Tips from a grumpy editor (Lisa Amir)

This is the first of the RED Alert’s ‘What do editors want?’ series! 

For this series, we solicited blogposts from La Trobe's experienced academic editors, and asked them to share their perspectives and experiences with us. We're often told about impact factors and citation metrics but it's harder to get to know how journals actually work and what editors look for in paper submissions.

In this first entry, Associate Professor Lisa Amir gives us her ‘Top 5’ editorial tips. She founded and is Editor-in-Chief of the online, Open Access journal, International Breastfeeding Journal (published by BioMed Central [Springer]), which began publishing in 2006. 

Lisa has presented on her journal’s Open Access philosophy, and is dedicated to ensuring that quality research about lactation and breastfeeding reaches as broad an audience as possible. 


Journal editors are busy people.

They do all the things that other academics do, THEN also have to pop their ‘editor’ hat on!

So, sometimes we get grumpy.

Here are five tips from a grumpy editor that will hopefully prevent editors from becoming grumpier!

1. Write for your audience

Take care in selecting the journal you are going to submit to and think about its readers. What does a nurse want to know about this? What might a sociologist need to understand about this topic? Some authors write with a particular person in mind, and this can be helpful. One of my pet hates is when authors cookie-cutter copy the same introduction for every paper they write – this is tedious for readers!

2. Have a clear research question (or viewpoint/whatever) for this specific paper. 

Build your paper around this! Ask yourself ‘what is the relevant background?’.

Pro-tip: If your paper is about measuring pain, start the background with a concise summary of the field. Don't bore me with a first paragraph about the 'benefits of breastfeeding'. Obviously, readers of a journal titled the International Breastfeeding Journal are going to be familiar with this topic!

3. Tell a story. 

After introducing the topic, structure the results around the main findings relevant to your research question, then follow through with a relevant Discussion section.

Don't be tempted to insert a mini-lecture on, say, the risks of codeine for infants of breastfeeding mothers in the Discussion section of your survey of where mothers get information about safety of medications during lactation!

There is no need to ‘pad’ articles. Just say things once (not counting the Abstract, which needs to stand alone).

4. Be transparent. 

Each paper you write is a piece of the giant jigsaw that is the area’s broader literature. Where your paper fits in this jigsaw needs to be easily understood by the editor and potential readers. For example, say up front that the paper is a secondary analysis of such and such a study and give details of that study (or whatever). Don’t just say this in passing on the cover letter for the editor – readers need to know this as well.

5. Take care in selecting and formatting citations. 

Understand when to use primary references, and when a review might be appropriate. If you’re citing the prevalence of something, you need to use an epidemiology study; don't cite a qualitative study of seven women in Japan.

Take extreme care in citing the references correctly. Learn how to use a software program, such as EndNote, to manage your references and you will save hours of work.

Editors become extremely upset when they receive papers with sloppy reference lists. We tend to think that if the author(s) don't care about appropriate citation practices, maybe they aren't careful about research practices either!

Follow the Instructions for authors for all parts of the paper. Have a couple of copies of similar articles from that journal next to you and follow the general style of writing and formatting. Don't run out of energy when you get to the reference list!

Take some pride in submitting a paper with no errors in the reference list and the editor will love you!


Associate Professor Lisa Amir (MBBS MMed PhD IBCLC FABM FILCA) is a general practitioner and lactation consultant. 

She works in breastfeeding medicine at The Royal Women's Hospital and in private practice in Melbourne, Australia. 

She is a Principal Research Fellow at the Judith Lumley Centre, La Trobe University. She is the author of over 100 peer-reviewed articles, and the Editor-in-Chief of International Breastfeeding Journal. 

Lisa tweets from @Lisa_H_Amir.