When the editors accepted the manuscript in March for publication, I was already over the moon. And seeing the paper being published in August, I was flooded with euphoria. I remember vividly the whole process, from deciding to start writing until it was finally published. Writing, for me, will always be a learning process. Writing the next paper wouldn’t be much easier just because I had done it before. However, there are things I had learned from this experience.
1. Just start writing as the first few drafts will not be perfect.
It all began in December 2015 when I made up my mind to write a paper and hopefully, to get it published eventually. However, I did not have experience in writing/publishing a paper so I wasn’t quite sure what I should do, or where I should even begin. All I know is there were photographs of sea turtles collected by our team and citizen scientists, allowing us to study the sea turtle populations at Perhentian Islands. Nonetheless, I started writing but got confused many times of how the outline of the paper should be. The idea was to share about the sea turtle populations, but in addition to that, a big portion of the paper would also cover photo identification and citizen science. There was so much to share about the methods, not just the findings, and it seemed difficult to put everything in a paper. Still, surprisingly the first draft was completed in about 3 weeks. During that period, a lot of time was spent analysing the data and reading papers on photo identification. Looking at the first draft now, it was terrible!
2. Find people to collaborate from the beginning of the research, not during the writing stage.
Not knowing what I should do next, I thought of collaborating with other researchers in writing the paper. I approached one researcher, explaining about our data and seeking for his advice on how to write a paper, and ended up telling him I would email him the first draft. I also emailed it to a lecturer to get some feedback. They never wrote back, and I was too shy to ask again after. At the same time, I also emailed it to a few friends, and thank God, some of them took the time and gave me really constructive feedback of what was lacking. By that time, three months had passed since December.
3. Decide on the most appropriate journal before writing
I did not have a target journal in mind when the first and second drafts were written. However, to find the most appropriate journal, I listed all the journals according to the papers I had read on photo identification and sea turtle population studies. Not all journals were suitable due to the aims and scope of the journal. Some required paying a publication fee, which was more than what I could afford. It was also important to consider the target audience. When I finally found one, I realised I had to rewrite after reading the guidelines for authors. All the sentences had to be rewritten in first person, not third person. There were also changes to made to the format of the draft. That really took time, as it was not easy to change from third-person to first-person writing. Therefore, one thing that I would do if I write a paper again is to first decide on the journal I target to submit.
4. Don’t work on the manuscript forever, just submit it to the journal, together with a cover letter.
Another two months had passed when the manuscript (the fifth draft) was finally submitted to the journal in May 2016. It would be pointless to sit any longer on it as I did not know what else more to write or improve on after incorporating all the feedback I could get. The best thing about submitting a manuscript is taking the mind off it until the editors reply.
5. Revision means room for improvement.
One month later, the editors replied, and the manuscript was not accepted. The editors also provided very constructive and insightful feedback to revise and resubmit. It was actually good news as I wouldn’t have learned so much on revising the manuscript without all the comments! I got excited, knowing what to add/edit. All in all, another 3 months went by.
6. Only resubmit if all the comments (for major or minor revisions) have been addressed.
It was September when the manuscript was resubmitted. This time around, the manuscript was sent to two annonymous reviewers. Less than two months later, the manuscript was accepted with major revisions. The reviewers and editors also provided detailed comments, which added up to almost 150 comments. I started working on the manuscript by addressing every comment and realised that (OMG!) it was indeed a MAJOR revision which seemed all too overwhelming at that time. I started off with minor edits as the major edits required looking for and reading up more papers or study site information, as well as analysing the data again. Some figures, like the maps, also took time, especially to include all the sighting numbers for each location on a map. I remembered working on it for almost two months, and finally sending it off before Christmas holidays in December.
7. Revise, revise, revise until it is accepted.
After two more minor revisions, the manuscript was finally accepted in March 2017, which was then sent for copy editing (by another editor). Due to the number of papers in queue for publication, it was scheduled to be published in August. In July, a few edits were made upon the request of the copy editor, followed by proofreading of the gallery proof in August before the manuscript would be published.
8. Yay!! Published!
The journey is finally completed. It is indeed very true that to publish paper takes months, or even more than a year. So from the day when writing began until it was published, that would be 20 months (1.67 years)! Long but a very important learning experience.
So, if you are interested to read the paper on sea turtle populations at Perhentian Islands using photographic identification and citizen science, click here!
I am grateful to Daniel Quilter, Neil Hinds, Sabina Gramaglia-Hinds, Thomas Horsell, William Forster, Thomas Brown, Yun, Nicholas Tolen, Petros Persad, Azri, Charlotte Babbs, Terissa Ng, Csaba Szilvási, Kevin Heitzman and Department of Fisheries rangers. This wouldn’t happen without you all! Thank you!