You have worked through your list of journals, investigating all your criteria and found the journal that is best suited to your paper and the goals you have for it. It is now time for you to submit!
In this section, we will prepare you for what to expect when submitting to a journal, give some insights into the peer review process, how to respond to requests for revisions and resubmit a paper, and what steps to take should you receive a rejection decision.
Make sure you have prepared your paper according to the instructions for authors. Double-check the journal’s requirements with your article to be certain.
If you need to include a cover letter with your submission, you should address the editor by formal name (e.g. Dear Professor Name---) and include the name of the journal but make sure you use the correct one (especially if this is your second-choice journal)!
In the letter, explain why your article is suitable for that journal and how your paper will contribute to furthering its aims & scope. Pitch the value of your article, describing the main theme, the contribution your paper makes to existing knowledge, and its relationship to any relevant articles published in the journal. You should not repeat the abstract in the letter. Include information not typically mentioned in a manuscript.
You may also be requested by the journal to suggest some reviewers for your paper. Good sources for these include authors cited in your references and editorial board members from the journal, or from other journals in the field. You should not suggest anyone that you would have a conflict of interest with, such as co-workers.
You should also make some formal declarations regarding the originality of your work, that you have no conflicts of interest, and that all co-authors (if you have any) agree to the submission.
As we discussed in the earlier module on peer review, there are a wide range of timeframes over which your review process may be conducted.
It may take several months for the journal to complete the review process, which typically involves:
Acquiring reviewers and then receiving those reviews back is the longest part of the process. It is very much dependent on the availability of academics, and is not an especially predictable process.
Journals which use web-based reviewing platforms often feature a status for each submission that authors can check. If this status has not changed for some time, in most cases, you will be able to send the journal administrator or editor an email. Some journals make their review times publicly available, giving you a good idea of how long their process might take, and when it may be appropriate to ask for an update. If you do not know what to expect, we suggest waiting around 2 months before asking for an update.
Hopefully you will have submitted your article to the perfect journal, exactly as they have requested, and your article will be sent for reviewing. However, some papers are rejected without being sent for peer review – this is commonly known as a desk reject – and of course, you want to avoid this happening to your paper.
To help you understand and minimise the risk, here are some of the most common reasons for desk rejection:
Many journals conduct some form of checking of article text to go alongside the reviewing of papers. Software such as iThenticate, Turnitin, PlagScan, among many others, are used either to look for similarities in text between the submitted article and published material available online.
These platforms cannot, by themselves, determine whether text has been plagiarised, only provide a score of how similar passages of text are to existing material. For this reason, these programs tend to be referred to as ‘similarity checker’, not ‘plagiarism checker’.
Papers which are processed and return high scores are likely to be investigated to determine whether the similarity does appear to be deliberate plagiarism. How a journal deals with such a paper depends on their own policies and procedures, and the extent of the plagiarism detected.
Many journals will refer to the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE) Guidelines and Flowchart for dealing with “Suspected plagiarism in a submitted manuscript”. See our module on Ethics and Malpractice Statements for more detail on COPE and journal ethics.
These similarity checking programs may be used at different stages of the process, depending on journal policy and situation. Some journals may screen all papers on submission, some only when some concerns are raised by the editor on first read or by referees during review.
Once the editor has received all comments, feedback and recommendations from the reviewers, they will make a decision on the paper. These decisions may be called by different terms, but will usually fit into one of four categories:
If you are invited to revise your paper, make sure you are methodical in your approach to tackling the revisions requested by the editor.
Having a submission rejected from your first-choice journal is something of an inevitability - every researcher has been rejected at some point in their careers. Even some of what we now consider ground-breaking and foundational studies were rejected from their first-choice journals. Hans Krebs' paper on citric acid cycle - the Krebs cycle – was rejected from Nature in 1937, and Kary Mullis’ first paper on polymerase chain reaction (PCR) was rejected from Science in 1993, before going on to win the Nobel Prize. Rejection happens, quite literally, to the best of us.
If this should happen to you, try not be too disappointed. It does not mean there is no future for your paper. As with our revision recommendation, set aside the letter once you have read it and give yourself some time before tackling it.
When you are ready to proceed with your paper, consider the following steps:
After acceptance, you will usually be required to sign copyright or licensing documents, to give the publisher the rights to publish your article. Be sure to read these documents thoroughly to understand what you are signing.
If you would like to publish your article Open Access, Article Processing Charges are usually requested at this stage, and go hand-in-hand with the license you select, if such options are available.
Accepted papers are usually sent to a production team to format into journal style. Some have dedicated professional typesetters, copyeditors and proof-readers. For some journals, the Editors may contribute to these roles.
Some journals publish the Accepted version online within just a few days, to make it officially available before the final ‘Version of Record’ journal-styled PDF is made available.
Some journals publish articles online as soon as they are ready, into a queue of early publication manuscripts. Other journals hold all articles offline until each issue is full and publish each issue according to a defined schedule (for example, 4 times per year).
There are many different ways in which publishers and journals manage their post-acceptance stages and publication schedules. If the information about your article is not provided to you, you may contact the journal office for an update.
These are some of the more common processes and procedures that you will encounter and come to rely on throughout your research publishing career, but there may be many more variations to deal with. The submission process can be a time-consuming, frustrating experience, but with these tips, and building up your own repertoire of tools, resources and techniques, you will soon master the arts of submission and peer review.
Good luck with all your future submissions!
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