Unspoken Rules Associated with Publication Success

Document Type

Research Data

Publication Date



publication characteristics, bibliometrics, biomedical science publishing


Large publications, such as the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM), wield significant influence over clinical practice across all medical specialties. To identify the initial NEJM publications’ characteristics that were associated with a future “significant author” NEJM publication. For this purpose, first, second, and senior author ranks were defined as “significant author” roles.

METHODS: From 2002 – 2019, Medline NEJM original research articles containing a structured abstract were extracted; baseline study characteristics were evaluated as potential predictors of subsequent NEJM successful publication as significant author; the variables evaluated included the index publications’ co-author count, study design (e.g., clinical trial), grant funding, major disease topic/research field, and Web of Science citation count. Starting in 2008, collaborating co-author counts were also recorded.

RESULTS: Among 2,369 NEJM first authors, 485 (20.47%) had a subsequent significant author role; of these, 164 (33.8%) were subsequently listed as a last author. Characteristics predictive of a subsequent NEJM publication included clinical trial design, a highly cited initial publication, and/or a focus on cardiovascular disease; these study characteristics increased the likelihood of this initial NEJM author again holding any future NEJM significant author role. Results were similar for modeling the time to a subsequent NEJM publication in a last author role, except that having previous multiple publications as first author was an important predictor.

DISCUSSION: Authors publishing clinical trials that were initially highly cited papers and/or publishing cardiovascular disease-related topics were more likely to subsequently publish an another NEJM article as a significant author. To encourage authors aspiring to publishing in a top biomedical science journal, the NEJM journal-specific factors predictive of a future publication success should be transparent and made publicly available; thus, future clinician-scientists may use this information to improve their next NEJM manuscript’s chances of successful publication.

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