Tuesday, 26 June 2018

Help the editor, help yourself (Andy Hill)

This is the third of the RED Alert’s ‘What do editors want?’ series! 

For this series, we solicited blogposts from La Trobe's experienced academic editors, and asked them to share their perspectives and experiences with us. We're often told about impact factors and citation metrics but it's harder to get to know how journals actually work and what editors look for in paper submissions.

In this third entry, Professor Andy Hill shares his extensive experience in academic publishing. Andy’s had key roles with several scholarly publications, and shares with us his Top 5 tips for making your publishing life a lot more efficient. 

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I am an academic and associate editor for a number of journals including PLoS One, the International Journal of Biochemistry and Cell Biology, and Journal of Extracellular Vesicles.

This generally involves handling manuscripts assigned to me by the Editor in Chief of the journal, finding reviewers of the manuscripts, and making decisions on the basis of the reviewers’ comments.

It is a task that is done outside of my normal working day and needs to be handled with some urgency. Nobody likes to wait more than necessary for their papers to be reviewed – me, included!

My role as an academic editor means dealing with both the authors and reviewers.

Here are my Top 5 tips for helping make an editor’s job easier, and hopefully giving your manuscript a smoother journey through the publication process!

1. Check the scope and policies of the journal - do they fit your manuscript?


Before submitting your manuscript to a particular journal, ensure it fits the scope of the journal!

The first thing you should do is check the instructions to authors, and any journal policies. These continuously change so look at these while you are assembling the manuscript.

A number of journals require compliance with certain conditions such as deposition of data into databases, adherence to field specific guidelines, statistical presentation, etc. Not adhering to these things will mean your manuscript will usually be returned to you. Sometimes, this happens before they even get to an editor if the journal has a checking procedure before the review process.

The scope is also important. Some journals are quite specific in the areas in which they will accept papers. Out-of-scope submissions will often earn a rapid rejection.

Check the guidelines for the length and type of paper, too, as there can be basic restrictions on word counts and number of figures.

2. Cover letter


This is an important part of your submission and an opportunity to introduce your manuscript to the editor who is handling it.

The letter should introduce the study, state the main findings, illustrate who would be interested in this, and specifically state why you are sending it to this particular journal. Things you can include in the cover letter are the names of potential reviewers (these may or may not be used but obviously avoid naming close colleagues, friends, etc!).

Some journals ask that authors use a particular format for their cover letters and may also need you to include a completed checklist. To find out all these things, always check the instructions to authors!

Make the cover letter reasonably concise but, as I flagged before, use this opportunity to spell out why you are sending the manuscript to this journal and the paper’s significance.

3. Presentation of the manuscript 


Again, this is where you should check the journal guide to authors. Journals will want your submissions in a standardised format. If the text or figures do not meet these guidelines, the manuscript will usually be returned to you or these issues will be pointed out in the review process. This will potentially slow down the process.

Ensure you have spell-checked and grammar-checked the manuscript - it should be free of such errors.

Figures should be presented professionally and clearly. A poorly formatted and presented manuscript may lead the editor not to send to review as obvious errors will only be pointed out by annoyed reviewers! Also, make sure you do not leave any comments in the margin from any contributors to the manuscript (unless you are submitting a revision where this is required)!

4. Responding to reviewers’ comments


When the reviewers’ comments are returned, the editor will make a decision on the paper based on these. If you are invited to resubmit the manuscript with revisions, a suitable timeframe for this will be suggested by the editor. If this timeframe looks unachievable, let the editor know straight away and discuss with them why.

The editor may suggest some additional work to be done or will ask you to focus on specific queries from the reviewers – make sure you attend to these! Editors don’t want to see several rounds of revision so only resubmit when you are able to address, or rebut, all of the reviewers’ comments. Here, the cover letter is important again to show what you have changed in the manuscript and your comments on each of the reviewers’ points. A point-by-point response to all of the comments is very important, and including a version of the text and figures where the changes are tracked helps the editor see what has been done. The editor can then choose to make a decision on the paper or send it out to review again.

5. Engage with the editor


Editors are experts in a particular field and often attend various meetings and conferences to see what is being presented and also discuss the various aspects of their journal. It can be an opportunity to ask them about their potential interest in a manuscript you are about to submit, or find out more about the publishing process for their journal. It never hurts for you to be well remembered by an editor, though your submissions will stand and fall on their own merits, of course!

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Professor Andy Hill joined the La Trobe Institute of Molecular Sciences (LIMS) in 2015, where he was Head of the Department of Biochemistry and Genetics. In 2017, he become Director of LIMS and established the La Trobe University Research Centre for Extracellular Vesicles (RCEV) where he also serves as Director. 

Andy was a previous holder of several competitive fellowships including a National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) Senior Research Fellow, and an Australian Research Council Future Fellowship (Level 3). 

He is currently the elected President of the International Society of Extracellular Vesicles. 

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