What comes first: Data or paper?
This is a basic question which relates to the way research is conducted in your lab. As I discussed before, it is recommended to set goals and steps leading to the accomplishment of each goal. One such goal can be “I want to publish an article on gene X” though many times only after you have done some experimentation on genes X, Y and Z you know which gene is worth pursing and which is not. So, the best way to go is to have initial good results and then plan what article you want to write and what experiments should be conducted.
Now or Later?
There are several questions that should be addressed before starting to spill words over paper. The first two that require clarification and refinement are:
- What is your major statement, and
- Is your data publishable?
These are key questions and while the first question can be aided by your PI, the second questions might be more technically tricky or necessitate more experimentation.
Another important question is timing – when should one decide to publish? When do you want your article out? The answer is not trivial. On the one hand an article which is full and answers a scientific question with diverse tools and techniques will have better chances being accepted to medium to high ranking journal. However, diverse and deep probing can require a substantial amount of time which sometimes you just lack due to fierce competition, lack of man power/resources or even change of project focus. You should sit down with your advisor and analyze your aims and your limitations so you can point to a date in which you want your article out.
Go over your data with your PI and evaluate its scientific quality (controls and aesthetics) and try to sketch an overall title and main theme. Bullet point your major result accomplishments and derive claims (if possible) from each of them with one or two major statements (that will constitute the article’s title). Once you have a list of claims and you are aware of the strengths and weaknesses of your data, you can plan experiments to improve the data collected while starting to layout an article infrastructure.
Nature or Journal of Biological Chemistry?
While meeting with your PI you should also discuss the scientific impact you can generate with your data and conclusions that can be derived. Is your article a ground-shattering discovery that will affect million of researchers in many fields or is it a small addition to the knowledge of a specific niche? Of course, there are LOTS of gray shades (and conducted research) in between these two extremes and there are additional non-science criteria which makes the selection of a specific journal more complicated. Your PI will know which journal will be more fitting for your article but take into consideration that the higher you submit your work, the higher the expectation of fellow researchers and editors for an original and substantial work. Thus you should ask yourself “Is this work relevant to the journal I am considering?” Take a look at the articles published in the journal you’re aiming at and see if their results/statements are at the same level as your statements.