This is Part 3 of Can. J. Chem. Eng.’s Discover the Publishing Process series of CIC News stories. As a society-owned journal, we are offering our CIC community behind-the-scenes information on how journal publishing works. Read the other stories on publishing tips and initial submission.
In this installment of Can. J. Chem. Eng.’s primer on the publishing process, we will discuss the most nerve-wracking and most important step: peer review. By providing some insight into how peer review works, we hope to help alleviate some of that stress. As we discussed during Peer Review Week, peer review is absolutely vital to publishing and is the unique process by which the research community ensures the quality of the work that we publish.
Up until this stage, you as the author have been in control of what happens to your work. Your experiment can, of course, go awry during the research process, but in general, you know how to fix it and once you have your data you control what to do with it. Peer review is different, though. Now you are putting your work out into the world and you have to relinquish control and trust that the journal and your peers want to make your research as strong as possible.
Although it might feel out of your hands at this stage, there are a few things you can do to make the peer review process as smooth as possible. One thing to help is to know that you made your paper easy to read. Peer reviewers want to get a good picture of what your research proves and the best way to do this is to write clearly and to create figures that help explain your findings.
In addition, to assist the journal with peer review, Can. J. Chem. Eng. allows our authors to name a number of recommended reviewers for their article. You know your field, so select people who are well-qualified to review your work. Make sure, though, that they are not people that you have previously collaborated with or other people from your institution. Through our ScholarOne database, you can also list anyone who should not be a reviewer for your paper, due to a conflict of interest.
At Can. J. Chem. Eng., we want you to trust us with your research: trust in our expert editors, trust that they will select expert peer reviewers who will treat your work fairly, and trust that we will work to get you the results of those reviews as quickly as possible. To help build that trust, here is a behind-the-scenes look at what happens to your article during peer review.
Once your paper has gotten through the initial submission stage, our Editor-in-Chief assigns it to one of our associate editors based on their area of research speciality. This editor then co-ordinates the peer review process by selecting appropriate reviewers based off your recommendations and their knowledge of the field. Can. J. Chem. Eng. maintains a database of previous reviewers and their research areas to assist with this step. The editor sends invitations to review your paper to usually around four possible reviewers, with the goal being to get at least two separate reviews. This invitation part of the process is managed through our ScholarOne interface and should only take a couple of days. Our managing editor works to ensure the timeliness of all parts of the peer review process, because we know that you need the reports as soon as possible.
Once a reviewer has accepted our invitation to review, they are given three weeks to read the paper carefully, create their report, and recommend a decision. The reviewers receive a reminder email after two weeks. We know that, like our editors and authors, our reviewers are busy, so occasionally they may request an extension on the time. The journal balances the needs of all stakeholders in the peer review system to make sure that our reviewers have the time they need to complete a thorough report and that our authors receive timely reports. The reviewers submit their reports and recommendations back to the assigned editor, who then looks at the comments and ensures that they are constructive. The editor updates the status of the article in ScholarOne and you receive email notification of the decision on your article with the reports attached. Can. J. Chem. Eng. is proud that our average time to first decision on your article is quick—around 30 days.
Next comes what can feel like the really hard part of peer review. You receive the reports. Help yourself out by remembering a few important things:
1) Reviewers are reviewing your submitted work, not you. Even though it feels like you have poured a lot of yourself into that work, your value as a person is not contingent on how your work is evaluated.
2) Almost all papers require some kind of revisions at this stage. Straight acceptances are extremely rare.
3) The reviewers are ultimately trying to help you strengthen your paper.
4) Even knowing the above items, it is ok to still have feelings about the reports. Depending on how you are feeling, you might want to take a few days away from the paper. Then, when you return to it, you can try to look at the report more objectively and get excited about what you can do to make your work even better.
Once you have a good grasp of what the report is saying, you are ready for the next steps. Assuming that you have been asked to re-submit with revisions (major or minor), start to respond to the reviewers’ suggestions one by one, making revisions to your article. To show these changes, it may be easiest to highlight or write in a different colour font directly within the manuscript. You will also write a letter in response to the report. Remember that the reviewers will see this letter, so be polite and see what you can do to incorporate their suggestions. If you do not think that one of their points makes sense to incorporate in your paper, then explain why (it may be beyond the scope, there may be other literature that deals with that issue, etc.).
Once you have addressed the reviewers’ concerns (whether by making revisions, or gently rebutting them in your letter), you are ready to re-submit your article through ScholarOne. It will likely go back to the same reviewers to see if you have appropriately addressed their concerns. As always, the Can. J Chem. Eng. editorial team works to ensure that this process is as swift as possible. There may even be another round of revisions. We know it can be frustrating, but your article will come out of peer review as the best possible version of itself and that is the ultimate goal.
The last stage of peer review is the best part: you receive your acceptance letter and take time to celebrate your achievement! We will discuss the post-acceptance process in our next stories, but the most difficult step is now complete.