Peer review – top tips for acceptance

It’s a pre-requisite of most researchers and academics’ careers that research is published. Many of you will have publication targets to meet that can seem quite daunting and one of the biggest hurdles is often the peer review process. Whether you consider Open Access or more traditional publication methods, it is necessary to have your work closely evaluated by your peers. This helps to validate the research and is a beneficial tool to improve your own writing/researching skills.

Whether you are a first time author at the beginning of your research career or nearing the point of retirement it can be quite frustrating to sit around and wait whilst other people pick apart your work and critique what appear to be very basic things. As the person who manages the peer review process from submission to decision across the majority of IWA Publishing’s journals, I fully empathise with you. Whilst we have to remain impartial to the peer review process, the first thing for you to remember is that we (in the Editorial Office and working on the editorial boards) are here to help you.

Along this train of thought, I’m going to lay out some advice to give you the best possible chance at acceptance.

 

Before submission

Whilst this might seem obvious, I feel I cannot say this enough – after choosing which journal you want to submit to, the very first thing you should do is read the instructions to authors. All of ours can be found on the individual journal websites on iwaponline.com. As an example, check out the instructions for Water Science & Technology (WST) here.

WST is our biggest journal and I perform the technical checks for all submissions before they get sent through to editors (this is not the same for all journals, but there is always someone who will check your paper before it is assigned a reference number). This is one of the most frustrating times for authors. Due to the high number of submissions it can sometimes take a week or two for papers to actually reach my desk, regardless of whether they have already been checked once or twice before. If your paper is not at the required submission standard, it will not get passed to an editor.

So what do you need to check to make sure that your paper goes straight to an editor after I’ve received it?

  1. Is your paper in scope? – This might seem like a redundant question to ask, but it is unfortunately very common for all of our journals to receive manuscripts that are nothing to do with the journal’s research aims. You can check this by looking at the published aims and scope on the journal website.
  2. Language – Is the language of your paper of a standard that non-native English speakers can easily determine what you are saying? If you are struggling with this, have a friend or colleague help out. If you don’t know any native speakers personally, we have a partnership with Peerwith (iwap.peerwith.com), where you can connect with suitable academics to help you.
  3. Is your paper the right length? – As publishers, we have very strict page limits for how much we can publish in any one issue. If your paper is already too long before submission, it won’t get to the editors. This might seem like gate-keeping, but realistically if your paper is longer than the suggested word count then you’ve included too much information and it should probably be split into a series of papers. Be aware that in all IWAP journals your figures also count towards the total word limit and for certain journals there is a maximum number of figures that you are allowed to submit.
  4. Have you used the correct citation style? – At IWAP we use a loose form of Harvard referencing, therefore if you have used any sort of numbered citation style, your paper will get sent back to you. Tools like Mendeley can help you with this.
  5. Have you used too many or too few citations? – If you have used too many citations then you need to consider whether you are writing a research paper or a discussion paper. For the majority of researchers writing about experiments, 25 citations is more than enough. Too few citations can make your paper seem like a technical note, and these tend to only get published in practitioner-focused journals.
  6. Are your citations new enough? – If the research you are using for your discussion is old, this can make it seem like your own research is not actually presenting anything new to the field.
  7. Have you provided all of the correct author information? – Like many STEM publishers, IWAP now requires co-author verification for published articles. This means that if we don’t have full approval from the entire author team, your work won’t be accepted. Make sure you add the institutional email addresses for everyone who helped write the paper. Obviously, there will be exceptions for when someone physically cannot respond to our verification questions, but you can sort that out by letting the Editorial Office know on submission.

I’ve added a check list to the end of this post so that you can go through it before submission. If you have any questions about formatting that aren’t mentioned on the journal websites, get in touch with the Editorial Office. We are here to help!

 

During peer review

One of the second biggest issues that authors face is peer review times. At IWAP we are doing everything we can to make sure that your work is reviewed as quickly and efficiently as possible, whilst still being as thorough as we can. However, whilst we aim for your work to go through reference number assignment to decision in roughly four months, this is something that we cannot always guarantee. If you have followed the pre-submission guidelines your work is more likely to go through quicker, but this is not always the case.

Peer review is carried out on a voluntary basis to ensure that as little bias as possible is placed upon your work. This includes vetting of reviewers to make sure that they are not from the same institutions as you, and as we are an internationally focused publisher, we also try to ensure that the reviewers are from different countries. This helps to ensure that the manuscript is exactly what the readers want to receive.

Always respond to all of the reviewer comments. If you don’t agree to a point, make sure you say why. Particularly if you choose not to incorporate it in the work. This will help to stop the paper coming back to you for yet another round of revision. The key is to have an open dialogue between you and the reviewers/editors (albeit one where you don’t actually know who they are)

If you think a review is completely wrong or the reviewer seems to just want you to incorporate citations of their own work, contact the editor AND the editorial office. We all deal with a lot of papers and aren’t infallible, sometimes mistakes will be made. If you let everyone know, this can be fixed as soon as possible. In the cases where the reviewer seems to just want you to cite their work without proper reasoning, we can make sure that that reviewer isn’t re-invited to your paper and in some cases make the decision to remove them from the reviewer pool. We work hard to make sure there is no bias in the process, whether it’s to prevent unfair judgement or to protect you from having to pander to someone’s ego, it’s all managed to help you get accepted.

If you think you’re going to need more time in the revision stages, let the editorial office know as soon as possible. You’re more likely to be granted an extension if you’re not already overdue. Deadlines are put in place for everyone: the editorial office, editors, reviewers and even you. This helps to ensure as quick a turnaround as possible. This does not always work, which is why reminders are frequently sent out too. It can sometimes also help for the author to get in touch with the editor to speed things up, but don’t bombard them. If you have sent one or two emails and had no response, get in touch with the Editorial Office. It could be that the editor is sick or on holiday and forgotten to let us know, but this is easily solved.

The final thing to also remember, is to give yourself enough time. If your publication deadline for the next big grant or job promotion is in three months’ time, then you should have already submitted your work at least two months ago. This seems like a long time, but even if you manage to get through peer review, the pre-publication steps also take time and then you could be sitting in a publication queue before final publication is possible.

 

Pre-submission checklist

  •  Check the aims and scope of the journal
  •  Thoroughly read the instructions to authors
  •  Check the length
  •  Check language and grammar (get help if you need it)
  •  Check your citations
  •  Check that all requested author information is there

 

If you have any other questions, or think that you need extra help on submission, get in touch and I will do my best to help you.

Emma Buckingham (ebuckingham [at] iwap [dot] co [dot] uk).

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