Typically, academic authors tend to submit their articles to journals via online automated systems and then sit back and wait. This means that researchers often think that communication with journal editors is a formal process, controlled and restricted by these online systems. This has removed a lot of personal communication from submission and manuscript revision processes.
We find that authors tend to feel that it’s not acceptable to write directly to editors, or contact them via the journal editorial office, while their papers are ‘in process’. Try to get out of this mindset: effective communication during the manuscript submission process can seriously speed up your papers.
Remember: Most editors of academic journals are working researchers too. Editors are almost certainly going to be:
- Running research groups;
- Carrying out and publishing their own work;
- Supervising students;
- Attending university meetings, and;
- Performing journal management tasks.
Sound familiar? Yes: Again, journal editors are working academics just like you.
It’s also worth bearing in mind that academic journal editors are very often not paid for the work they do for their publications; they carry out these tasks in addition to their other ‘mainstream’ university, research institute, medical school or hospital work. All this means that academic journal editors are very busy, and often do not spend a great deal of their time day-to-day working to handle manuscripts and process peer review.
What does this mean for you, the author?
One very important skillset to develop is when and how to effectively communicate with academic editors as this presents a huge opportunity. The worst strategy is to do nothing if you have questions or concerns about an article you’ve written.
When should you take the initiative and write to an editor handling one of your papers?
- If your paper appears to be ‘stuck’ in a journal’s online system (its status has not changed from ‘awaiting decision’ or ‘with decision editor’ over a period of one-to-two weeks, for example);
- If you have been waiting for more than six weeks for peer-review comments (the average length of time from submission-to-online publication industry-wide is 90 days);
- If you have any changes you want to make to your paper (such as a change of figures, authorship, or text to add);
- If you have concerns about possible peer reviewers, or;
- If you have any questions at all about the process.
Keep this in mind when submitting papers to academic journals: you are in control. You should be confident about your research.
How should you write to a journal editor?
Remember to be polite and business-like in your communications while at the same time making sure that your emails are both positive and ‘give something back’ to the journal. For example, if you can see that your paper is stuck in a system and has not yet been sent out for review, then why not write to enquire about its status while at the same time providing the editor with some suggestions for suitable additional reviewers. People always respond better to enquiries if they are getting something out of the communication as well.
Many academics don’t get this right: they write to editors and just demand a status update or ask a question. Short, curt emails will put your editors on the back foot and they will feel less inclined to react favourably to your papers. What about: ‘I was wondering if there is an issue with securing peer-reviewers for my paper? Here is a list of five additional colleagues you could reach out to, if needed’. It takes just a few moments more to make sure your email is polite and is making a reasonable request: Check the ‘accepted’ and ‘reviewed’ dates on other recently published articles in your target journal to get a sense of the amount of time it usually takes to process, peer-review, revise, and accept papers at that venue.
Received review comments that you feel are unfair or that you don’t agree with? Communicate.
This kind of situation is extremely common in academic publishing. You send a paper off to a journal and then comments come back which you feel are either unfair, that suggest your reviewers are being deliberately negative about your work, or that they simply don’t understand it. If there is a case to be made, you believe that you are in the right and, most importantly, can explain why to the editor then you should write a letter. Above all, it’s important to write down clearly and simply to the editor why you feel you’ve been treated unfairly. Lots of papers that were initially rejected end up getting accepted and editors often change their minds in such situations. All is not lost if you get negative review comments or, indeed, if you paper gets rejected. It’s always possible to write an appeal.
Rejection does not have to be the end of the road with journals. Editors are always open to changing their minds, but you have to communicate effectively. Why not ask: ‘Even though our paper has been rejected, we feel that we are able to adequately and comprehensively address all of the reviewers’ comments. If we are able to do this, would you consider the re-submission of a new manuscript?’
Above all, it’s always a good idea to write directly to journal editors if you have questions or comments about your submissions! Communication is always good in all walks of life and is one of the keys to personal and career success.
How can we help?
Charlesworth Author Services provide a range of English language editing and publication support services. Why not get in touch with a member of our Charlesworth Author Services team for more information, and get your writing edited and polished by one of our PhD-level specialists working in your research field? To find out more click here.
Our academic writing and publishing training courses, online materials, and blog articles contain numerous tips and tricks to help you navigate academic writing and publishing, and maximise your potential as a researcher.
To listen to our free webinar on Responding to reviews and communicating with editors please see here.
Maximise your publication success with Charlesworth Author Services.