisable to use tables and illustrations wisely so as to maximize the impact of your research.They should be organized in an easy-to-understand format to convey the information and findings collected in your research. The tabular information helps the reader identify the theme of the study more readily. Although data tables should be complete,they should not be too complex. Instead of including a large volume of data in a single unwieldy table, it is prudent to use small tables to help readers identify the important information easily.

Here are some points you should consider before drafting the tables in your research paper:

  • Finalize the results that are required to be presented in tabular form.
  • Include the data or results that are relevant to the main aim of the study without being choosy and including only those results that support your hypothesis.
  • Create each table in a lucid manner and style without cluttering it with in-table citations.
  • Number the tables in a sequence according to their occurrence in the text.
  • Don’t mix tables with figures. Maintain separate numbering systems for tables and figures.
  • Create tables in a storytelling manner. Remember that your tables communicate a story to the reader that runs parallel to the text.
  • If you are using or reproducing tables from other published articles, obtain permission from the copyright holder (usually the publisher) or/andacknowledge the source.
  • Do not repeat the tabular contents in the text again; that will create confusion among readers.
  • Use clear and informative text for each table title.
  • Take extra care while extending the data in your tables. If you have too many tables, consider using them as appendices or supplementary materials.
  • Create tables with sufficient spacing in the layout so that they do not look messy, crowded, or cluttered.
  • Do not forget to spell out abbreviations used in the tables, ideally in the footnotes.

For the reader, a research paper that is dense and text-heavy can be tiresome. Conversely, tables not only encapsulate your data lucidly, but also welcome a visual relief for the reader. They add value to the layout of your paper. Besides, and more importantly, reviewers often glance at your tabulated data and illustrations first before delving into the text. Therefore, tables can be the initial draw for a reviewer and deliver a positive impact about your research paper. If you can achieve an optimum balance among your text, tables, and illustrations, it can go a long way toward being published.