Understanding the Academic Journal Editorial Process
The mounting pressure on scientists to publish (or perish) has led to an ever-accelerating stream of publications, affording editorial offices, especially at coveted (high impact) publications, the opportunity to become increasingly selective in their manuscript selection process.
All our Xperts are published academics who have acted as peer reviewers for some of the top journals in our respective fields. Some of our editors also served on journals’ editorial boards and can therefore provide some valuable insight into how submitted manuscripts are screened and evaluated, which may be helpful when preparing your own work for submission.
If you are looking for some advice on how to improve your scientific writing skills, see our short guide on scientific writing.
The Pre-selection Process
Due the sheer volume of submissions, no subject editor will read each submission in full and most journals will perform some pre-screening before a manuscript even reaches a subject editor. This pre-screening is often carried out by editorial assistants who mostly assess the more superficial aspects of a manuscript, i.e., irrespective of the scientific merit of your work, there may be a number of purely formal reasons which may prevent your manuscript from passing this first stage of the selection process:
- Poor English
- Bad journal targeting (i.e., the topic of your paper does not match the scope of the target journal)
- Generally sloppy and untidy formatting of the manuscript with badly prepared graphics and tables
- A cover letter that is poorly written or uncompelling
- Failure to include the correspondence address or any contact details
All these issues can easily be remedied by using a professional scientific proofreading service such as XpertScientific.
If your manuscript has passed the pre-selection, it will typically be handed to a subject editor to assess the scientific merits of your work. Again, you should bear in mind that due to the sheer volume of submissions, a subject editor will not read every manuscript in full. So if you fail to capture the interest of the subject editor by the time he or she has finished reading your cover letter and abstract, they will most likely not allow your manuscript to proceed any further.
Some common reasons why manuscripts fail at this stage are:
- Failure to convey the main scientific achievements in a compelling, concise, and well formulated cover letter and abstract
- The manuscript is generally poorly written and lacks clarity
- The work is derivative and lacking in novelty
- The data are incomplete or insufficiently described and documented
- The methodology is dated or badly described
- The work is not of general interest or relevance
The presence of just one of these flaws may prevent your manuscript from passing this stage. While our proofreading service at XpertScientific cannot fix fundamental problems with the methodology or science in your work, we can highlight potential problems and inconsistencies, and improve the language and style of your manuscript to ensure that your work is portrayed in the best possible light, thereby greatly enhancing your chances to pass this second stage.
Once your manuscript has passed these two selection stages, it will be sent out for peer review to at least two academics who are experts in your field. This process is designed to provide the necessary quality control to ensure that only articles which are of sufficient general interest and scientific merit are accepted for publication. In order to avoid conflicts of interest, reviews are often single (only the author - ) or double blind (neither the author nor the reviewer know each other’s identity).
The reviewers provide a written report on the scientific merits and problems associated to your work, and your manuscript will usually be classified as:
- Publish as is: this is the A+ rating when it comes to peer reviews. The reviewer was not only convinced by the scientific merit of your work but found not even minor shortcomings in the science or format.
- Accept for publication after minor revisions: in this case you convinced the reviewer of the worthiness of your work, but you may need to apply some minor corrections before it can be published.
- Consider for publication after major revisions: in this case you convinced the reviewers of the scientific merit of your work, but you may need to apply some major corrections, or even re-analyse your data, before your manuscript can be considered for publication.
- Reject: if your manuscript lacks the necessary scientific merit, reviewers may recommend to reject your manuscript, either outright, or with the possibility to resubmit once some more substantial problems have been fixed.
Depending on the reviewer recommendations, the quality of your corrections, and your replies to the reviewers’ comments, the editor may decide to send your manuscript for a second round of review, or use his or her discretion to accept your manuscript in the original or revised forms.
If the reviewers reached wildly different verdicts, an editor may also decide to send your manuscript to an additional reviewer in order to obtain a third opinion.
Always bear in mind that reviewers’ recommendations are simply that: recommendations. So it is not uncommon for an editor to decide not to publish an article, despite positive reviews, or recommend publication in a sister journal. Especially for high impact publications, the decisions at this level are often based purely on what is currently considered a hot topic or fashionable, and are no longer a real reflection of the scientific quality of the work.
While different journals may have slightly different policies and apply more or less stringent selection criteria when it comes to separating the wheat from the chaff, the general procedure is fairly similar and will typically prevent badly formatted or written manusccripts from even progressing to the peer-review stage. This article provided a short summary of the selection stages that manuscripts typically undergo prior to publication and may help you avoid some of the more common pitfalls when it comes to manuscript preparation and formatting. To learn how to improve your scientific writing skills, see our short guide on scientific writing.