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Answers to questions all researchers have about the journal decision-making process

Kakoli Majumder | Jun 13, 2014 | 105,253 views
Answers to questions all researchers have about the journal decision-making process

Journal decision making is complex and involves multiple layers of screening. Peer review is an extremely crucial part of this process, one on which the journal's decision relies heavily. Many authors, particularly those in the early stages of their career, lack clarity about the responsibilities of a peer reviewer and those of a journal editor. Moreover, they are often confused about what the right course of action is or how they should communicate with journals at different stages of the decision-making process. This article aims to clarify some of these doubts about peer review and the journal decision-making process.

To start with, let’s quickly go through a paper’s journey from submission to editorial decision. Once a paper is submitted, it is assigned to a primary editor. The editor does an initial screening of the manuscript to check if it has scientific value and if it matches the scope of the journal. Once a paper passes the initial screening, it is sent for peer review. The peer reviewers go through the paper and give their suggestions in the form of detailed comments for the author. They also give their recommendation to the editor on whether they think the paper should be accepted, with or without revisions, or rejected. Once all the reviewers send in their detailed report to the editor, the peer review process is considered complete. The editor then goes through the paper and takes a decision based on his own opinion along with the suggestions and recommendations of the referees. The decision is then communicated to the author. Most journals have online submission and manuscript tracking software that allows the author to check the status of his or her manuscript online. 

As the paper passes from one stage to the next, authors are often left with nagging doubts. Here are some of the questions that frequently bother authors:

What if there is a difference of opinion between the reviewers?

Often, reviewers have differing opinions on a particular paper. For instance, it may so happen that while two of the reviewers recommend acceptance with minor revisions, the third reviewer recommends rejection. In such cases, there is no reason to feel that this reviewer is biased. While biases do exist, it is not right to think that a reviewer is biased just because his or her opinion differs drastically from the others.  In such cases, the editor’s decision in the matter is final, and while the editor definitely takes all the reviewers’ recommendations into account, the final decision is up to him or her. The editor might seek the advice of other members of the editorial board in case he or she finds it difficult to take a decision.

What should I do if I receive biased or unjustified reviewer comments?

Although biases are unethical and undesirable, unfortunately, peer review is not free of it. The scientific community is highly competitive and peer reviewers might be biased against a manuscript that they see as potential threat to them. Alternatively, a peer reviewer might be biased against a particular field or methodology.

Additionally, some reviewers can be unclear, dismissive, or even outright rude in their comments. While it is always advisable to be extremely polite and courteous in any communication with or concerning reviewers, authors can definitely write to the editor in case they feel that the reviewer’s comments are biased or unclear.

What do I do about extremely negative reviewer comments?

Negative reviewer comments can make authors panic. Sometimes, it so happens that while two or three of the reviewers have given positive comments, and recommended acceptance with major or minor revisions, one reviewer has been extremely critical and has recommended outright rejection. In such cases, authors generally lose hope and feel that it would be a waste of time to work on the revisions as their paper will ultimately get rejected. However, that is not the case. The final decision depends on the editor, and he or she might choose to accept a paper even if it goes against the reviewer’s recommendation.

Who reviews my paper if it goes for a second round of peer review?

Manuscript revision is not an easy task. When authors get an “accept with major revisions” decision, they often wonder whether the revised manuscript will go through another round of peer review, and if so, whether it will go to the same set of reviewers. Once the revised manuscript is submitted, the editor can either choose to go through the manuscript herself and come to a decision based on the author’s response to the reviewer comments, or send it for another round of review. If the editor sends it for a second round of review, he/she has the freedom to either send it to the same set of reviewers as it is less time consuming or to a completely new set if the editor feels that she wants a fresh perspective on the paper.

Should I revise and resubmit my paper to the same journal or submit to another journal?

Sometimes, a paper is rejected, but the editor mentions that the author may choose to revise the paper and resubmit it, in which case, it will be considered as a new submission. This is a big dilemma for the author. In most cases, the revisions suggested involve a lot of rework, and submitting the paper as a new submission would mean that there is no guarantee that it will be published. However, in such cases, if it is possible to do the rework suggested, it is advisable for the author to revise and resubmit to the same journal. Possibly, the editor has seen some value in the paper, and with the enhancements suggested, the paper would definitely become much better in terms of quality. Even if the author chooses to submit it to another journal, he or she should consider the reviewer comments carefully, and try to incorporate as many of the changes as possible during manuscript revision. This will enhance the paper and increase its chances of publication.

Can I appeal against the editorial decision? 

If an author disagrees strongly with the journal decision, it is possible to appeal against it unless the editor has clearly specified otherwise. The author can appeal to the editorial board, giving a point by point counter argument against the editor’s views. However, one must remember that any communication with the editor or the editorial board must be extremely polite, and backed by solid evidence.

While this article discusses some of the most common issues authors face while handling peer review and the journal decision-making process, if you encounter a different situation and don't know what to do, please feel free to raise your question on the Editage Insights Q&A forum. Our team of publication experts will definitely guide you on what's the best course of action for you.

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