Sunday, March 25, 2012

A Brief Guide for New Writers: How to Publish Mathematical and Scientific Papers

Draft Version 1.5 June 18, 2012
Updated February 16, 2013

Guide for New Writers: How to Publish Mathematical and Scientific Papers
By Mathview

Words of Wisdom:

How to win the Nobel Prize... Or at least, get some recognition for your scientific accomplishments.

Getting your paper published does not mean that you will gain recognition for your scientific accomplishment.  It is necessary to publish your work, but not sufficient. If you have something important to share, you must publicize your work in other ways. Usually that means traveling and giving talks, seminars, invited lectures, departmental seminars, interdepartmental seminars, presentations at scientific meetings, and the like. Ivory tower seclusion is a dead end, unless you are counting on being discovered posthumous. 

If you want to win the Nobel prize in your field, I would suggest an organized campaign aimed at getting powerful senior members of your chosen scientific community to think of you as a Nobel candidate. 

Just doing the science is not enough, you must promote your work and explain its importance, significance, impact, and generally tell the world why your stuff is great. Of course, it helps a lot if it's really, objectively, truly great stuff.

Step zero is to do the work. Step one is to get it published.  So, here's how that goes. 

Part 1 Traditional Refereed Archival Academic Journal Publication

First Choose a Journal for Your Paper
If you have completed a potentially interesting calculation, solved a theoretical problem, or done a significant experiment, you may want to publish a paper on your work. The first step is to identify an appropriate journal that will reach your intended audience. If this will be your first publication, you will need to do some research on appropriate journals at your local university library or find relevant journal archives online. Openly accessible online journal archives are often maintained by national scientific societies like the American Physical Society (APS) or the American Mathematical Society (AMS). Some professional societies require membership in order to obtain access to their online journal archives.

There are tons of scientific journals. Some are highly selective, and only accept papers deemed sufficiently important, and of general interest to all professionals in the field. Such publications reach larger audiences of subscribers. Publication in such journals is usually considered more prestigious.

Examples of such prestigious publications include journals like Nature, published by Nature Publishing; Physical Review Letters, published weekly by the American Physical Society; The American Mathematical Monthly, published by the Mathematical Association of America; and the Journal of the American Mathematical Society, published by AMS to mention a few.

Other journals are more specialized and contain papers of interest to a sub-field of specialists. Examples include The Journal of Mathematical Physics published by the American Institute of Physics, and Physical Review D which contains papers of interest to specialists in high energy physics.

Second tier journals such as those published by regional scientific societies have a much smaller readership. Such journals are typically carried by local university libraries.

University Library Systems
Libraries of most Ph.D. granting universities typically maintain subscriptions to all important journals. If you have a “library card” at a university library you may be able to access these archival publications in the library or online. You benefit without cost from the library's paid journal subscriptions. University libraries are an essential resource for perspective authors, and many have a policy that allows access by non-students and non-faculty. For example, any California resident with a valid UC library card can access the University of California library system. This includes collections at UC San Diego, UCLA, and UC Berkeley and the other UC system institutions. Employees of national laboratories like Lawrence Livermore, and Los Alamos National Laboratories can access the collection of the UC Library System.

Subscriptions and Page Charges
Most archival journals offer subscriptions at special rates to members of scientific societies. For example, members of the American Mathematical Society or the American Physical Society can purchase subscriptions  at affordable rates. Libraries pay much higher subscription fees. 

Most refereed scientific journals require the author(s) to pay page charges, a fee per journal page published. If you are an academic employee of a university or laboratory, the institution will usually pick up the page charges. If you are publishing as an individual, most journals offer a discount rate or may waive page charges entirely.

The Referee Process
Most academic journals require all papers be reviewed and critiqued by an anonymous panel of referees, typically three in number. This is sometimes called the peer review process. We prefer the pugilistic referee process.  

The journal editor makes the decision to accept, or request revisions by the author(s), or reject the paper. This decision is based on the written referee reports, and the editor's own judgment and discretion. 

Usually, the author is provided with copies of the referee reports when they become available. The names and institutions of the referees are confidential and not shared with the author(s). The author usually has the opportunity to respond to referee reports and argue for acceptance, or submit revisions to the draft paper that aim to resolve the referee's objections. 

The journal editor has the ultimate authority to accept or reject your paper. The editor in some cases will suggest an alternate appropriate journal to the author, instead of formally rejecting the paper. 

 The author should endeavor to write a paper that passes through the referee process with flying colors and speeds into print. The referee process takes time. Typically several weeks, or even months to complete the process.

Each journal will publish a guide to perspective authors. 
These guides are usually published in specific issues of the journal itself. They will specify the format requirements and other rules for authors. You must obey the rules, or your paper will be immediately rejected. Of course, minor formatting mistakes can be corrected, but usually the editorial staff will ask the author to make the required format changes before the paper is submitted to the referees. Format mistakes can result in delays or rejection of your paper. Learn and follow the rules!

