Last Tuesday, March 24th, an interdisciplinary panel of journal editors gathered in Thompson Library to offer their advice and expertise on academic publishing to early career researchers at Ohio State.  The panel included Dr. George E. Billman (Editor-in-Chief, Frontiers in Physiology), Dr. Theresa Delgadillo (Editor, Mujeres Talk; Editorial Board, Chicana/Latina Studies), Dr. David Ewoldsen (Founding Editor, Communication Methods & Measures; Editorial Board, Media Psychology), Dr. James Phelan (Editor, Narrative), and Dr. Stephen F. Rosenstiel (Editor-in-Chief, The Journal of Prosthetic Dentistry), and the discussion was moderated by Melanie Schlosser, Ohio State’s Digital Publishing Librarian.  The panel discussion was organized with the OSU Journal Editors’ Group and was co-sponsored by the Libraries Publishing Program and the Ohio State Postdoctoral Association.

The panelists engaged in a very informative discussion with one another and with the postdoctoral and graduate researchers in attendance, sharing advice that we think would be valuable to early career researchers more broadly.  The following are the questions addressed by the panelists and summaries of their responses:

What is the most common reason for rejection from your journals?

Responses to this question centered on a few key points:

  • Not a good fit given the aims and scope of the journal
  • Not novel or innovative or does not sufficiently engage with broader debates in the field
  • Flawed or unsound research methods
  • Poorly written – that is, if a submission would seem to require too much work for the editors to get it into publishable form, then it is likely to be rejected

There was also a brief discussion of the concept of “interactive review,” a newer form of peer review being practiced by some journals (Frontiers in Physiology, for example) in which authors and review editors engage in a collaborative revision process to create the best publishable manuscript possible.

When is it okay to contact the editor of a journal?

Responses to this question fell into two groups, pre-submission and post-submission.  The panelists agreed that is is perfectly acceptable for authors to ask editors whether or not a particular submission would be a good fit for the journal prior to submitting the manuscript.  This is particularly true if the topic of the research is controversial.  Many journals want to push the envelope while others may be more conservative in their content, and this is a good opportunity for establishing a dialogue about fit.  One editor suggested that the prospective author submit a one-page write-up so that the editor will have enough information to judge whether the submission would be appropriate for the journal.

In terms of post-submission inquiries, the panel advised authors to wait about a month after the estimated review window has passed before contacting the journal’s editor for an update on the status of your submission.  It is also often a good idea to contact the editor if you have received contradictory information from your reviewers – get the editor’s take on this before moving forward with revisions.  Lastly, our panelists advised that if an article gets rejected and the author wishes to challenge the decision, this should not be taken lightly.  Authors who are overly adversarial in challenging an editor’s decision can risk closing themselves off to future publication in that journal.

What are the most important formatting/author instructions (besides all of them)?

  • Be mindful of word and/or page limits.
  • Follow formatting guidelines – don’t submit an article that may have been rejected from one journal to a different journal without changing the format.
  • Be respectful to your reviewers and editors – never re-submit a manuscript word-for-word if your reviewers suggested revisions.

What are your thoughts on open access publishing for new authors?

Our panelists’ thoughts were mixed on the topic of open access publishing, which allows for “the free, immediate, online access to the results of scholarly research, and the right to use and re-use those results as you need.”

On the one hand, our panelists stressed the importance of establishing an online presence for publication in any journal, and this is a big plus for open access publishing.  Open access makes research more widely available and accessible, and allows authors to engage in a dialogue with their readers, get feedback from others in the field to make their own future research better, and establish their own profile as a researcher in the discipline.

At the same time, it is important for researchers to know the reputation and credentials of a journal before agreeing to submit a manuscript.  While there are many great open access journals (e.g., PLOS ONE), researchers will want to avoid publishing in predatory or vanity journals.  For early career researchers, it is also important to consider journal metrics (for both print and open access journals), such as the Impact Factor, as they tend to be given quite a bit of weight in promotion and tenure decisions – talk to your department about what will and will not count towards your promotion and tenure portfolio.

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

  • Make sure your submission is well-written.  A well-written manuscript is already one step ahead in terms of getting published.
  • “Proofread, proofread, proofread.”
  • Ask your colleagues and mentors about the impactful and prestigious journals in your field.  See where the articles that you cite in your research were published, and consider publishing in one of those journals too.
  • Write for the reader.  Ask multiple people (within and outside of your field) to read your manuscript.  Take their feedback seriously – if they say something isn’t clear, revise it.
  • Read the latest works of the editor and the people on the editorial board who may receive and review your manuscript.  This will give you a better sense of the people who will establish whether or not your work fits the aims and scope of the journal.

In addition to the questions asked by the discussion’s moderator, attendees asked some of their own questions to draw on the expertise of the panelists:

How should authors handle reviewer comments that suggest revisions and/or further work that are beyond the scope of the submitted manuscript?

  • It’s okay to contact the editor to find out if the additional data/experiments suggested are critical to the acceptance of the submitted manuscript.
  • Note the limitations of the study (such as timing, funding, etc.) in your response letter.
  • It’s acceptable to clearly state that the suggested work is beyond the scope of the paper but that it would be a good next step for future research.
  • If the suggested work has already been completed, consider adding it to the paper.  Be careful about trying to slice your research into many smaller publications – editors often take a dim view of this.

Any pointers for moving research from a conference presentation to a published article?

  • Always try to convert your conference abstracts/presentations into a written publication.
  • Take the feedback you get at the conference seriously.  This is the first line of review before you submit your work for publication in a journal.
  • See what others in your area of research are presenting at the conference too.  Use this knowledge to situate yourself very clearly within the current scholarly conversation in your field as you prepare to publish your work.

If I want to become an editor, where do I start?

  •  Start by being a reviewer.  Editors are always looking for peer reviewers.  You can email an editor to indicate your interest in becoming a reviewer, especially if you are junior faculty.
  • Establish your credentials as a peer reviewer.  The more you give papers and posters at conferences, the more people will begin to associate your work with a name and a face.
  • Being a reviewer is also a great way to improve as an author, as you can be exposed to techniques for improving your own article submissions.
  • But, if you do become a peer reviewer, also make sure to be protective of your own time.

The discussion closed with a few final comments from our panelists that should resonate with all new authors and early career researchers:

  • Write every day, even if only for 30 minutes.  Make an appointment with your computer to write, and treat it as if it’s a meeting with your Chair or Dean – don’t break it!
  • Take your response letter seriously – it’s a persuasive document.  Discuss how you’ve made the suggested revisions, and justify your choices for not making certain revisions.  Spend a lot of time on that letter – it’s critical even though it’s not often discussed!
  • Don’t get discouraged by rejection – it’s a part of academic publishing.  Revise, resubmit, and persevere!

This event was inspired by a similar panel discussion held as part of the 2013 Research Expo.  For a summary of that panel and more insight into the world of academic publishing through an editor’s perspective, check out this post on the Digital Scholarship @ The Libraries blog.