What Makes A Good Paper For PPP?
Article first published online: 3 SEP 2013
Copyright © 2013 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.
Permafrost and Periglacial Processes
Volume 24, Issue 3, pages 157–159, July 2013
How to Cite
(2013), What Makes A Good Paper For PPP?. Permafrost Periglac. Process., 24: 157–159. doi: 10.1002/ppp.1786
- Issue published online: 3 SEP 2013
- Article first published online: 3 SEP 2013
- Manuscript Received: 4 JUL 2013
Papers submitted to PPP should present excellent science in a clear manner. The impact factor of the journal has risen from 0.983 in 2002 to 3.049 in 2012, making PPP an increasingly desirable outlet for international permafrost and periglacial research. Competition for space in PPP is significant, and the standard for acceptance of papers is high. Nevertheless, the clarity of writing in papers submitted to PPP varies substantially. We, the editors, are currently concerned that many papers are submitted prematurely, thereby placing an unreasonable burden on our reviewers.
Our reviewers are a precious and important resource – ‘a ‘Commons’ [that] can only survive if there is community co-operation rather than intra-community competition’ (Lane, 2011, p. 2) – but they face many competing demands on their time. Reviewers should be able to focus on the science and engineering rather than struggle with editorial matters. Unfortunately at present, reviewers often not only evaluate the content and arguments but also provide detailed advice for transforming the submission into a suitable paper. However, editorial assistance is not a reviewer's obligation. So to help our authors, we set out below some criteria for research articles, short communications, reviews and monographs. These criteria help us to ensure that excellent work is published in PPP as quickly as it deserves. We ask that authors confirm that their manuscript fulfils these criteria before submission to PPP. Authors are encouraged to look at current versions of PPP manuscripts for examples of formatting requirements, layout, reference style, etc.
Research Question or Hypothesis
At the heart of every paper in PPP should be a scientific research question or hypothesis about permafrost or periglacial phenomena that is both interesting and important to our international readership. This extends to engineering aspects of past and present frozen ground in polar and high-mountain areas, and can include reports on innovative design and construction in permafrost regions. Such research questions tend to be descriptive or explanatory. Descriptive questions focus on what happens; for example, what are the relations between plant functional type and active-layer depth or how does frost susceptibility vary amongst different rock types? Explanatory research questions seek to elucidate causal relations or differences between phenomena; for example, why do thick mossy ground covers tend to have thinner active layers than surfaces lacking moss, or why does ice fracture rock? Good research questions are clearly expressed, focused and specific. They are often framed as a simple question or as a research hypothesis that is tested against observations or model outputs.
A paper should highlight the broad scientific significance of the research presented and/or the implications for permafrost engineering in practice. The gaps in permafrost/periglacial science or permafrost engineering that the paper addresses and their importance should be indicated. Local or regional studies, of course, are not excluded but must make clear their general relevance.
Novelty of the Research
The research should be clearly distinguished from previously published work. Novelty takes many forms. For example, new data may resolve a long-standing research question, new methods may recharacterise phenomena, or new interdisciplinary research may provide fresh perspectives on old problems. Some authors revisit sites and problems over the years, and their papers must specify differences from earlier publications. If the editors and reviewers detect examples of ‘double dipping’ (i.e. repeated publication of the same or very similar material), the review process may be terminated and the paper rejected immediately.
Aims and Objectives (Goals of Research)
The goals of the study are essential to the Introduction of every paper. They provide it with a direction and purpose, and allow the reader to evaluate how successfully the paper achieves them. The goals can often be specified as aims and objectives. Aims guide the reader about the broad purpose of the study: what the paper seeks to achieve; for example, to elucidate a geocryological process or an engineering design, to project permafrost change, or to reconstruct past permafrost history. Objectives specify how the aims will be carried out and provide ways of telling us if the aims have been achieved. They provide a specific and precise approach that breaks the aims down into convenient work packages.
The Methods section sets out the study design, data collection and analysis in sufficient detail for the study to be repeated by other scientists or engineers. Full details are required about the instrumentation used to obtain primary data (manufacturer, model, precision, accuracy, calibration) or the sources of secondary data (details of satellite platform, image acquisition dates, processing and corrections, and details for web-based data sets (name, access date, web address)). Sampling protocols and statistical methods should also be identified. Readers must be able to follow how the methods relate to the research question and to the objectives.