How to Write Your Paper. This is Important!
After you pick a journal that you want to “go for,” you will need to carefully read several articles from that journal. This reading is not so much for content, rather it is to learn, absorb, and get the hang of the elements of writing and composition style standard for the journal. Examine published papers for writing style. Then pick some papers that you particularly like, and want to emulate. Then try to write like your favorite authors.

A few helpful hints for new authors.
Learn how sentences are formulated. Observe how paragraphs and sections are organized. Be concise rather than wordy. Observe the level of detail, the quality of references, and their format. There is no need to try to impress the referees with flowery prose. Showing off can backfire and make you look bad.

Graphic images in scientific publications such as data plots, images, and diagrams are called Figures. Figures are numbered sequentially, and all Figures must have text captions in addition to any graphic text contained in the Figure itself. When a Figure is referenced in the text, an abbreviation like "Fig. 3" is commonly used. Not Figure 3.  

Main equations set between lines of text are usually, but not always, required to have an equation number, like "Eq. 3," adjacent to the equation. Referees and readers often need such numbers for reference. Text lines may have short formulas or symbols embedded. These are not numbered.  

The format for mathematical equations and symbols differs among scientific Journals. 

Journals will also specify a format for references or citations in your paper. Examine published articles in your target journal to see the format rules in action. Be sure to  know and adhere to the format rules specific to your journal of choice. Follow the rules to avoid delays or rejection.

Take care to explain novel data analysis methods, specialized equipment or other techniques that may not be widely known. Or, if they are known and standard techniques, you may simply refer to a classic paper or book. For example, “Here we use the method of xyz [reference] to solve problem pdq.” 

 Well written papers will impress the referees and attract readers.
 The writer should strive to accomplish all of the following writing goals: 

1- Clearly state the main results in a well crafted title and abstract
2- Succinctly describe the methods used 
3- Place the result in wider context 
4- Explain the significance, and novelty of main results
5- If you claim an original, exciting, and new result or finding, be specific
5- Don't forget to acknowledge those who contributed to, or supported the work   

Part 2 Online Publication
Grigory Perelman published his proof of the Poincare conjecture as a series of preprints using online publication at the Cornell University library website called arXiv. Online publishing at arXiv is becoming very popular. Here is a link to the arXiv Primer The Cornell University Library maintains arXiv and arXiv publications are openly accessible to all. 

 The referee process at arXiv is a kind of “crowd sourcing” activity called moderation. Your arXiv paper may receive useful comments from all over. The online publication system requires papers be written using the LaTex or Tex scientific document system. Open source and commercial versions of LaTex and associated document creation software are available. Check the arXiv Primer for more information on document format requirements at arXiv.

Statement by arXiv...

arXiv is NOT a repository for otherwise unpublishable material, NOR is it a refereed publication venue.”

You must register with arXiv (it's free) to access arXiv content and registration is required if you want to submit a paper for publication in one of their online journals. 

Submitting to arXiv (from the Primer)
arXiv accepts submissions of scholarly articles in a variety of formats from registered, endorsed users. The submission process can begin any time after the user has successfully registered. The submission process has several stages:
  • metadata (separate title, author, abstract, etc.) preparation and LaTex, Tex, etc. file verification
  • pending submission status
  • announced submission
  • additions that can be made without submitting a replacement document
  • revision preparation
  • etc.
arXiv submissions are meant to be available in perpetuity. Thus, arXiv has high technical standards for the files that are submitted. The submission process begins with the preparation of valid metadata for the paper and continues through a verification process whereby the files uploaded are checked for certain problems.
Valid upload formats for the primary text file include (La)TeX, PostScript, PDF, and HTML.

If you want to publish your paper, get feedback from interested readers,  and have your paper listed and available to all, then arXiv publication may be a great way to go.

There is a downside to publication via arXiv.
Many universities do not consider arXiv publications to be valid academic publications. You might not get “academic professional credit” for an arXiv paper.

If you publish on arXiv, your paper will probably not be eligible for publication in most archival refereed journals.
Most archival refereed journals will not accept papers that have been uploaded to arXiv. This may change in the future.

Some traditional journals are beginning to use arXiv. The idea is that a “pre-print” version of an accepted journal publication is permitted and even encouraged.

For example, the Institute of Mathematical Statistics “encourages members to post their articles in a preprint format on arXiv.”

And... “IMS wishes to demonstrate by example, that high quality journals supported by the academic community can provide adequate revenue to their publishers even if all of their content is placed on open access digital repository such as arXiv.”

Here is a link to a blog post outlining the pros and cons of publication of scientific papers on arXiv. We note that arXiv has no page charges. Not sure if this link is working at the time of this writing.

How do archival refereed journals interact with arXiv?
Some archival journals encourage the use of arXiv to post pre-prints of papers that have been refereed and accepted for publication.  

