What Do Journal Editors Want?

Hi. This is Karen McKee, retired scientist and author with another article about scientific writing. A paper submitted to a scientific journal typically goes through several steps before it is accepted for publication. The first hurdle the author faces is the initial decision by the editor as to the suitability of the submitted manuscript for publication. The editor may decide to send the paper out for review or may reject it without review. Some journals send out for review less than half of papers submitted. Thus, it’s important to understand what journal editors look for when deciding to send a submission out for review. In general, editors are looking for high quality papers that appeal to their readership and that enhance the impact of the journal.

Busy editors may look only at the cover letter, abstract, conclusions, and references in making the decision to send your manuscript out for review. By paying close attention to these components and understanding why they are important will improve the chances that your paper will pass this first step. The first question an editor asks is if the manuscript falls within the scope of the journal. Instructions to authors usually state what topics and types of papers are acceptable. The editor may also look at your references to see if papers published in their journal are cited. If not, that’s a sign that your paper belongs somewhere else. Is the research important and does it advance the field?

You want to ensure that this question is answered in your cover letter, abstract, and conclusions. Is the paper carefully prepared and formatted? Missing sections or a general lack of proper formatting are red flags and will likely get your paper rejected right off the bat. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that the copy editor will fix punctuation and grammatical errors or other problems after acceptance. Instead, a sloppy manuscript will cause the editor to doubt the quality of your research. Read the instructions to the author carefully and adhere to all formatting guidelines. Thoroughly proofread your manuscript before submission, including properly citing your sources.

Ensure the manuscript length does not exceed the recommended word count. Is the manuscript written in clear, concise language? Your writing should be scholarly but not overly verbose or ambiguous. Editors are looking for papers that will appeal not just to a handful of specialists but that are interesting to their readership as a whole. Pay particular attention to the abstract and conclusions and ensure that they convey why your work is important and would be of interest to readers. Does the cover letter provide a persuasive explanation of why the journal should publish your paper? Many authors fail to write a proper cover letter, but a good letter can help sell your manuscript to the journal editor.

After reading your letter, the editor should be convinced that your paper fits the journal’s scope and will appeal to readers. A final suggestion is to read recent papers in your target journal and ensure that your paper is written in the same style. Well, those are a few tips to help convince an editor that your paper is worthy of consideration. There are additional steps that your paper will go through prior to publication but getting past this first step is critical. Thanks for listening and please like my article if you found this information helpful.