January 7, 2021
3 Ways to Ensure a Positive Review Process
Congratulations! You have successfully submitted your manuscript and received a confirmation of receipt from the journal. What comes next? In this blog, I outline three ways you can maneuver through the double-blind review process, considered the gold standard for journal reviews.
1. Know what to expect and be mindful of the review timeline
You should be wary of journals that have a sparse review process or none at all. Most reputable journals will conduct a rigorous review to determine the quality of submissions before acceptance.
- Your submission will first be screened through an internal review to deem its fit for the next stage, the peer review. The managing editor, with one or more associate editors or advisory board members, will determine the manuscript's strength and alignment with the journal's scope. 21% of papers are declined without review.
- If merited for peer review, the managing editor will submit the manuscript for double-blind peer review, ensuring that your the reviewer’s identities remain anonymous.
- A minimum of two peer reviewers from the journal's pool are typically assigned. Details about the peer review process are usually stated within the journal's policies.
- Expect at least two rounds of review for most submissions. Major or minor changes may be required depending on the reviewers' As peer reviewers tend to be intimately familiar with the submission's topic of study, their feedback is specific: assumptions, methodology, and findings can all be challenged or critiqued, including weaknesses in the study's foundation, analytical pitfalls, a shaky theoretical framework, omitted references to previous integral studies on the topic, among others.
- You should consider a timeline of at least 6-8 months for a manuscript to undergo two rounds of peer review. In some cases, a manuscript may be subjected to three or even four rounds of review before acceptance. In such cases, a longer timeline should be expected. You can check websites such as SciRev - Review the scientific review process to see other authors' comments about specific journals' expected review timeline and efficiency.
As the peer review process is often lengthy, it is important to remain patient. You have some agency in doing research beforehand in choosing a journal for which there is evidence of a more efficient editorial process.
2. Be prepared to receive substantial feedback
The review process is meant to strengthen your manuscript. Receiving substantial feedback is common for even strong papers; it is extremely rare for both reviewers to accept a paper during the first round. In rare cases, a conditional acceptance may be given in light of any minor revisions suggested by reviewers.
Receiving a Revise and Resubmit decision from the journal is fairly normal. You should feel encouraged by the invitation to revise the manuscript. Peer review tends to reflect the criticisms and expectations that scholarly peers and the journal's readers may have. Don’t be discouraged and withdraw your paper at this stage.
Receiving feedback on one's work can be scary, anxiety-provoking, and emotional. At this stage, you may feel conflicting emotions: careful management of any negative thoughts is essential. Staying positive and not being bogged down in negative self-perception, such as imposter syndrome, is vital. The double-blind review process ensures that criticism is not a personal attack but rather a way to strengthen your research and writing.
After each round of feedback, it may be helpful to peruse the comments and then take a break from the manuscript to gain some mental clarity and focus. You should go through the comments and feedback carefully and plan to revise the manuscript by reasonably considering the feedback. Be kind to yourself while planning to change the manuscript, as it is a challenging process. Categorize the feedback for clarity: Aim to have a realistic deadline to complete the revisions as this will shorten the review process.
Another outcome may be a rejection from all reviewers after the first or second round. 40% of all papers are rejected after peer review. Again, however, this should not discourage you if substantive comments from the reviewers accompany the rejection. As a writer you should address significant concerns and submit the article to another journal.
3. Address reviewers' feedback meaningfully
The onus is placed on you, as the author, to show that the reviewers' feedback has been taken onboard and the manuscript meaningfully revised through each round of revisions. Superficial changes or other shortcuts to addressing the feedback will not impress the reviewers.
In the manuscript, use the track changes feature for revisions so that reviewers can quickly see where changes were made. Reviewers volunteer their time and services, so any methods used to expedite the review itself are appreciated.
It may help to create a document containing a two-column table with all reviewers' feedback in one column (differentiating by Reviewer 1, 2, etc. to mark where each reviewers' feedback ends), and your notes on each issue in the second column. In these notes, you should indicate which feedback was incorporated in the revisions and which were not. You may note that specific feedback was outside the scope of the paper or study or provide other explanations as to why they may have rejected a reviewer's suggestions.
It is not uncommon for reviewers to have differing opinions or give contradictory feedback. In this case, follow the feedback that most aligns with the paper's purpose and contribution to the field. If any suggestion contradicts or diminishes the purpose, scope, or contribution of the paper, you should politely let the reviewer know.
Once the notes and edited manuscript are completed, they should be submitted to the editor. Upon receipt, the editor will circulate your revised manuscript to the reviewers for each round of review until the reviewers provide a final decision.
In summary, as the author, you should be realistic in your expectations regarding timelines and the volume and nature of peer reviewer feedback. In responding, you should clearly address reviewers' queries and suggestions in a format that expedites the review, such as through a track changed document. Over time, you will become familiar with these procedural elements and the optimal ways to navigate the review process during the journal submission-to-acceptance journey.
Natasha Mansur is a non-resident researcher and the managing editor of the Gulf Education and Social Policy Review, an open-access, peer-reviewed, bilingual journal affiliated with the Gulf Comparative Education Society and published by the Sheikh Saud bin Saqr Al Qasimi Foundation for Policy Research. Read the latest issue here.