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05 August 2013  |  Posted in Choice of journal, Rejection, Review Criteria  |  Comment on this post »

It’s every professor’s nightmare. At the end of a project, he and his graduate student write up the results of the research, and submit the paper. The journal editor promptly responds that they have already received and accepted a paper on a closely related topic. In light of this development, the editor is doubtful that the journal should publish their paper. The professor is distraught, and the graduate student still more so. Have his years of his work been for naught? Certainly not. Although being scooped will take some of the sheen off the paper, it should and can be published. Here are some strategies.

Emphasize differences:
Is the rival paper really so close in topic? If there are significant differences in mechanism, substrates, etc., publication may still be appropriate. Point out the differences. Perhaps the paper is complementary to the one already published, extending its mechanisms into new areas. If the paper involves synthesis of the same molecule, were different pathways used? Does your method have advantages in high yield, or low cost? Was a new synthetic method invented which will have broad application in other areas?

When I was in graduate school I submitted a paper invoking a pentacoordinate intermediate and a pseudorotation mechanism to explain ligand permutation in a tetracoordinate silicon compound. During the review process a paper came out showing the X-ray crystal structure of a pentacoordinate compound prepared from “our” tetracoordinate silane, and, sure enough, their 5-coordinate compound easily underwent pseudorotation. Scooped! However, their specific pseudorotation mechanism was only one of several possibilities we discussed in our paper, and we did not consider it to be the most likely for our case. We were dealing with the kinetics of an unstable intermediate in solution, not an isolable compound, and our mechanism was unique. We pointed out the unique elements of our paper and it was accepted and published only a few months after our rival’s paper (in the same journal).

Simultaneous (almost) publication:
The quest for priority in publication can be overdone and is sometimes downright silly. If two groups are working towards the same goal, does it really matter if one publishes results a few weeks or a few months before the other? Historians will eventually give both researchers credit for the discovery. If an earlier paper is published on a truly identical topic, about the best you can do is argue that your paper serves to verify the results of the former one. This is essential in science. Any important finding must be confirmed and repeated. Make sure the published paper notes that the manuscript was received by the editor prior to the publication of the earlier paper. This way, the work’s independence will be established if not its priority.

This post was written by William Stevenson, an English editor with Enago based out of the USA.

17 November 2010  |  Posted in Review Criteria  |  2 Comments »

Most research journals employ the conventional approach to peer review. This involves evaluation of an article by one or more among a panel of recognized experts in the field who are nominated by the editorial board of the journal. While this method has worked quite well over the years, alternative strategies have been or are being explored. The basic goal is to determine whether and how improvements can be implemented in the traditional methods of peer review. Some of the new approaches are described below.

Pre-submission peer review
This has been an integral part of the publication process in the form of feedback obtained by the principal author from co-authors or known experts in the field. This process has also been formalized in certain subject areas by setting up customized pre-print repositories like arXiv. Recently, professional pre-submission peer review services have also been introduced which offer researchers the opportunity to improve on the papers prior to submission.

Commentary following publication
Readers are allowed to post their comments or thoughts about the article online along with the paper. This process obviously has to be moderated to weed out unsuitable comments. Publishers like BioMed Central and the British Medical Journal invite post-publication comments.

Online peer review
Among others, the journal Nature has experimented with this system. The procedure worked in parallel with external peer review, with the manuscripts being placed on an open website, where individuals who identified themselves could comment on the paper. All comments were taken into account by the editorial board in reaching a decision regarding publication.

Interactive review and discussions
In this method (adopted by the journal Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics), manuscripts are pre-screened by the editorial board before posting online, where anonymous reviewers, other individuals and also authors can put up their comments and responses during a specified period. Following this, revision of the manuscript based on the comments follows.

Mix of pre- and post-publication review
A combination of pre- and post-publication review has been adopted by PLoS One. The first stage involves evaluation of the article by members of the editorial board. Following publication, readers can post their comments in different forms: annotations, ratings or debates.

A more detailed discussion about the various approaches described above can be found in the in-depth analysis of peer review by Irene Hames. While these methodologies have met with different degrees of success, and have been implemented to varying extents, conventional post-submission (or pre-publication) peer review remains by far the predominant mode employed by most journals.

This post was written by William Stevenson, an English editor with Enago based out of the USA.

03 November 2010  |  Posted in Rejection, Review Criteria  |  2 Comments »

A fact that is not very widely known or universally accepted by authors is that manuscripts may be rejected without the due and expected peer review process. While manuscripts have to go through the peer review process in order to be published, they can be rejected without peer review. For high-impact, general science journals, the majority of submitted papers may be rejected in this manner. While this may appear surprising or disturbing, it is essential to understand the underlying reasons and the inevitability of this undesired aspect of the research publication process.

There could be many reasons for rejection without review:

  1. Content of the article is not within the scope of the journal.
  2. Non-conformity with journal style, format or guidelines.
  3. Duplication or large overlap with existing work or apparent plagiarism.
  4. Results are not novel or significant enough; lead to only an incremental advance in field.
  5. Article is too specialized/in-depth or superficial.
  6. Limited interest to journal target audience.
  7. Poor quality of research.
  8. Results or interpretation are too preliminary or speculative.
  9. Lack of clarity/conciseness in presentation.

Rejection without peer review is necessary for several reasons:

  • The ratio of submitted to published manuscripts is large, especially for the best journals.
  • There is a need to optimize resources available to journal, in terms of the time and effort of editors and reviewers.
  • In the absence of this process, there would be delays in publication of all manuscripts.
  • If all submitted manuscripts are sent for peer review, reviewers would be overburdened leading to frustration or lack of quality in peer review.

Some undesirable consequences are:

  • Good papers may not be published.
  • Authors may be unjustly dealt with due to the insufficient knowledge of editors or their poor judgment.

The mechanisms for rejection differ based on the journal:

  1. Editor-in-chief makes the decision solely.
  2. One editor reaches a decision in consultation with other editors.
  3. The decision is made at a joint meeting of the editorial board of the journal.

A good understanding of the above mentioned issues can help authors circumvent the possibility of having their manuscripts rejected without being evaluated by a reviewer. It is advisable to put the manuscript through a pre-submission peer-review process, either in the form of advice from colleagues or by utilizing professional services.

This post was written by William Stevenson, an English editor with Enago based out of the USA.

13 October 2010  |  Posted in Rejection, Review Criteria  |  Comment on this post »

In evaluating a manuscript submitted for publication in a journal, a peer reviewer takes into account many factors. The primary considerations related to quality, originality and presentation are listed in the attached presentation. Based on these, suggestions are outlined, which would minimize the possibility of rejection.

The next post will describe the importance of numerical accuracy, particularly with respect to the treatment of errors.

This post was written by William Stevenson, an English editor with Enago based out of the USA.

04 October 2010  |  Posted in Response to Reviewer, Review Criteria  |  1 Comment »

Once peer reviewers respond with comments on an article submitted to a research journal, authors have to determine the most appropriate way of responding to their comments and recommendations, in order to ensure acceptance and eventual publication of the article. An outline of the strategies which may be adopted are described in the attached presentation. Evaluation criteria and referee reports have been treated in previous posts.

The next two posts will address the topic of rejection of manuscripts, reasons why this may happen, and how to minimize this possibility.

This post was written by William Stevenson, an English editor with Enago based out of the USA.

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