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HealthNovember 19, 2021

The peer-review process and journal authors

The peer-review process is the final hurdle in the journey to getting your article published. It is a process that is misunderstood by many authors. Knowing how peer-review works can give you an advantage as you seek to get your manuscript accepted for publication.

Editorial note: the content for this article is derived from a Lippincott/Wolters Kluwer Health webinar entitled, “What to expect from the peer-review process” conducted by Duncan MacRae, Director, Open Access, Editorial for Wolters Kluwer.

Peer-review: the hard truth

The first thing that you as an author need to understand about peer-review is that it isn’t a process so much aimed at improving your manuscript as it is looking for a reason to reject it. This becomes clear when you look at the low acceptance rates of highly regarded journals: a 15% acceptance rate means that there’s an 85% chance of rejection. There’s a harsh reality behind that simple math.

Fortunately, there are steps you can take to move the odds in your favor.

The #1 way to improve your manuscript’s chances

The single, most important step you can take to improve your manuscript’s chances is a surprisingly simple one: carefully read and follow the Instructions for Authors. In the Instructions, you will get answers to key questions, such as whether your manuscript fits the journal’s scope, whether it publishes your article type, what content the Editors are looking for, and details on how to format your article. All of these are critically important items that can help you avoid a quick rejection.

What the peer-review process is really like

Peer-review is a process that is largely misunderstood by authors. Many people mistakenly believe it to be a simple process looking something like this:

Submission    →    Peer review    →    Adjudication

In reality, peer-review for a journal is a multi-step process looking more like this:

Typical peer-review workflow

The typical steps in the process are:

  • Submission – You submit your manuscript to the journal.
  • Technical Check – An assessment is made that all of the necessary materials have been submitted in the correct formats.
  • Editor Assignment – An Editor is assigned to triage and possibly invite reviewers.
  • Initial Review – The Editor evaluates your manuscript for overall appropriateness and/or novelty.
  • Peer-review – Reviewers (typically two to three, although that varies somewhat by journal) are assigned to formally evaluate your manuscript.
  • Adjudication – A decision is made on your manuscript: Revise, Reject, or Accept.

At multiple points during the above process, reading and following the Instructions for Authors can help you avoid a rapid “desk rejection,” which is why that remains the most important step for authors.

Common manuscript problems to avoid

There are some common problems seen by editorial offices in the peer-review process. The most easily avoided is incorrectly submitted manuscripts — papers that are improperly formatted, lack all the necessary materials, etc. Carefully following the Instructions for Authors can help you avoid that.

Additional problems commonly seen are poorly written manuscripts and papers that are not in the journal’s scope. Again, these problems are easily avoided. Editorial services are available to help you improve the writing in your manuscript. And the Instructions for Authors includes the journal’s scope.

And one last problem seen in peer-review is a delay finding reviewers. This is out of your control as an author, but it’s important to understand as you anxiously await a decision.

Watch our webinar on what to expect from the peer-review process for a deeper discussion of this critical process. In the meantime, here are a few key takeaways:

  1. Always carefully read and follow the Instructions for Authors. Doing so remains the most important step you can take to help your manuscript on the road to acceptance.
  2. Be patient. The peer-review process typically takes a number of weeks.
  3. A decision to “revise and resubmit” is common. Few manuscripts are accepted without revisions. And by definition, this decision means your manuscript has not been rejected.
  4. If asked to Revise, respond to each individual comment in your resubmission. Subsequent reviews will go much smoother if you do.
  5. Manuscript rejected? Don’t burn your bridges. It stings to have your manuscript rejected, but bear in mind that you might want to submit to this journal in the future.

Learn more:
Webinar recording: What to expect from the peer-review process
Article (Editage.com): Everybody faces manuscript rejection, even a Nobel Laureate
WK/Editage editorial services

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