Author Archives: Ravi Murugesan


About Ravi Murugesan

I live in India, and I'm an INASP Associate. I work for the AuthorAID project, mostly as a trainer, and I spend a lot of time on INASP's online learning platform. My Moodle blog

Three encounters with medical journal editors

In July I was invited to give a talk at a medical writing workshop in Bangalore organized by The BMJ. It was the first of my interesting encounters with medical journal editors this year. The workshop was held at Bangalore Baptist Hospital for about 100 medical doctors and most of them appeared to be students and young clinicians.

My talk was based on an article I wrote last year for SciDev.Net on how to target a suitable journal. Before my talk I got to attend a session led by Dr. Amar Jesani, who is the editor of the Indian Journal of Medical Ethics. Unsurprisingly, the focus of Dr. Jesani’s talk was publication ethics. He presented intricate examples of scientific fraud and explained how journal editors have to always be alert these days. The questions from the audience indicated that many of them had no idea that publication ethics was such a big issue. But it was also the elephant in the room, I thought. Dr. Jesani however minced no words in condemning ethical violations and urged everyone at the workshop to work and write ethically.

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The theme of publication ethics resurfaced at the 1st conference of the World Association of Medical Editors (WAME), held in New Delhi in early October. WAME was formed in 1995 and has nearly 2000 members, with a large representation from developing countries.

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I’ve been a member of WAME since 2012 and have learnt immensely from the discussions on the WAME email list. So when I heard about the WAME conference that was to take place in India, where I live, I was one of the first to sign up. I went to the conference with a poster about INASP’s partnership with a research centre within the medical school at the University of Colombo. This blog post by Jocalyn Clark mentions some key issues discussed at the conference, and I made a Storify of some WAME posters.

For me one of the high points of the conference came at the end: there was a rousing keynote address by Dr. Hoomen Momen on how well medical journals are addressing the most important health problems in the world. The gist of his talk was that a lot more needs to be done in an environment where medical journal editors are often preoccupied with matters such as getting indexed, getting and growing an impact factor, etc. But Dr. Rod Rohrich, a WAME leader, had earlier spoken about how medical editing is many things: a science, a service, and a business (at least when editing is seen in the context of publishing).

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There were arguments to sway people in different directions, but I left with a sort of neutral point of view, which I think helps for the work I do as an AuthorAID trainer. It also helped for my next encounter with medical journal editors — near Colombo in Sri Lanka.

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Near the end of November, a two-day workshop on international publishing standards was organized by the Sri Lanka College of Paediatricians for medical journal editors in Sri Lanka. My colleague Andy Nobes who is connected to INASP’s Journals Online project will soon be writing a detailed post about this workshop, so here I’ll write about what I learnt from the workshop wearing my hat as an AuthorAID trainer, or as someone who works primarily with researchers in developing countries.

One of the biggest challenges faced by journal editors in Sri Lanka, I came to know, was getting articles from authors. Many Sri Lankan journals apparently do not publish enough articles to qualify for indexing, and indexing is key to growth and even survival. For medical journals, getting indexed in PubMed is especially important but this is not easy (though it is apparently easier than getting an impact factor). Currently only one medical journal in Sri Lanka, the Ceylon Medical Journal, is indexed in PubMed. The editor of another Sri Lankan journal spoke about his experience getting rejected twice by PubMed over a five-year period, but the second time he was encouraged to apply again.

Why is indexing important? A journal that is indexed in respected academic databases such as PubMed is considered prestigious. A study published in JAMA found that a journal’s prestige was the most important factor among the surveyed authors in selecting a target journal. Although this study was published in 1994 and included researchers at only one American university, it could be somewhat true across the world. Over the past five years I have met researchers in several developing countries, and they often rely heavily (too heavily in fact) on the impact factor – perhaps the most popular “prestige metric” – while identifying suitable target journals.

So it can be a vicious cycle for journals in developing countries: because they’re not indexed they don’t attract enough submissions, and because they don’t publish enough they’re not indexed. For authors it is “publish or perish”. A corollary for journal editors is perhaps “get indexed or perish”!

Incidentally when I was in Colombo I came to know of a new critical literature review on the problems faced by “peripheral scholarly journals”.

On the second day of the workshop I gave a talk on how Sri Lankan medical journals could connect better with authors. I proposed the implementation of an online learning platform that would be open to all medical researchers and journal editors in Sri Lanka, on which there would be courses in scientific writing, communities of practice, etc. The idea was that such a platform might encourage Sri Lankan authors and journal editors to be part of a single community rather than separate communities. Journal editors are well placed to train authors on how to write well and to lead discussions on increasing the impact of medical research in a local or national context. By doing this I imagine they would also increase the visibility of their work and their journals – and perhaps get more of the high-quality submissions that they acutely need?

