Polishing the article
Too often authors ignore the importance of adequate internal reviewing and polishing of an article among colleagues before submitting it to a journal. Authors may believe that a reviewer, appointed by the journal, will see the excellence of their research, and they fail to understand that the article may contain ambiguities and explanatory gaps. These gaps are caused by the author knowing more than what is said in the text, which enables them to understand the omitted bits. Unfortunately, an outsider does not have exactly the same knowledge; it is only the aspects that are visible for a reader that exist. Consequently, careful review before submission is of great importance. A good co-author will help you in finalising the article.
Remember to follow precisely the format instructions of your target journal. There is no point in irritating the editors or reviewers with lousy finishing. Publishing is not a lucrative business, therefore, publishers are not keen to spend a lot of time and money for editing your article; it is your job!
Make sure your article has a solid storyline and is written in good English. Including fresh brains to read through the article just before submission can help in removing any unnecessary flaws. Remember to return the favour.
Do pay attention to transitions between sentences in order for the reader to easily understand the positioning of different sentences. It must be clear whether sentences are parallel, opposed, or have a logical continuum. Consequently, words such as in addition, also, however, nevertheless, or consequently can be used for this purpose. Having to pay attention to transitions may, however, not be an issue for native English speakers.
What do reviewers look for?
Before submitting your article, it is wise to a) make sure you have selected a fitting target journal, b) you have carefully met your target journal’s requirements for submission. It is also crucial c) to understand what the reviewer might be looking for when going through your article. Also, by screening out silly mistakes, you can increase your article’s chances for publication.
In order to better understand the reviewers’ perspective, you can think about the way you read an article that you have never seen before. At first, you may not proceed in a linear way. Instead, you probably scan the article for results and look around for an explanation. In addition, you may also start thinking about the meaning of terms that you do not recognise or cannot guess. All in all, one does not like hunting for the information.
A reviewer may be looking for an intellectual logical continuum or a plot-line by quickly browsing through your article. Typically, a reviewer will soon have an opinion whether the article is good enough. Therefore, your article should be constructed to be so clear that one can get a level of understanding without reading it word-for-word, even by browsing through the visual elements.
A reviewer may look whether it is easy to see what the researcher/s wished to find out, and whether these questions are well justified. Also, a reviewer may have a look to see whether the stated problem/s and research questions are actually answered.
Only if the beginning and the end match adequately, it is worthwhile for the reviewer to see if the research literature used presents convincing support arguments, and whether the literature cited is suitable.
Reviewers also pay attention to the section where you describe the utilised methods, and whether the methods are fitting and justified for your research. Also, the reviewer may be interested whether you understand the limitations of your research and have stated them clearly.
The quality of your text is also important: not only the grammar and punctuation, but how the story is told, which is ideally suitably straightforward and unambiguous without unnecessary jargon. The storyline should be built so that a reader can get something out of the text, even if they are not exactly specialists of the same field.
A good review is supportive, constructive and fair. A good reviewer identifies both the strengths and weaknesses of the article, and offers concrete suggestions for improvement. A good reviewer justifies the review conclusions.
Reacting to reviewers’ comments
Scientific journal articles undergo a peer-review, which means that they are independently reviewed by two or more experts. These experts make a recommendation to the journal editor on acceptance or rejection. Quite often, even if later accepted for publication, some changes may be required, which can be minor or even major. In order to promote unbiased critique, typically peer-reviews are independent and blind, which means that the reviewers know neither the authors’ identity, nor each other.
Typically, articles are not accepted for publication exactly in the same state as they are initially submitted, but reviewers require some changes. Obtaining critical comments is a good thing, which means that you have a chance for publication — this is the time for work and analysis! The feedback may initially seem harsh, however, do not get depressed. Be analytical and start working. It may be sensible to ask colleagues to join analysing the critique. You may be closer to acceptance than you first think. If you have chosen the right journal, you have good chances for publication, once you take the effort and react to the given feedback.
It is important to carefully analyse what the feedback really means. Any requirements that initially seem extensive may in practice require relatively small changes to the article. Often you only need to adjust the way the “story” is told.
Do react swiftly to the given feedback and acknowledge all the criticism. Should you wish not to change something, regardless of the critique, do justify this decision in the covering notes. Do provide a point-to-point response acknowledging all the reviewers’ comments indicating all the changes to the article, and justify if you did not change something. The purpose of the point-to-point response is to avoid the reviewers being forced to read the entire article again when checking your changes. Even though reviewers’ comments may be provided as 1-2 pages of A4 text, try to see what the issues they criticise are and separate them by using numbering or some other means. Also, if there are more than one reviewer, separate their comments. This will make it easier to manage your own responses. Look at the example below where a few examples are given on how to address the reviewer’s comments. Please note that the “point-to-point response” below is not from a single review, but is a collection from different types of articles.
- Description of research process criticised:
A descriptive paragraph has been added to the research process section (3.1) to clarify how the research was conducted. Also, a new figure (Figure 3) has been included.
- Page 6, line 126: which amount of adsorbent did you actually use? It is very important.
The amount of adsorbent used in the isotherm experiments varied from 25 mg/l to100 mg/l. The text has been modified to better highlight this (p.7, line 137).
- Better description of the interviewed companies
A minor revision has been made in Chapter 3 to better describe the interviewed companies. However, as the studied companies unfortunately wish to maintain a level of secrecy for business reasons, we have not been able to obtain the permission to reveal their real identities.
- There are different mistakes during the presentation of equation formulae or data. For instance, Co2 Nm3 or in paragraph 2.7 “100 00’’….
In paragraph 4.1 Results of the comparison for steam energy for figure 3, a line is used for NG, whereas for Figure 4 and Figure 5 a different one is used. It would be important to have homogeneity in the presentation in order to avoid confusion.
The above described mistakes have been rectified:
- CO2 has been changed to CO2 throughout the article
- 100 00 has been corrected to 100 000, see chapter 2.1.2 of the revised version
- NG lines have been homogenized in Figures 2, 3 and 4
- It would be better if the paper described the world-wide market of formic acid and its main use. It is not necessary to add a paragraph but a short description.
A new description has been added in section 2.1 to better describe the world-wide market of formic acid and its main uses.
- It would be better to separate the discussion from the conclusion.
A new Conclusions section has been included into the article
- The figures should be homogeneous concerning the style, otherwise the reader may get confused.
The figures have been corrected.
- Sometimes it is confusing/unclear how the author(s) have chosen the wording of different concepts/terms. For example, the distinction in “tactic” and “strategic” seems a little fuzzy to me.
The terms “tactical” and “strategic” have been replaced by “non-adaptive” and “adaptive” respectively. The terms used are explained in Table 1.
- Figure 3. The label does not indicate to which commercial antibody each set of data corresponds.
We have now included the information in the caption to the Figure to indicate the correspondence. In addition, the manufacturers are listed in the Methods part.
- The criticised statement in section 4 “it is logical…”
The criticised statement has been revised.
- Comma missing in reference Anderson 2004 on page 4
A comma has been added to the reference (Anderson, 2004).