That is, if you have a paper that has been accepted for publication in a refereed scientific journal you will be given a publication date. The publication date is the date your paper will appear in print as a journal article. Usually there is a delay of weeks to months between the acceptance date and the publication date. It makes sense to post a pre-print of your paper on arXiv so people can see your stuff early. Many journals allow and or encourage this method of publication of pre-prints. 

What about citations of arXiv papers in the references of your paper? 

Most scientific journals now accept references to papers published via arXiv. arXiv papers are referenced in the usual way using the arXiv reference code numbers, author list, title, etc. 

The use of results from arXiv papers may be problematic since arXiv publications are not refereed in the traditional sense.  That is, there is some risk that the result you are using may not be as thoroughly vetted as a result found in a traditional refereed journal. This is a matter of judgement. It is the responsibility of the author to be certain the arXiv paper is right before using a result from it.  

Some referees may be skeptical of an arXiv published result. So you may have to provide a solid justification, should it be requested by a referee.

If you publish a result via arXiv, will you have priority and recognition as the person who gets the credit for discovering the result?

Although there may be some uncertainty about this, generally, if you have a good valid result in an arXiv paper you will be recognized and credited for your work in traditional refereed journals. 

It would be very bad form for someone to scoop a result from arXiv and try to publish it in a journal as their own work. No one wants to be guilty of such a shady practice. For these reasons I believe arXiv is a good way to establish priority for having discovered or developed a new scientific or mathematical result.   

Even if others obtain your result independently, they are duty bound to credit your prior publication. Of course, sometimes authors are simply unaware of your stuff. If that happens, it is up to you to write to the journal and inform them of your prior work. Usually, the journal will publish a note recognizing your stuff if it has merit.

Nature Publishing's Scientific Reports

Scientific Reports (SR) is an online scientific journal recently introduced by Nature Publishing. Unlike arXiv, Scientific Reports is a peer reviewed publication. SR promises review and publication of scientific papers in the physical and medical sciences on a rapid timescale of 30 days. SR does charge a publication fee per article. SR is meant to be an alternative venue for papers that may not qualify for publication in Nature and its associated printed media journals. 

The SR website is very impressive: 

Recommended resources and references

Reference 1
How to Publish Your First Paper on Mathematics by S.G. Kranz 
American Mathematical Society

This article provides a short guide to writing and publishing a professional quality paper in an archival mathematical journal. Includes a discussion of publication via arXiv. 
Download the pdf at this link:

Reference 2
Wikipedia article about the history of arXiv.
Includes a brief discussion of copyright options available to arXiv authors.

Reference 3
Journal Citation of arXiv Papers and related information from arXiv FAQ.

Reference 4
Should I cite a paper posted on arXiv?  I have written a paper using a result published on arXiv, however the paper is not refereed. Is that a problem?

Absolutely you should cite the arXiv paper, some of the most important mathematical papers are now being published via arXiv. But...
Check out discussion:
The Mathoverflow folks provide a great Q and A forum for mathematical researchers.
But "not for help on your math homework."

Reference 5
"MathOverflow's primary goal is for users to ask and answer research level math questions, the sorts of questions you come across when you're writing or reading articles or graduate level books."

Reference 6
An excellent description of the peer review process can be found here
This one is for Nature Publishing's Scientific Reports.  

Friday, March 23, 2012

Wildwood Flower on the Classic Dulcimer

Wildwood Flower a Traditional American Song Written in 1860, one year before the start of the Civil War. Original title was "I'll Twine 'Mid the Ringlets". The song was written in 1860, with words by Maud Irving and music by Joseph Philbrick Webster (1819–1875).


Wildwood Flower  Original 1860 Lyrics

Oh I Will twine mid the ringlets of my raven black hair
The lilies so pale and the roses so fair
The mytle so bright with an emerald hue and the pale 
arnatus with eyes of bright blue. 

I'll dance and I'll sing and my laugh shall be gay* 
I'll cease this wild weeping, drive sorrow away. 
Though my heart is now breaking, he never shall know 
That his name made me tremble and my pale cheeks to glow. 

I'll think of him, I'll be wildly gay 
I'll charm every heart, and the crowd I will sway. 
I'll live yet to see him regret the dark hour 
When he won then neglected the frail wildwood flower.

He told he loved me and promised to love 
Through ill and misfortune all others above. 
Another has won him, ah misery to tell 
He left me in silence no word of farewell.
 He taught me to love him, he called me his flower 
That blossomed for him all the brighter each hour 
But I woke from my dreaming, my idol was clay 
My visions of love have all faded away.

*There may be a mistake in the first line of the second stanza.

The "folk song process" allows lyrics to evolve.
After 100 years we have the classic Wildwood Flower
performed by the Carter Family in the mid-20th century.

Early Music Radio UK, Wikipedia, Traditional Folk Music Tune Book. 
Videos from YouTube