At INASP we are supporting our institutional partners in implementing and using Moodle, an open-source online-learning platform. We ourselves have been using INASP Moodle for more than three years and have found this platform to be valuable for our training and capacity-building initiatives. I must add a disclaimer that I’m a “Moodler” and I always like to spot opportunities to use Moodle!

As this year comes to an end, I’m more convinced than ever that it is critical to bring together journal editors and researchers in developing countries to address and overcome what are essentially common or related challenges. Only then can research play a bigger role in national development. Otherwise there’s a real risk that the research endeavour will continue to be dominated by the “get indexed or perish” and “publish or perish” narratives. We actually need to bring together even more actors in the research ecosystem, as Sue Corbett has explained in her recent posts on the wisdom of crowds. Hopefully 2016 will be a year when we see a more collective effort to make research work for development.

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Chemistry researchers attend a participatory INASP research writing workshop

Last month I had the pleasure of facilitating an AuthorAID research writing workshop in Nairobi jointly organized by INASP and the Pan Africa Chemistry Network, a unit of the Royal Society of Chemistry. This was a two-day workshop held on 20 and 21 November 2015, and it was organized right after the PACN Congress in Nairobi. Twenty of the congress delegates took part in the workshop. All were chemists: most were early-career researchers and some had substantial experience. They came from Cameroon, Kenya, Nigeria, and South Africa. And they were all keen to improve their skills in writing research papers for publication. We have many slide decks on the AuthorAID resource library related to writing and publishing a research paper, but for this workshop I wanted to do something different. On the flight from Mumbai to Nairobi, which was my first time traveling on the comfortable Dreamliner, I reflected on … Continue reading

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AuthorAID researchers begin to take up Research Square’s free editing offer

Ravi Murugesan provides an update on the free editing offer available to some developing country researchers in the AuthorAID community thanks to the support of Research Square. Researchers spend months or even years carrying out a research study. When they get to the happy stage of having enough results to write up a research paper, many researchers face a new challenge: writing in clear, precise English. This is particularly difficult for researchers who have limited proficiency in English. At AuthorAID, we work with researchers living in developing countries around the world, and we have often sensed their need for manuscript editing support. Editing even a short research paper can take hours of effort, and is ideally done by a trained English language editor. However, manuscript editing is expensive when one has limited funds, like many of the researchers in the AuthorAID network. With this in mind we were delighted when … Continue reading

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How to target a journal that’s right for your research

(The article below was originally published on SciDev.Net on 15 December 2014.) Hitting a target is not easy, and neither is selecting a journal for your research paper. An appropriate target journal is one that publishes work on the subject your paper addresses and which, because of its various qualities, serves your needs and aspirations. Some researchers are under pressure to publish anywhere, while others are lured by prestigious but often unattainable journals. Either case can lead researchers away from journals that might give them the audience and impact they need. Here I outline how to target a truly appropriate journal for your research. Stay away from predators Academics involved in research are often evaluated based on their research output or publications. Whether they get a degree, get hired, get promoted or get tenure is often tied to the quantity and quality of the publications they have recently authored. And … Continue reading

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AuthorAID embedding initiative

This update on the AuthorAID embedding initiative was originally posted via the AuthorAID website on 9 June.  For updates and information about AuthorAID activities, see the AuthorAID blog.  Six years ago, the first AuthorAID workshop was held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Since then, we have conducted numerous workshops on research communication, and regular readers of this blog would have seen Barbara’s and occasionally my reports on our workshops. A train-the-trainers component is typically included within our research writing workshops, so as to enable some of the more qualified participants to lead their own workshops locally. We’re pleased to see that over the years several AuthorAID workshops have been organised in various countries by trained and motivated researchers. This ‘cascading’ effect has imparted research writing skills to many more people than those who’ve got to attend workshops organised by AuthorAID staff.

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An eventful year of online courses

After a successful pilot phase in 2011, e-learning became a formal part of AuthorAID at INASP in July 2012 with the launch of our Moodle system. Last year, we conducted two online courses in research writing, which were completed by 58 researchers from about 20 developing countries in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. They were among 68 researchers who enrolled in the courses following an application and selection stage. Encouraged by the high completion and participation rates (see this post for more details), we began our first collaboration to develop and run a customized course in research writing. Our partner in this effort was Blacksmith Institute, a US-based nonprofit focused on solving pollution problems. Sandy Page-Cook and Anne Riederer from Blacksmith’s Journal of Health and Pollution helped us customize the course to make it relevant to researchers working in environmental health.

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