From the Editor: It’s a Failure Business

by Justin B. Moore, PhD, MS

FTE Failure Business

As the fall classic has come to a close and a champion has been crowned, let us pause to ponder the essence of baseball. Baseball is filled with strategy, suspense, and occasional excitement. That’s what drew me to watch baseball as a kid. As an adult, I’ve become more drawn to the plight of baseball players for another reason, which is the similarity between their chosen profession and mine. I can think of few individuals who can relate to baseball players better than members of the scientific community. For both baseball and science, failure is just part of the job. Take batting average in baseball for example. If you get a hit on a third of your attempts, you’re an all-star. If you get a hit a quarter of the time, you’re still a solid contributor. Applying for grants and submitting manuscripts for publication as a member of the scientific community is similarly challenging. For both, the odds are greater for failure than for success. For example, the National Institutes of Health funds fewer than 23% of the applications they receive, with success rates lower than 10% for many mechanisms and institutes. Journal acceptance rates are similarly low. For example, the Journal of Public Health Management and Practice accepts approximately 25% of the articles submitted. In the end, if you’re trying to hit a curve-ball or publish a paper, you have to accept the fact that you’re going to fail more than you succeed.

While I don’t know how to hit a curve-ball (straight ball, I hit it very much), I can share some suggestions that should improve your odds of getting a paper accepted. The first is to get as many eyes on your manuscript as you can before submitting it. Go beyond your co-authors and solicit input from others not involved in writing the manuscript who will give critical, constructive feedback. If you have access to a technical editor or writing center, utilize them every time you can. Second, make sure that you pick the right journal for the manuscript. Fit is essential. If the journal doesn’t publish on your topic or methods regularly, then the topic may be outside the scope of the journal. Review recent issues of the journal to see if others have published on your topic. If not, it may not be the best outlet for your work. Third, write a compelling cover letter. Do your best to get the editor excited about the manuscript and what it reports before he/she reads it. This can have a significant impact on the editor’s impression of the manuscript, especially if they’re not exceptionally familiar with the topic of your manuscript. Finally, if all else fails, don’t get discouraged. Remember that a lot of manuscripts are rejected for reasons that have little to do with the content. Bad fit for the journal, sloppy mistakes, poor framing, and just bad luck can result in a rejection. However, like all the great hitters in baseball, you have to dust yourself off and try again because you never know when that next pitch will lead to a home run.

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Justin B. Moore, PhD, MS, FACSM, is the Associate Editor of the Journal of Public Health Management and Practice and an Associate Professor in the Department of Implementation Science of the Wake Forest School of Medicine at the Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem, NC, USA. Follow him at Twitter and Instagram. [Full Bio]