The Editorial Process (After You Hit Submit!)
Updated: Feb 29
Now that you’ve got your manuscript submitted, you may wonder what happens next. Some journal websites will have an interface such that you can see the different stage that your manuscript is in. I will give a general overview of the process. This process may vary depending on the journal, but most follow the same general workflow.
The Different Types of Editors
There are few types of editors that I’d like to introduce before diving into this story:
EIC: Editor in Chief- This is the editor that all manuscripts go through. The EIC organizes the manuscripts that come in and guides conversations about the manuscripts with other editors. The EIC makes the final decisions on the manuscripts and describes the general journal policies.
DE: Deputy Editors- This is the team of editors that also looks at all manuscripts. Typically, each deputy editor has their own subspecialty field, so incoming manuscripts are divvied up based upon subject matter.
Scientific Editors: These editors help to improve manuscript readability by rearranging content and rewriting or editing throughout to improve clarity. Some journals do not have a scientific editor, so it is possible that you may not come across this.
Manuscript editors: Manuscript editors fix the language that is used in the journals and edits to make styling consistency between manuscripts within the same journals. Again, some journals do not have manuscript editors, so you may also not come across this either.
The Workflow of Manuscript Submissions
1. Formatting Check
Once the manuscript is submitted, the editorial office will take a first look at the manuscript. The editorial office makes sure that all components of the manuscript have been properly submitted. They are looking for general formatting of the manuscript and to make sure the different sections are present (abstract, introduction, materials/methods, results, discussion, and references), and will additionally check word limits. They want to make sure that the manuscript is complete before they send it off to the DEs and EIC to look at. If there are sections of the manuscript that do not conform to the journal’s guidelines, the manuscript will be sent back to authors to fix. The manuscript being sent back at this point typically does not have any bearing on a pending acceptance or rejection- the EIC and DEs have not seen it at this point.
2. DE Assignment and Decision
Once the manuscript has gone through the initial check, it will be assigned to a DE that has a matching background or interest in the topic of the manuscript. They will look at the content of the manuscript and decide if it is a good fit for the journal. They are looking at the study design and significance of the results in the context of the research field. Once they make their decision to reject or continue pursuing the manuscript, the decision is then forwarded to the EIC.
3. EIC Decision
All manuscripts are routed through the EIC. They receive the decision from the DEs about decisions on the manuscripts. If the manuscript does not seem to be a good fit for the journal, the manuscript will be rejected at this point. If the editors decide to continue with the manuscript, then it will go out for peer review.
4. Recruit Reviewers & Manuscript Under Review
The peer review process involves your manuscript being sent to expert reviewers in the field so that they can assess the scientific rigor and accuracy of your work. This process takes time. Some reviewers may decline to peer review, which can tack onto the total time it takes for your manuscripts to be reviewed. Reviewers may decline for simple reasons, such as they do not have enough time during a given period. There are typically staff in editorial offices that can search for reviewers based on the different expertise areas. Journals typically send manuscripts out to 2-4 reviewers. Reviewers will assess the manuscript, leave comments for the authors, and then determine what the next steps should be for the manuscript. They can suggest acceptance, accept with minor revisions, major revisions, or reject. Depending on the journal, there may be variants of different revision statuses.
5. Compile Reviews, DE/EIC Discussion, and Final Decision
Once the reviews have been received, the DEs and EIC assess the responses to determine what they think next steps of the manuscript should be. During the peer review process, reviewers make different suggestions ranging from simple grammar changes, requesting additional discussion, and in some cases, requesting further experimentation.
Most manuscripts will go through at least one round of reviews and revisions. If the manuscript was decided as minor revision, there may be a chance that the manuscript does not go back out to reviewers a second time. In these cases, the DE and EIC assess the manuscript. If a major revision was required, then the manuscript will typically go back out to reviewers for another round of assessment after the authors submit their edits.
In the end, the deciding factor of manuscript acceptance comes down to three main factors: (1) the authors ability to appropriately address reviewer and editor concerns and (2) the science and methodology is accurate and important in the field, and (3) the study in line with the journal’s publishing goals.
6. Scientific and Manuscript Editors
Scientific and general manuscript editing can either be done before or after the manuscript has been accepted. This is typically a free service for all manuscripts that are accepted by the journal (again, some journals do not have scientific or manuscript editors, so is it possible you may not interact with these types of editors). If the journal you submitted to has scientific and manuscript editors, you will likely receive some sort of document with your article that has queries related to different parts of your manuscript (grammar, content, figure/table organization, abstracts, general methods, etc). Depending on the journal, you’ll have anywhere from 48 hours (general manuscript editing) to a few weeks to respond (scientific editing) to the comments.
Once your manuscript has been accepted and has undergone editing, then it is nearly ready to be published. Editorial offices have production staff that transform your word processor document into a PDF that is in the style of the journal. This is typically the last document you will see to review before the manuscript is published. Publishing times may vary depending on the journal. Some journals publish weekly, others monthly, and others bimonthly. There may be variations in the amount of time that a manuscript gets published- this information can usually be found on the publisher’s website.
That’s the very general overview of what happens after you hit submit. Remember that the process can take some time because there are a lot of moving parts and people that are involved in processing each manuscript!