The peer-review process can be frustrating and, in some cases, downright depressing. You can spend excruciating months slaving on a paper only for the paper to be rejected by the journal editor before it even goes through the peer-review process. I have experienced this!
Sometimes your manuscript passes editorial review only for the reviewers to recommend the rejection of the manuscript. The editor usually follows this advice and rejects your paper. I have experienced this too!
In other cases, your paper can pass editorial review, then the reviewers after extensive reading of the paper ask for minor revisions or major revisions to improve the paper before they recommend it for acceptance. The onus is on the editor to ask you to address the reviewers' comments. These comments are usually sent to you (author) by the editor. There is no direct communication between you, the author, and the anonymous peer-reviewers.
Here is an important reminder. Addressing the reviewers' comments can test your patience, professionalism, and the ability to accept being corrected or challenged by your peers. Some reviewers are kind and very professional. They only want to help you improve the quality of your paper. Some, however, can be unreasonable. They can ask for revisions that would completely overhaul your paper. Sad! But true!
Yet, the onus is on you professionally to address or reject some of the suggestions and respectfully explain why you are not going to include their suggestions in the paper, or how you have addressed the suggestions/concerns.
Sometimes reviewers may ask you to address what you have already addressed in the paper. You have to, respectfully, remind them. At times they misunderstand or misconstrue your argument. Again, you must respectfully and professionally, however annoyed you are, explain how and where they may have misunderstood or misconstrued your argument.
Another reminder. Be careful when reviewers say "these are only suggestions. You can choose to ignore them." You don't have to accept all suggestions, but you must show how you have addressed all suggestions including the "only suggestions."
Note that failure properly to address the reviewers' comments may lead to the rejection of the paper by the editor even after the 'minor revision' suggestions.
Patience! This process can take months to years. Imagine...for just one paper! (One of my papers was with a journal for nearly three years before it was accepted.)
Here are some pointers to note if you are considering sending a paper to a peer-reviewed journals.
- You need patience, a thick skin, and humility. You will be reviewed by people who have been researching the topic for decades. Sometimes graduate students start to doubt themselves after several rejections: "May be I'm not cut out for this!"
- You can send your manuscript to colleagues for some valuable critiques before you submit the manuscript to the journal. This is recommended.
- Pick a journal before you write a paper. Check the journal's aim and scope. The first thing the editor does is to check if your paper fits within the journal's scope. Journals only publish within a defined scope. Your paper may be excellent. But it will be rejected outright if it is outside the scope and aim of the journal. Some courteous journal editors may recommend another, suitable, journal for your manuscript. This is rare but it happens.
- Keep the words count in mind and adhere to the referencing style the journal uses. They are very strict on this. If they want APA, do not send them a manuscript written in Chicago or MLA.
- If the paper is within the journal's scope, the next thing the editor checks is whether your paper contributes anything new to the body of knowledge. If the answer is "no" then the editor will reject it through a professionally written rejection email. That's it. Some editors, depending on their reading of the manuscript, may ask you to address the weaknesses in the manuscript to improve it beyond its current form. They may ask you to send it back for review consideration. Remember, no guarantees it will pass editorial review the second time. If the editorial review answer answer is "yes" then the paper is sent for peer-review. Then you wait! It can be an excruciatingly long wait. Anxiety high!
- Reviewers check the manuscript for its location within the scholarly literature. Sometimes reviewers will suggest authors you have not referenced if they believe they will help enrich the paper. They check what the paper contributes that has not been addressed. Sometimes you think your idea is new but then the reviewer points you to a scholar who has already made the same argument/discovery. They ask if your argument is persuasive? They also look for structural coherence, theoretical/conceptual framework (is there one?), methodology, and whether or not the paper is actually theoretically informed. An author may use a theory that does nothing to advance the argument in the paper. Some reviewers check for grammatical errors, typos, and sentential coherence, and clarity. Sometimes the journal will give reviewers guidelines regarding what to check in a manuscript as they review the paper.
- During the review process, things are unpredictable. Reviewers may say, "Reject" and explain why; "Accept" with minor revisions or major revisions. They suggest how to improve the paper or where they disagree with you. Sometimes they say "minor revisions" but the revisions can be extensive...not so minor. It is up to you to assess which suggestions to accept and which ones to reject. But you must remember that without reviewers' recommending your paper for publication, the editor will reject your paper. You must make responding to reviewers sound like a professional discourse between peers. Be open-minded. You must also respond to the reviews within a specified time-frame (by the editor) otherwise the paper would be considered a new "submission" even if it was recommended for publication. Be time conscious when responding to reviewers' recommendations/suggestions.
- Sometimes Reviewer 1 can say "Accept", but review 2 says "Reject." The paper is then sent to a third reviewer to break the deadlock. Note that the reviewers' don't know who you are. The paper is reviewed anonymously. Reviewers only know your identity once the paper is published. The reviews are mostly anonymous unless the journal de-anonymizes the peer-review process as a matter of policy. There are journals like that. This must be stated clearly in the "about" section of the journal.
- Some journals charge article processing fees while others charge article publication fees. Some journals, in fact most of the reputation ones, do not charge any fees. Check the journal guidelines.
So, my friends, go ahead and write on! Here is the link to some of my peer-reviewed publications: (https://kuirgarang.com/research). Click on the publications to go to the journals. Check what I have called "aim and scope" of the journal. They all have it.
Kuir ë Garang (PhD) is a researcher and the editor of The Philosophical Refugee.