Publishing in peer-reviewed journals has never been more important for a researcher as a determinant of career progress or for universities as a way to measure research success. Yet the journals are changing and so are editorial expectations. Some of the following tips may seem obvious or common sense, yet all are based on the experiences of an editor-in-chief of a mid-ranked Canadian journal.
Choosing the journal
Your choice of journal is important. Consider the various types of articles that the journal publishes. Guidelines for contributors may offer a wide variety of article types and lengths. To confirm that you are making the right choice, write the editor describing your research before submitting a paper. The editor may alert you to forthcoming articles in your area or might suggest other journals better suited to the kind of work you are contemplating.
Familiarize yourself with the journal’s copyright policy. Open-access journals view intellectual property as belonging to the author and have policies that allow authors to retain copyright over the work. Others require authors to assign copyright to the publisher. Even in these circumstances, copyright assignment typically allows the author to share the article (in print or electronic form) with colleagues, to use all or part of the work in other publications or for educational or research purposes, or to post an electronic version on the author’s website or in an institutional repository.
Beware of slicing too thin
Many believe that research findings can and should be sliced and diced in as many different ways as possible to maximize the number of publications reporting the work. Attempting to maximize the number of minimum publishable units (the smallest amount of information that can generate a peer-reviewed journal article), sometimes described as “salami publication,” is becoming a concern to editors. It uses scarce page space and it may squeeze out other work that would have made a more original contribution.
Preparing the article
Learn how the journal you selected organizes material into sections and sub-sections and its format for documenting your sources: notes and bibliography or author-date and list of references cited. Some journals are known for using subjective language quite routinely: “I contend that…” Other journals take a more traditional approach, in which the first person is avoided and the passive voice is de rigueur: “The contention is made that…”
Submit, revise and resubmit
Expect a response in about three to six months after submission. If you haven’t heard anything after six months, contact the editor. For most submissions, the usual response is “revise and resubmit” or “reject with encouragement to resubmit.” Both responses mean that the resubmitted paper will be returned to one or more of the reviewers for a second round of review. Sometimes “revise and resubmit” comes with advice that the contributor should consider focusing their energies on other things, even though there is a seed of an idea in the paper that has promise.
Manuscripts that are completely unsuitable for the journal are rejected “without qualification,” and this decision is frequently taken by the editor without recourse to reviewers. Try not to take rejection personally and use the comments as valuable resources and learning tools to improve your work.
As you prepare what you hope to be the final version of your manuscript, you will be asked to write a letter explaining how you responded to the reviewers’ reports and the recommendations made by the editor in the decision letter. Your final corrected submission will probably come back to you with a range of minor problems. An early response to these queries will speed the process of getting your work in print.
Every discipline, journal and manuscript offers unique challenges and issues. This brief list of tips based on my editorial experience is offered to prompt some questions that potential contributors should ask; the answers will vary from journal to journal. Potential contributors ought to discuss these questions with their prospective editors.