Post by Julia Slone-Murphy
Peer reviewers are busy people. You may have already reviewed a manuscript yourself and know first-hand how the review has to be squeezed in between writing, teaching, and mentoring duties – oh, and actual research – all on a voluntary basis.
The review often ends up being done in the evenings, at weekends, or even on holiday, so it’s important to make it as easy as possible. A carefully prepared manuscript is more likely to enter peer review in the first place, go through the process faster, and get a respectful and helpful review.
1. Enter peer review
If the manuscript is in good shape and suitable for the journal, it’s likely that the editor will send it on to peer reviewers. But if it doesn’t fit the journal’s aims and scope, if it doesn’t follow the journal’s author instructions, if the importance and novelty of the study are not clear, or if the data do not support the hypotheses and conclusions, the editor might not feel it’s appropriate to send on to reviewers. In this case, you would receive an editorial rejection. Although these tend to be relatively quick, they still waste time for you and the editorial team, and can be avoided by more careful manuscript preparation.
2. Speed through peer review
The more clearly and engagingly your manuscript is written, the easier it will be to read and understand, and the faster it will be reviewed. We’ve all read that paper where we realise half-way through that we’ve hardly understood anything, so we go back and read it again, and again... then arm ourselves with a pencil and highlighter, then read it again while scribbling and underlining. This type of writing is not kind to the reader – especially when that reader is voluntarily reviewing your paper on their holiday! We’ve also all read beautifully written papers that explain complex concepts so elegantly that they seem simple, and we can understand them on the first read. This is the kind of manuscript to aim for, and it makes the review go so much faster.
3. Get a respectful and helpful review
Even if you’re on a tight deadline, take the time to check your paper for avoidable errors. If a manuscript seems thrown together, this can make reviewers less than polite – and, quite frankly, grumpy. Here at NeuroEdit, we help authors respond to peer review, and we’ve seen some pretty cutting comments that have little to do with the study and instead focus on the way the manuscript has been written. This is neither a good use of the reviewer’s time nor any good for the authors’ confidence. Eliminate basic problems like language errors, missing citations, inconsistent abbreviations, or accidental repetitions before submitting your manuscript. This will go a long way to getting the reviewer on your side.
Getting the reviewer on your side is helpful for you, too. The purpose of peer review is to give you expert feedback on the quality of your research, the appropriateness of your methods, the robustness of your data, and the soundness of your conclusions – not comments about typos, misplaced commas or incorrect tenses. Eliminating those kinds of errors before you submit your paper will help the reviewer do their best work, and you’ll be helping yourself receive useful, constructive comments about the science in your paper.
Next, find out how writing well can help reduce the huge amount of waste that plagues the health research industry. And if you missed it, catch up on the previous post in the series, where I explain how careful preparation of a manuscript can help you publish before your competitors.
At NeuroEdit, we help researchers create the best possible version of their manuscript before submitting to a journal. We work with native and non-native English speakers at all stages of their career. If you're writing a paper and all the information we've listed above sounds too time-consuming or too difficult to implement, we can help. We can eliminate linguistic errors, ensure the arguments in your paper are clear, make your writing engaging, showcase your figures professionally, write an effective cover letter, format the manuscript to any journal's instructions, and more - usually within a week, and often for around the price of an antibody! Contact us to see how we can help you improve your manuscript.