We asked our authors, "What do you consider as you prepare a submission for peer review?" Here's what they told us.
Whenever I am working on a research project that I intend to submit to a journal, I typically begin thinking in earnest about the publication venue around the time I finish a first full draft of a manuscript. By then, I have a good sense of how I want to present data, organize arguments, and craft conclusions, so I can consider which audience(s) would be most interested in my ideas and which venue(s) might be a good fit. I closely scrutinize journals' missions with an eye on how I could revise accordingly. I also look for articles from the journal on similar topics that I may have missed. I read these articles to see how they address the journal's mission and scope, and, if I can, I incorporate them into my article so that I am proactively entering the relevant conversations likely to be familiar to readers. If I am working on a chapter that has been accepted for a collection, I follow a similar process, reviewing the CFP and any relevant publications cited by, or created by, the editors. At later stages, I may also review and reference other chapters in the collection, if the editors have made them available.
After several more rounds of drafting and revision, I begin preparing for peer review in earnest. I read through the manuscript a final time to identify places where additional signposting might help reviewers understand the purpose and scope of my argument. I also find passages that I can repackage into an abstract, if one is required. Then, I return to the journal's or publisher's guidelines, this time focusing on issues of style and document formatting. I always expect requests for revisions; I would prefer reviewers focus their attention on higher order concerns like my argument, methods, organization, or use of evidence, and not lower order concerns like headings, references, table formatting, or an accidental reference to my institutional affiliation (which I have seen as a reviewer). After a thorough editorial read, I consider any questions I may have for the editor(s) along with submissions, which I sometimes include in a letter of submission. This process ensures that I have tailored my submission to the journal and considered how I would like editors and reviewers to read and respond to my work.
– Christopher Basgier, Auburn University
Associate Editor, Across the Disciplines Book Series
After I have an idea for an article, I go to the journals I am considering for submission and read some sample pieces to get an idea of what kinds of pieces they publish, the audience and purpose of the journal, its style and tone, and its requirements for submission. I also look at the editorial board to see if there are people I highly respect to give me honest feedback or whether it represents the diversity of people that I would like to review my submission. Each journal has unique submission requirements, including format, length, and sometimes a list expectations for peer review. At this point, I consider which first and second choice journals would fit with my idea, then I begin my writing process. What I learn from reviewing the journal may result in a complete change of topic or focus as I discover what I really want to write and submit for peer review. After I have fine tuned the submission, I "put it on the backburner" for a few days and then read it as (1) a reviewer for the journal I have chosen who will question any generalizations or inaccurate information, (2) a reader of that journal, and (3) a critical editor to catch all the mechanical issues I may have overlooked. These three different perspectives help me revise the piece before I submit it, following all the journal directions. If time permits and the manuscript is an important one, I ask one or two respected colleagues to read the manuscript and give me their feedback before my final edit and submission.
– Pamela Childers, The McCaulie School
Author and editor of several books, including WAC Partnerships Between Secondary and Postsecondary Institutions
Preparing a manuscript for submission to a peer-reviewed journal always gives me mixed feelings. I'm excited to submit something I've usually worked on extensively with the prospect that it may be published. I'm also a little nervous: will my work be met positively? Have I left anything out? Is this a worthwhile contribution to the field? Will the reviewers find major problems that will require substantial revision? Is it actually ready to be sent?
To lessen these fears, I usually engage in several "reviewer-focused" readings of my manuscript. While drafting, I've been imagining the journal's audience, which I know well because I'm very familiar with the journal, or which I've learned about by studying the journal's focus, scope, and purposes and by reading its recently published articles. (Principle 1: know the journal as intimately as possible! And write for specific journals.) But now I need to imagine the anonymous peer reviewers, who are, of course, part of that audience but who will bring to their reading an additional layer of healthy skepticism and a meticulously critical lens. As I read and re-read the manuscript, I try to imagine myself as the peer reviewer, thinking through the lens of the peer-review questions or other suggestions the journal provides to authors: Have I explained the purpose of the article? Is it clear that I am thoroughly acquainted with prior research? Have I adequately explained my methodology? (That's where many articles have the most serious shortcomings; for a very helpful account, see Peter Smagorinsky's "The Method Section as Conceptual Epicenter in Constructing Social Science Research Reports," Written Communication, Vol. 25, No. 3, 2008, pp. 389-411). Does my article advance our knowledge of the subject? How does it answer the "so what?" question? Have I suggested implications and directions for continued scholarship?
