Check all the guidelines for submission and follow them
Every journal has a page describing the process for submission. Most of them use similar submission systems, but read through the requirements carefully and be sure to have your elements for submission prepared before you begin.
Different publishers use different submission systems, but many have a similar set of requirements for the process. One labor-intensive process likely will be collecting the approvals from your co-authors for submitting to the journal. Some journals accept an assurance of these approvals from the submitting authors. But others require separate signed documents from each author, and if your colleagues are not in the same institution or time zone as you, this step can take some time and effort.
Publishers also are increasingly requiring authors to complete conflict of interest forms. Some require only a brief statement citing either no conflicts to declare or a list of relevant conflicts. Other publishers require far more detail and that each author provide it. Journals usually give information about these requirements on their website, using headings such as “submission requirements” or “submission checklist.”
Figure submission can be difficult. Some journals waive the requirement for high-resolution figures on an initial submission and will accept image files that don’t meet their publication requirements. Not all journals are this flexible, and ensuring that your image files meet these resolution and size parameters can be quite time-consuming.
Write a cover letter
Even though you’re submitting a manuscript that likely leads with an abstract summarizing the work, many journals also ask authors to craft a cover letter. This piece of the submission can be crucial to getting an editor to look at the complete manuscript, so you want to be sure that you’re selling it well. The usual format is as follows:
Editor’s name (if known)
Journal address, if known
Salutation: if you know the name of the editor who will be receiving the manuscript, use it here, with the appropriate honorific (Dr., Prof., Mr., Ms., and almost never “Mrs.”).
First paragraph: This opening paragraph should simply be a statement that “We are submitting our manuscript, “Title of manuscript here,” for consideration for publication in [Name of Journal]. We believe that our main finding of [Something Important in This Field] will be of interest to your readers.” [Note: text in brackets is just placeholder text.]
Second paragraph: This paragraph is where you sell your work, quickly and briefly. One approach is to use elements of the abstract, but more briefly, focusing most on your rationale for the work, the main question you addressed, and the main and most important finding.
Third paragraph: Sometimes, a journal wants authors to describe why the work would interest its readership, so this is the paragraph for including that information. It can be optional, but it’s not a bad idea to make the case here regardless.
Fourth paragraph: Not all journals ask authors to suggest reviewers, but quite a few do. You should have in mind people you know who will be fair in reviewing your work and whose opinions and insights you respect. These people should not be friends or collaborators, however. You also can list people you would like not to have as reviewers because you are not sure that they can be objective.
Final paragraph: Many journals require a statement in the cover letter attesting to the agreement of all listed authors to submission of the manuscript. This paragraph is where to place that statement. For example: “I confirm that all authors have approved the final version of this manuscript and its submission to your journal. We thank you for your time and hope that you find our work of interest to the readers of [Name of Journal].”
Close with either “Sincerely” or “Best regards,” and your typed name, with a signature image added if possible.
The ORCID iD
Many journals are now asking authors to include their ORCID iD when uploading their manuscripts. This identification number connects you across all of your published work, an identifier somewhat like a population registry number that links up your articles and citations. One of its primary uses is that it is a unique identifier, precluding the possibility that researchers with similar names will be confused with one another.
What happens next
Timelines for review vary from journal to journal and by the type of submission. Some journals have a “rapid review” or “fast-track” process that authors can choose if they believe that their findings need publication as soon as possible. In these cases, the time to a decision can be as short as a couple of weeks. But most reviews take longer, at least 6 weeks and usually more.
When you submit your review, you likely will receive an automatically generated email that gives you information about when to expect to hear from an editor about a decision. Most review systems also allow authors to track their manuscripts through submission, editorial review, transfer to peer reviewers, and pending decision. That saves authors from having to contact editors to ask about the status of their submission.
If a review seems to drag on, extending beyond weeks to months and months, authors can contact the journal editor to inquire about the status. Inquiries should be sent by email and be brief and respectful.
Receiving the decision letter can be an emotional moment. It is best to read it through and then set it aside for a day or two, unless, of course, it is “accepted with minor changes,” which means celebration is in order. Often, an acceptance with major revisions or a rejection can seem like too much to deal with after so much time and effort. But setting aside the decision letter and reviewer comments and returning to them after a cooling-off period can dampen their impact and allow for a reappraisal of what needs to be done to continue the process of getting your research findings out into the world.
San Francisco Edit specializes in scientific editing in the United States and we work with scientists from all over the world.