Peer review process: What happens after you submit your paper?

The peer review process might be a bit stressful if you want to publish your paper, but we hope you might feel better if you look into it in detail and understand how it all works. At eCORRECTOR we provide proofreading and editing services done by PhD English Native Speakers, who are experienced authors and know a lot about that topic. Let’s take a look then.

A couple of things to say right at the start, if you are ever asked to review a paper, try to accept it, you’ll learn a lot, and it will improve your own work. When you review a paper and the editor sends the decision letter back to the authors, you would normally be Cc’d to that email. You get of course to see your own comments, but you get to see the comments of other reviewers as well that also reviewed the same paper. So it’s interesting to compare what you got with what the other reviewers got, and you’ll pick up on different things, and it will strengthen your own work in the future.

Peer review: What happens when you click ‘Submit’?

When you submit your work to be published, it is very important to make sure the reviewer is not the first person to critically analyze your work. It would be great to ask your colleagues to do this, and you need to be as well quite self-critical when you’re writing your work. When authors submit their work to a journal, editor initially looks at the work. This is the case for most journals with impact-factor around four or above, but the editable section editor will look at the work. They will initially evaluate it, and they’ll decide if it’s suitable for this journal, or not. This normally takes about a week. If it’s rejected by the initial journal pre-screen, you may feel disappointed, but some of these journals are top quality, so they are difficult to get into. The purpose is that these journals just don’t want to waste a lot of the reviewer’s time… and the author’s time – by reviewing papers that are ultimately unlikely to be published.

You may feel very proud if you’ve made it past the pre-screen, but that’s the initial step. Then the next step is also equally, if not more important. This is the reviewer’s comments. The editor sends out your paper to be reviewed, normally by two to three people. Then the editor receives the responses, and then they send that on to the author and the author has the opportunity to make the revisions, and then it goes back to the editor, and then it probably goes to the reviewers once again. And then ultimately, a decision is made either to accept, reject or make further revisions. This is typically the standard procedure that most manuscripts go through before they’re eventually published, and it takes two, maybe three months for reviewers to do their initial review.
It’s a long process.

When you’re submitting your paper to a journal, often you’re asked to suggest reviewers. This is very helpful. It helps the editor because they can find people that are suitable or experts in their area. Nevertheless, you help the editor by providing them with potential reviewers. You need to provide their information, of course. It can’t be people that you’ve closely worked with or collaborated. They need to be independent experts. You can also suggest reviewers that can be excluded. For example, competing labs. If you don’t want to share your work make sure that other people don’t read it before it’s published. You don’t have to exclude anybody, but make sure that you fill in the reviewers. If you don’t, it will slow the peer review. So try to include as many as you can, at least six potential reviews. This will help speed up the pace at which your paper is dealt with by the editor and the editorial staff. Usually, at least two reviewers are selected, but it can be more. Reviewers are typically given about a month to do this, it’s because they’re busy people, reviewers don’t have a lot of time, they can’t stop their work and focus entirely on your paper, they will fit it into their busy schedule and give it sufficient time. And often a reviewer will look at it one day, formulate an idea quite quickly and then look at the paper again, go back to it, read around the subject, go back to it and then make a final decision about what they consider the quality of the work to be. The goal of peer review is to make the studies better. Even if they suggest that your study should not be published in that particular journal, they’ll give a good justification of what the author should do. It essentially acts as quality control. For a journal, you want to be submitting work that is of comparable quality to your target journals. So if you haven’t got substantial findings, but still findings that are worthy of publication, you don’t want to send them to these higher tier journals, for example, if they’re confirmatory experiments. But if you’ve got something new, a new mechanism, some treatment that might be effective, some new understanding that is quite fundamental, then you can aim for these higher journals, providing that you’ve carried out the necessary experiments in sufficient detail, then you can aim for higher journals.

Who are peer-reviewers?

Often, reviewers are considered to be a bit menacing and a bit fearful, but fearless. But they’re not all like that. You can get one or two, but in most cases, the reviewers are not so nasty. The reviewers are typically peers, they’re people that are of similar standing to the authors. They’ve got a lot of expertise in the topic of the text, so they will have almost certainly published similar work to what you’re trying to get in.
They are experts in the topic or the main part of the paper. Furthermore, they might not be experts in the whole of the methods that have been used, but they’re experts in a lot of the important points. For example, if your pathogen combines electrophysiology with genetic models of a disease, you might get one reviewer who is more experienced in electrophysiology and a second reviewer who is more experienced in generation of genetic models. They won’t necessarily be experts in the whole of the paper, although you would expect them to have a reasonable understanding of everything. They are always published scientists, so the reviewers have nearly always a good PubMed record. Most of them are invited by the journal editors, so you make your recommendation of six or so reviewers who you think are suitable, but the editor decides to use or not any of them, but they try to pick at least one, maybe two of those people that you suggest.

Reviewers don’t have a lot of spare time, as you know, if you’re a scientist, that there are always so many things that you want to do, so many papers that you want to write, data that needs analyzing. Reviewers are just the same. They have to fit your work into their schedule. Reviewers do this voluntarily, they don’t get paid for it. And in most cases their names are not known, they’re anonymous. But there are lots of advantages to being a reviewer. You get to see the comments from other reviewers, you get to see what happens before a paper is published. You have a say in deciding whether something warrants publication or not. And as long as you can justify your comments, then that’s the purpose of peer reviews. Give an informed opinion about a piece of work that’s being submitted.

Peer review comments: Real life Example

It often takes several rounds of review, but your paper eventually gets accepted, so of course, you’re very happy. Most likely, you are asked to do major revisions of your work. The reviewers go through the paper, and they provide a detailed response, and then you have to respond to all of their comments. So at this stage, the author receives the comments back from the reviewers, and they have to make their changes. They make the changes to the manuscript, changes responding to the reviewers’ comments individually, and make sure that everything is covered. When you think you’ve made your necessary changes and when you’ve replied appropriately to the reviewers’ comments, you send it back to the journal. Then the editor decides, do they accept your changes? Do they think it’s just not good enough? They send it back to the reviewers to get their opinion. That’s normally what happens during the peer review process.

Then the editor makes the final decision, which might also be to go back to the authors. And this time, instead of it being major revisions, it’s minor revisions. Normally, you get major revisions and then minor revisions and then they accept.

There’s a journal called Environmental Microbiology, they actually publish the statements and comments made by reviewers. And some of them are really cutting. For example: ‘Hopeless, seems like they’ve been asleep and are not up to recent work on metagenomics’ or ‘It does look like a copycat of Our Students, which the author cite repeatedly’.

Reviews, as well as being harsh, can be very nice: ‘Very much enjoyed reading this one and do not have any significant comments. Wish I thought of this one’. That’s a lovely comment: ‘Really nice. Wow, this is a clear keeper. Merry Christmas.’

We would like to end on that note and assure you that peer review process is not so scary after all.

Peer review

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