Friday, March 3, 2017


The importance of research focus

When focus is maintained on a research topic success in publication of results is likely to follow.  Not only will the researcher more easily add new elements to their topic, reviewers will be aware of the publication record and assume you are well qualified in the topic and publication is justified.

An additional important aspect is the ease of keeping current in the pertinent literature.  The beginner in a topic has the difficulty of mastering the literature with searches of older literature, pertinent peripheral topics, and newly published material.  Attendance at professional society meetings is very beneficial in learning what are the current hot topics and who is working on them.

Role of literature cited in manuscript evaluation

Lack of citation of key research papers can result in rejection of submissions to professional journals.  Citing the most recent review articles is helpful in reducing the need for citing countless older articles.  The most recent publication of materials and methods you use is important to cite to show you are up to date as well as to simplify your discussion of that aspect if you have not made modification of the materials and methods.

The hazards of research focus

The danger of becoming obsolete can plague older researchers who have pursued their topic to where their work is finding more and more about less and less with sadly declining value.  In my search of literature on isopods I encountered many redundant lists of measurements of isopod leg segments published in an old prestigious French science journal and authored by the editor.  Journals sometimes become less valuable when editors and/or reviewers become narrowly focused.

Some molecular work on evolution of phyla has suffered because the accepted standard ignoring generation time is too often applied and older peripheral knowledge of other disciplines is ignored.

My lack of focus, or frequent change of focus, has been detrimental to success in publishing research results.  Often it was one submission and out if a rejection was encountered.  Unfortunately, many manuscripts were never submitted because they were produced over such a long time that I felt a need, not easily met, to catch up on recent literature to update the manuscripts.  Many of the most cited research papers of others were rejected many times before publication.

Jumping in to new topics can make review of pertinent literature overwhelming.  The help of on-line searches may ease the need for Biological Abstracts, Science Citation Index, and Zoological Record .  I also used Chemical Index and Index Medicus for some past searches.  Nowadays, Google and Wikipedia are useful for both quick overviews and details to get current.  Specialty journals need monitoring for researchers to stay current.


Focus, with success, can bring credibility.  Linus Pauling gained success for his work and Nobel Prize.  Unfortunately, he was given attention, in areas other than his specialty, in some peripheral subjects.  Much more than needed amounts of vitamin C was consumed by many others as a result.  And in a joint paper with E. Zuckercandl he ventured the idea that generation time did not need attention in molecular clock evolution studies.  That mistake has not yet been corrected as you can find in numerous other posts on this blog.

Success in one area does not equate to mastery of another area.  I will try to avoid applying that observation to current events.

Joseph Engemann    Kalamazoo, Michigan    March 3, 2017

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