Updated: Jun 18, 2018
This blog offers some hot tips from an editor (me)!
I've been meaning to write this blog entry for some time. Well, here it is. I hope you like it.
Earlier this year, I posted a series of "tips" on my Twitter account (@timminglab) on how to be successful in peer review. I used the hashtag #HotTipsFromAnEditor and primarily wrote these for early career researchers. I am an Associate Editor at both Human Resource Management Journal and the International Journal of Human Resource Management. These insights are drawn from my experience as an editor, reviewer, and author. They are made in a personal capacity and do not represent the reviews of any journal with which I am associated.
#HotTipFromAnEditor 1: Always cite at least one paper from the journal to which you are submitting. Show awareness of the journal's key debates.
This one's a no-brainer. Some editors will desk reject papers simply because they do not cite any papers from the journal. Every time I submit a paper, I always find at least one article from the target journal and incorporate it into the argument.
#HotTipFromAnEditor 2: Don't get upset with a desk rejection. The editor likely just saved you three months of wasted time.
When a manuscript arrives in my Editor's Center, I read it from top to bottom and then ask myself, "Does it stand a reasonable chance of success in peer review?" If my answer is in the negative, I desk reject it. This is a huge favor, not only in terms of safeguarding the time of my reviewers, but also in safeguarding the time of the authors. If I were to send out every paper for review, this would delay your paper by, on average, three to six months. Have I desk rejected you recently? You're welcome.
#HotTipFromAnEditor 3: You don't have to do everything that a reviewer suggests, but you do have to address all of the reviewers' suggestions, even the ones you will not be taking up.
Early career researchers often think they need to make every change suggested. You don't. That would probably make the paper convoluted and unfocused. Seek guidance from the editor if you are unsure how to proceed, especially if the reviewers contradict one another (which happens quite often).
#HotTipFromAnEditor 4: Your written response to reviewers' comments will make or break the paper. Don't be surprised if the authors' note is longer than the manuscript itself.
Reviewers (and editors) spend a huge amount of time on your paper. The very least you can do is to show us exactly how you responded to our suggestions. The authors' note also makes the reviewers' jobs easier in a revise and resubmit.
#HotTipFromAnEditor 5: Did you know that we (editors) often rate you (reviewers) on the quality and timeliness of your peer reviews? (I never knew that such a database existed until I became an editor!!!).
I got quite a few comments about this one, mostly from shocked academics who had no idea that their late or poor quality reviews were being recorded as such. Personally, I don't use these ratings, but I can see that other editors do.
#HotTipFromAnEditor 6: There is a scientific formula for successful publication: identify a problem + review literature + identify a gap in the literature + fill that gap + reiterate that you have filled that gap = paper acceptance #EasierSaidThanDone
It's true, at least in the social sciences. Editors are looking for something new. I feel like I read basically the same paper submitted over and over again. When I see something that shines a new light on my field, I smile.
#HotTipFromAnEditor 7: Total confidence in your abilities only leads to complacency. Never reach the point where you think your research is good enough.
This one might have been based more on my experiences as an author than an editor. Every time I feel like I've produced an excellent piece of research, I often find out that it isn't good enough. You need to constantly seek improvements, no matter how good the research looks to you.
#HotTipFromAnEditor 8: Before you submit, ALWAYS scan the journal's editorial board and identify the one person most likely to be assigned your paper. Cite that person's work.
I received some pushback on this one. People accused me of being cynical. Guilty as charged. Not all academics are so egotistical, but let's be honest . . . many are.
#HotTipFromAnEditor 9: When you get an invitation to review a paper and you don't want to review it, please do not just sit on it. The sooner you can let us know, the sooner we can find someone else.
This one is huge for me as an editor. I have no animosity toward anyone who declines a review. Fair enough! But when people don't decline, it makes our job a lot hard because we have to gauge how many more researchers we need to invite.
#HotTipFromAnEditor 10: Know the ethos of the journal before you submit. Don't submit a Marxist paper to a mainstream journal, nor a mainstream paper to a Marxist journal.
Again, I got a lot of pushback on this one. I don't see what's so problematic about this one. A journal will always seeks papers that are a good fit. I wish it weren't this way, but it is.
#HotTipFromAnEditor 11: Reviewer comments can be contradictory. If you're struggling to reconcile the comments, don't hesitate to seek clarification from the editor. We're here to help.
We've all gotten reviews that point in different directions. If the editor hasn't signals how you should cope with these different directions, then ask him or her.
#HotTipFromAnEditor 12: If you feel strongly that a particularly academic should not review your paper, you can make this request to the editor in the cover letter. Few editors would ignore you.
In fact, this is common practice in the natural sciences and it becoming more common in the social sciences. We are also increasingly asking authors to identify potential reviewers. Where this is requested, feel free to list a few people.
#HotTipFromAnEditor 13: When you receive a rejection, it's okay to grieve, but not any longer than 24 hours. Almost every paper eventually finds a home.
It's easy to get demoralized as a scientist. Our ideas are subjected to a non-stop barrage of criticism. Develop thick skin and just dust if off. Keep submitting.
#HotTipFromAnEditor 14: When you get an unreasonably harsh review, please don't turn around and give the next person an unreasonably harsh review. An unreasonably harsh review for an unreasonably harsh review makes the whole world unpublished.
This one really speaks for instead. In case you didn't realize, I was playing on the classic quote, "An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind."
It's true. In fact, I may even be underestimating the time it will take you.
#HotTipFromAnEditor 16: One of the best things an early career researcher can do is to join an Editorial Board. It will give you invaluable insight into the inner workings of the journal.
Trust me, joining an Editorial Board is seriously time consuming, but you will benefit from the experience. Your writing will improve dramatically.
#HotTipFromAnEditor 17: Reviewers should not feel obligated to find problems with a paper. If it's good, just say so.
#HotTipFromAnEditor 18: Thinking of submitting a paper to more than one journal simultaneously? Think again. Most universities view this as misconduct and as a terminable offence.
We understand the pressure you are under to publish, but don't fall victim to this practice. Seriously, there's no use in risking your career just to speed up the publication process.
#HotTipFromAnEditor 19: It's better to publish one paper per year in a top journal than five papers per year in average journals.
The one caveat here is that, if you only submit to top journals, you could go years and years (maybe your whole life) and never get anything published. I think that best thing to do here is to submit to a mix of journals, but always have at least one paper aimed at the best journals.
I hope you found these tips useful. Good luck out there. Peer review is a real jungle.