On Wednesday, June 25, editors and researchers came together for a translation and dissemination workshop to discuss the submission and publication of high quality public health systems research (PHSR). The goal of the meeting was primarily to introduce PHSR to more journals by allowing researchers to present their work and receive feedback that might improve their odds of publication. Among the editors in attendance were Lloyd Novick (Journal of Public Health Management and Practice), Leslie Beitsch (American Journal of Public Health), Jill Waalen (American Journal of Preventive Medicine), Glen Mays (Frontiers in PHSSR), and Mary Rubino (Health Affairs). At the invitation-only workshop, six researchers described their publication concept to a panel of editors and then received targeted suggestions on how their concept could be improved for the journal submission process. Based on what we heard, here are seven tips for publishing in a peer-reviewed journal.

  1. Know the journal’s audience Researchers should spend time assessing which journals to target for publication. Be sure to tailor language and goals so that they align with the journal’s main audience. For example, if a researcher wants to address policymakers, he or she should publish policy-relevant research in Health Affairs. Preliminary conclusions for practice and policy, and early pattern recognitions, might be more appropriate for Frontiers in PHSSR.
  2. Be organized in your approach to methods A number of presenters used qualitative methods. The editors emphasized that a mixed methods approach was preferred, but presented the right way, qualitative data could be very effective. Because a number of PHSR studies rely heavily on qualitative data, it is important to organize quotes and data in a thematic order, breaking them up with appropriate visuals and graphs. For those journals, like Health Affairs, that do not generally publish qualitative data in their research section, a researcher can try publishing in an alternate avenue, like the Health Affairs blog.
  3. Don’t overwhelm with data; publish in stages Researchers are capable of developing complex and multi-faceted tools to collect data. Rather than save all of this information for one sweeping article, researchers might consider publishing at different phases in their work. Not only does this help the researcher remain focused and relevant, but their early stages of work can also become a resource for others who have similar research objectives.
  4. Allow data to speak for itself Researchers should allow the facts to speak for themselves. It is important to not force conclusions that might be unnecessary or inaccurate. Although manuscript authors should always clearly explain results, it is better to understate rather than overstate.
  5. Be generalizable If a research project is on a small case study, think of ways that the findings can relate to a bigger population or study. By making the findings applicable to more than one population the research becomes much more appealing to editors.
  6. Explain the impact and implications Researchers should describe the outcomes of the study, both from a systems and health point of view, to emphasize why the research is meaningful and relevant. Included in this outcome analysis should be a description of the impact and implications that the findings have for the population, and if possible, a solution to any negative impact.
  7. Think big picture when discussing the ACA Research on specific regulations of the Affordable Care Act has been on the rise. Because this research can have meaningful implications for policymakers, it is important to describe what the findings mean in a bigger context. Specifically, researchers should be able to indicate who derives benefit and who “loses.”