Advice from journal editors for early-career researchers

Image by flickr user acroamatic, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
Image by flickr user acroamatic, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

On Tuesday, September 24th in the Ohio Union Traditions Room, a panel of six journal editors from a variety of disciplines gathered to give advice to early career researchers on getting their work published. The editors were Dr. George Billman (Editor-in-Chief, Frontiers in Physiology), Dr. Leonid Polyak (Editorial Board, Marine Geology), Dr. Stephen Rosenstiel (Editor, Journal of Prosthetic Dentistry), and Dr. Caroline Wagner (North American Editor, Science and Public Policy Journal). Dr. Lynn Elfner (Acting Editor,  Ohio Journal of Science) served as the moderator. The panel was affiliated with the annual Research Expo, and was sponsored by the Libraries’ Publishing Program, the Health Sciences Library, and the Office of Research.

The discussion was lively and very informative, and because there was so much interest in the event (and a sizable wait list), we wanted to share some of the advice more widely. The following are the questions that were asked of the panel, and summaries of the responses.

What are the most common reasons for rejections?

The editors listed a number of common reasons why a paper may be rejected, including:

  • Content that isn’t new or important
  • Methodological flaws
  • Substandard or non-standard English
  • A topic that is out-of-scope for the journal

Lack of proper formatting was also mentioned – not as a reason for a rejection, but as something that may cause an article to get sent back to the author for further work before publication.

What should authors do if their paper is rejected for what the author believes are incorrect reasons?

The editors stressed that rejections are a part of life, and that for some well-known journals, rejection rates are very high. While major clerical errors (e.g. the wrong paper was reviewed) should certainly be reported to the editor, appeals to the editor after a decision have been made are unlikely to result in a change to that decision.

The different disciplines and publications represented described a variety of approaches to peer review and editorial decision-making. Some are more traditional in their approach, while others (such as Frontiers in Physiology) are experimenting with new systems that may change the accept/reject dynamic in the future.

If you had one tip for new authors, what would it be?

One of the most common answers to this question was that authors should be careful to select an appropriate journal to which to submit. One editor stressed the importance of avoiding ‘predatory’ or ‘vanity’ journals (which can be print or electronic). Others suggested becoming familiar enough with the journal content to be sure your submission falls within the scope of the journal, which may be different from what the journal title implies, or may have changed throughout the journal’s history.

Another editor stressed the importance of using plagiarism-checking tools (many of which are freely available online), especially in cases when a paper is co-authored. This comment led to a fascinating discussion of the different causes of plagiarism, both intentional and unintentional, and the problems it causes for authors and publications.

What is your take on Open Access?

As one of the feedback forms pointed out, we asked the panel to discuss this question without actually defining Open Access. If you want some background information on OA, I would recommend watching this informative video on the PhD Comics site.

Not surprisingly given the broad disciplinary scope of the panel, the editors’ opinions on OA varied widely. Some of their journals publish all of their content openly on the Web, and some have an OA option for authors who are willing to pay an extra fee. The panelists discussed the importance of journal prestige to junior scholars attempting to earn tenure, and talked about the relative prestige of OA journals in their discipline. There was no consensus, but the discussion encouraged new scholars to look at OA journals in their field and make an informed decision.

How long can a manuscript be under review? If it has been out for a long time, what can the author do?

While stressing that different fields have different expectations for an acceptable time from submission to decision, the editors seemed to agree that if an author has heard nothing about their submission after six week, it is OK to follow up with the editor of the journal. They also talked about their own journals’ use of software to manage submissions and communicate with authors, and expressed appreciation for systems that allow authors to check on the status of their manuscript.

What rights do your journals require that authors sign over? What rights do they grant back?

Most of the editors said that their journals require a full transfer of copyright, and were not familiar with the specifics of the authors’ rights provisions of their publishing agreements. The only exception was the OA journal (Frontiers in Physiology), which allows its authors to retain the copyright to their work.

For information about authors’ rights and publishing agreements, visit the Copyright Resources Center website, or contact Sandra Enimil.

(Thank you to Laura Seeger, without whose excellent notes this post would not have been possible.)

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Posted by Melanie Schlosser

Avatar for Melanie Schlosser

I am the Digital Publishing Librarian at The Ohio State University Libraries. I work with our institutional repository and our open access publishing program, and am broadly interested in the fields of scholarly communication and digital humanities.

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