All this while, I'm also reading the text aloud, fine-tuning the language, tinkering with terminology, adjusting syntax, trimming unnecessary words. I want the piece to read well, even though I know that if it's accepted, it will be further edited and refined. I don't want to waste the peer reviewers' time by submitting an unpolished draft with the assumption that it's only a dry run anyway. It's not. And if I'm turning a conference paper into an article, I pay a lot of attention to the kind of translation that process requires (because my conference papers tend to be scripts rather than written text read aloud).
Finally, I want to be sure that what I submit scrupulously follows the journal's guidelines. If it eschews footnotes, I eliminate any or merge them into the text. If it uses APA reference style, I want to scrutinize the form of every citation. If A-level heads are centered, I don't want them to be flush left. If the journal requires complete anonymity, I want to be sure that references to my own work are replaced by "author" and that anything in the text that can identify me, my institution, or my work is masked. Otherwise I'm frustrating the journal's editor(s), slowing down the process, and showing that I'm careless.
When the response arrives, I'm again nervous but also excited to see how the editor and peer reviewers responded. What to do with those responses is really importantâ€”but something for another day.
– Chris Anson, North Carolina State University
Author and editor of many books and articles, including Critical Transitions: Writing and the Question of Transfer
Academic publishing does not have a history of being kind to women or scholars of color. That history lives with us every time we prepare a manuscript for peer review. Will we be singled out as inferior? Will our work be deemed second rate? Those possibilities mean that a peer review is more than a collegial reading; it's personal. And so we have to steel ourselves for what might happen every time we prepare a manuscript to be sent out for peer review. Of course, good things can also happen through peer reviewâ€”for example, we might find new alliesâ€”and journal editors are becoming more aware of trying to address the historical inequalities in academic publishing. In good faith, I cannot say that awfulness will not happen during the peer review process. What I can say is that there are ways we can make the process a little less miserable.
First, we have to work with editors who will find the right reviewers for our work. If you are not sure you have the right venue, simply send the editor a note and ask them if they'd be interested in an article on your topic or if they would consider publishing something using the approach you used. If the editor is not familiar with critical race counter-narratives, for example, you might need a longer conversation with the editor or you might need to look for another publication venue. Some editors also appreciate suggestions for reviewers (some find that move presumptuous). Additionally, it is harder to dehumanize you, if you are seen as a human-being. Send the editor a note, if the platform allows. Ask to be in touch with reviewers, if the journal or publisher allows it. Personally, I also like to make sure that I thank some colleagues who read previous drafts of my publications in an Acknowledgements sections. Even if their names are redacted, it shows that you just didn't finish the manuscript and hit the send button.
Second, I try to remember that I asked for peer review. Of course, we want reviewers to love our work. Reviewers, of course, may or may not love our work. There is the distracted reviewer who hasn't read carefully. There is the reviewer who didn't understand the article but agreed to review the article anywayâ€”maybe out a sense of over-confidence or a sense of doing a good deed for the busy editor. There is the reviewer who is curmudgeonly about any perspective that does not reflect their own point of view (and likely cite them) or who is just a sexist, racist jerk. And then there is the ideal reviewerâ€”the reviewer who knows your subject, wants you to succeed, and can craft a review letter that inspires you. Ideal reviewers are to be valued, and a good editor knows how to use their talents. Sometimes we are not in a place to hear what they have to sayâ€”because we have too many deadlines, too many classes to teach, and too many service obligations. Maybe we're just done, done, done with this article and want to move on. As an author, I try to remember that most reviewers want manuscripts to succeedâ€”that is, succeed with revision. Why? Because reviewing is a lot of work, but reviewers also often feel compelled to ask for more. An ideal reviewer understands that power dynamic and wants to push you without taking over your project. So, when I prepare my manuscripts for review, I try to remember the work of the ideal reviewer, the person who spent three or four hours reading and responding to my article. I try to remind myself to trust (although I may disagree with) that ideal reviewerâ€”that reviewer who actually read and wrestled with what I wrote. She wants my work to succeed. After all, I trust the ideal reviewer a lot more than I trust the distracted reviewer who just rubber-stamped my work and set me up for failure later.
Finally, as I prepare a submission for peer review I try to remember that journal editors spend an enormous amount of time cultivating, agonizing over, and nourishing articles in the pipeline. An article or book requires hours and hours to move from the submission portal to the galleys. If I am going to begin this journey, I should be prepared to finish it.
– Mya Poe, Northeastern University
Author and editor of many books and articles, including Writing Assessment, Social Justice, and the Advancement of Opportunity