Q: What are the specific things a journal's editor looks for during the review process?
It’s not entirely clear if you mean the initial review (desk screening) or the peer review. To cover both, at the desk screening (soon after receipt of the manuscript), the editor checks for basic aspects such as the novelty of the study, the quality of the writing/presentation, a match with the journal’s aim and scope, and adherence to the journal guidelines. If satisfied, the editor decides to send the manuscript for peer review to two or more reviewers. If not, the editor may directly reject the paper (desk rejection), ask to revise and resubmit, or suggest submitting to a related/partner journal (also known as journal transfer) that may offer a better scope match (as the case may be).
During the peer review, the reviewers (who are subject/topic experts) basically evaluate the paper for its scientific/technical validity, such as the soundness/robustness of the experiment design, its potential impact for a larger audience, and of course, the novelty – whether the study adds anything (and preferably, much) to the existing knowledge or addresses significant gaps. So, as you can gauge, novelty is a prime factor in the paper being considered for publication.
As for specifics, you may learn more by going through these relevant articles.
- A journal editor's insight into what happens post manuscript submission
- What are the first things journal editors look at in a submission package?
As is apparent, clearing the desk screening is a critical first step in the research publication cycle/journey. So, it’s important that your manuscript is submission-ready in every which way. To ensure this, you may wish to learn about R Pubsure, a sister brand providing an evaluation of your draft manuscript through a series of checks (such as language, structure, references, and ethical declarations). Based on the evaluation report, you can improve your manuscript to make it ready for submission, thus checking off the first step in publication. You may learn more about R Pubsure here and view a sample report here.
Hope that helps. And in case you’re planning a submission, all the best!