While writing my ION GNSS+ 2019 paper, I realized I should use some sort of checklist to ensure that my work meets basic quality requirements. I may sound like I have been brainwashed by ISO certification but, especially as a reviewer, I wish everybody would follow this checklist to the letter. This is still work in progress, so if you can contribute further advice, please feel free to leave a comment!
1. I am well informed
Before you write a paper, it is essential that you read as many publications on your topic as possible, and that you understand what you are talking about. Reviewing the fundamentals in textbooks is critical if you are new to the field, and “old” papers often offer a lot more insights that the latest publications. Do not assume that recent papers have scanned the whole literature for you: try to look for references within references and get back to the source of the information.
While it seems like a pretty obvious advice, your underlying motivation for publishing might lead you to shortcuts in your literature review (see next item).
2. I have new knowledge
What is your motivation for publishing a paper? Do you have new insights that can shatter the whole GNSS world? Or do you need to publish a certain number of papers to obtain a research grant or graduate from a degree? Or do you need to submit an abstract so that your employer sends you to a conference? (I’m guilty of the latter…)
I think we are overwhelmed by publications these days, but innovative knowledge is sparse. This is most likely because people publish papers without having real new insights. As a consequence, there are tons of papers being submitted for publication, leading to a lack of qualified reviewers, which delays the review process for truly innovative papers that would help us in our research. Nobody wins.
Next time you want to publish a paper, ask yourself the question: “Would [insert name of a researcher you respect here] really be impressed with this work?” If the answer is not a firm yes, then maybe you should try to increase the quality of your paper before submitting it to a journal/conference.
3. I respect my peers
It may seem surprising but there are many ways to piss people off while publishing papers. The first one is publishing a paper telling that someone else is wrong. You might be right, but you might also have misunderstood something. Either way, I suggest contacting the author you think is in the wrong and have a discussion with him/her. If there was indeed an issue to be corrected, you should look for a win-win strategy such as a joint paper.
A similar situation occurs when you claim that your new method is better than someone’s. Again, you might be right, but make sure you are comparing apples to apples. You might have implemented someone’s method in a non-optimal manner, you might be neglecting special cases, etc. My suggestion is to clearly state under which conditions your results were obtained and not extrapolate your conclusions beyond these results.
Finally, omitting references to previous work (and pretending that you came up with the idea all by yourself) is not the best way to make friends. I understand that it is complex to trace back all previous research in your field, especially since there are so many journals and conferences out there. But make an effort to do it, and give credit to other people when applicable.
4. I paid attention to formatting
I personally hate reviewing a manuscript that contains references in the paper that are not included in the list of references. Or seeing non-referenced papers in the list of references. This situation just tells me that the authors did not care about their paper. Consider your manuscript as a work of art. Polish it and make it look good. This work is your legacy to science: make sure it contains innovative content and is well presented.
I am not saying that I follow my own advice at all times, unfortunately. But I definitely will try for future publications. And I hope that you will too.