Choosing a journal IV: peer review procedure

22nd Jan 2012

This the fourth post in my series on choosing a journal, following posts on getting your paper published quickly, getting it noticed, and practicalities.

Most journals use the usual procedure for peer review:

  • The editors first decide whether to reject the manuscript immediately or send it to peer reviewers
  • Unless the manuscript is rejected, the editors send the manuscript to 2-3 reviewers
  • The reviewers provide reports on the manuscript
  • The editors decide, using the reports, whether to reject or invite revision
  • Unless the manuscript is rejected, the authors revise it
  • The editors decide whether to send the revised version back to reviewers
  • … and so on until final rejection or final acceptance.

A few journals, however, have variations on this, which are worth knowing about before you decide where to submit your paper.

Some examples of different peer review procedures are:

  • A small but increasing number of journals have open peer review, in which the reports, sometimes with the reviewers’ names, are published with the paper (e.g. Biology Direct, BMJ Open, medical BMC journals)
  • If you are a member of the US National Academy of Sciences, you can ‘contribute’ a paper to PNAS, together with expert reviews by researchers you have chosen
  • The newly announced journal SpringerPlus promises that “we will either accept your manuscript for publication or not, our editors will not ask for additional research”.

There are also differences in the questions the reviewers are asked about the paper. Many journals ask whether the research is interesting or important enough for the journal, and consider only those papers whose importance is judged to be over a  certain threshold. A few, however, explicitly do not ask this question and have no such threshold.

The latter journals publish all research that is within the scope of the journal that reviewers find to be scientifically sound, regardless of how important or interesting they judge it to be. Some examples of such journals are:

Your experience

Do you know of other variations on the usual peer review procedure? Has a journal’s peer review process been a factor in choosing to submit your paper to it?

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