Results and Interpretation
The Results and the Interpretation should be presented separately, usually in two sequential sections. The Results are purely descriptive; for example, setting out the characteristics of the data (descriptive statistics) and the relations and differences amongst them (inferential statistics). The Interpretation seeks to explain the data, identify what new insights into geocryological phenomena they provide and how the data and insights relate to those in previous studies. Uncertainty, error and limitations of the study should also be discussed in this section.
The visual presentation of data is as important as the narrative text that describes them. Tables and figures should relate to the objectives of the paper and labelling should be clear and legible. Figures are usually reduced in print, making labelling difficult to read unless it is large in the original figure.
Clarity of Writing
All papers must be written in clear English that can be understood readily by manuscript reviewers and readers. Such clarity includes: (1) selecting the appropriate English words; (2) spelling them correctly; and (3) presenting them in a logical and grammatically correct way. It may be important for authors to consult a person who is fluent in English and proficient in permafrost and periglacial studies in order to check and edit the manuscript before submission. If the English language of a submission is not acceptable, the paper will be returned to the authors without review, to have the paper edited before it can be considered further.
A clear manuscript structure separates background and contextual information, descriptions of methods and study areas, presentation of results, interpretation and discussion, and presents clearly identified conclusions.
Submitted manuscripts should be in near-publication form, and consistent with the style of current PPP articles. A draft that is set aside and then revisited with a fresh and critical mind is commonly much improved as a result. This strategy often saves time for authors, reviewers and editors, and improves the quality of papers by identifying issues of poor structure or opaque writing before submission. Authors may examine an excellent article by Nicholas and Gordon (2011) on writing peer reviews to help recognise generic points that referees are likely to identify.
Finally, we set out some brief guidance about short communications, monographs and reviews to help authors distinguish them from standard research articles.
Short communications that report methodical advances must still address an important research question or hypothesis. To this end, they should present some preliminary data. An excellent recent example of one such short communication is given by Ní Bhreasail et al. (2012), which reported a new method of imaging microcracks in sand and is underpinned by the research question: why does microcracking occur in freezing or frozen sand?
In 2014, PPP aims to publish a monograph. Other monographs may be published from time to time in order to consider a permafrost or periglacial topic more comprehensively than is possible in a standard research article, and to reflect on research over an extended period of time or through multidisciplinary collaboration. Monographs are not a place to publish student theses, but rather to disseminate authoritative and benchmark studies that provide seminal contributions to understanding permafrost and periglacial processes and engineering endeavours.
Monographs will occasionally be published in place of a standard issue of PPP, when there is no special issue in the same year. The submission and reviewing process for monographs will be the same as for research articles. Authors who wish to submit a monograph to PPP must provide the editors with an abstract, outline structure and statement about the scientific significance of the monograph for approval prior to submission. Submissions will be peer reviewed and considered in the same way as a research article.
The International Permafrost Association has chosen PPP for publication of periodic review papers to coincide with the International Conferences on Permafrost. The first of these volumes, styled the Transactions of the International Permafrost Association, was published in the last issue of PPP (volume 24, number 2). The topics selected for review will cover fundamental aspects of geocryology and engineering practice and areas where there is considerable activity. The reviews should present an argument regarding the state of the field and its direction, and refrain from the style of an annotated bibliography. To achieve this, authors must normally start from a thorough familiarity with the literature rather than using the review assignment as an opportunity for themselves to catch up. Reviews require a breadth in perspective that helps others to grasp key points of overlap between their own work and the reviewed research. In general, reviews for the Transactions will require an international perspective, and so the papers will likely be jointly authored by scientists and engineers from different countries. However, authorship by large teams will be discouraged, in order to facilitate development of a through-running argument and reduce the effort required to integrate disparate subsections. Reviews are subject to the same consideration by referees and editors as other articles.
We finish by thanking PPP’s reviewers for their invaluable work, without which the journal could not operate. We hope that the guidance given here will help our authors to present their research clearly, to the benefit of our reviewers and readers.
- 2011. The tragedy of the reviewing commons? Earth Surface Processes and Landforms 36: 1–2. DOI: 10.1002/esp.2117
- 2012. In-situ observation of cracks in frozen soil using synchrotron tomography. Permafrost and Periglacial Processes 23: 170–176. DOI: 10.1002/ppp.1737 , , , , , , .
- 2011. A quick guide to writing a solid peer review. EOS, Transactions, American Geophysical Union 92(28): 233–240. , .