Navigating peer review: Making your initial submission

Picture the scene: you’ve picked a target journal (with a decent impact factor, of course), checked the required article structure for your paper and then, finally, completed your manuscript ready for submission. You head into the journal’s online manuscript submission system, create your author account and begin the process: get ready to send your paper into the journal editorial office!

Suggesting peer reviewers

But wait: now the system is asking for suggestions for ‘suitable peer reviewers’ who ‘would be in a position to evaluate your research article’. What should you do? Which names should you type into the system? Wait. Take a step back. The reviewer suggestions you enter here, or add in your submission covering letter, are very important to the fate of your manuscript. Journal editors are almost always busy academics themselves and thus are very likely to use at least some of your suggestions when sending your manuscript out for peer review.

Who then should you suggest? Have a think. By this point in your career, now you are about to submit a manuscript to a peer-reviewed journal, you will have started to develop what’s known as an ‘international mentorship network’. You won’t be calling it that, or even necessarily be giving this any thought, but think about who you know working in your research field nationally and internationally. People you’ve met at conferences or interacted with over email. Perhaps you’ve done some peer review yourself for journals already and have become aware of other workers in your research field via this process. Academic research is a very collaborative process: at a minimum, you will be able to write down the names of four or five international colleagues you are at least aware of working in your field from other research articles you’ve read recently.

Divide up the list that’s starting to form in your head into two columns. People you actually know, colleagues you’ve met or talked to over email and people you would like to know. You're starting to form a set of people that you don’t work with, you don’t actively collaborate with, but who might be suitable as peer reviewers for your work.

The absolutely key point to keep in mind at this stage of the manuscript submission process is that you, the author, want to try to ensure that the people you enter into the journal system are going to be likely to give you a positive review. They won’t kill your article off at this stage:

- Have you talked to any of the members of your list about this particular piece of work?

- Have they given you any comments to date, perhaps over email?

If yes: add this name to the online system.

It’s well worth taking a step back at this stage of the manuscript submission process to send a few emails out to those names on your list:

‘Dear Prof. x, perhaps your remember me from Conference y. I’ve just completed a research article on topic z and was hoping you might have a little time to provide me with some initial feedback. I would really value some quick thoughts on my research article, if you have the time. Perhaps you would be prepared to provide a formal peer review please, as I plan to submit soon to a journal’.

Don’t forget to include the title and abstract of your article when you send off this email; even one or two positive responses will dramatically increase your article's chances of eventual acceptance.

Writing a cover letter

Journal online manuscript submission systems do vary, but most are fundamentally the same. You will have the chance to upload your manuscript document file, figures and tables, and any supplementary files. You will also be asked for a ‘covering letter’ and, in many cases, suggestions for peer reviewers. Put the same list of names (with emails) into your ‘covering letter’ even if you also fill them in on the system. Adding the names of reviewer suggestions to this letter is especially critical if you do not get the chance to add your preferred reviewer names online. Editors actually do read these ‘covering letters’, they are critical and it is well-worth devoting a lot of your time and energy to writing them. [Get in touch with our team at Charlesworth if you would like a free cover letter template file.]

End note

Developing an international mentorship network will prove important as you develop your career, not just as part of the peer review process. Who knows: a leading international colleague might read your next article and offer you the chance to apply for a job or postdoc! This is how the academic world works.


Read next (second) in series: Navigating peer review: Sitting and waiting – What can you do? What should you do?


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