Published on November 16th, 20121
The Review Process
Imagine you have written a paper, presented it at seminars, rewritten it, presented it at conferences, rewritten it again, and corrected the language. You are now ready to submit your work to a journal.
Most serious social scientists will sooner or later encounter what is known as the review process. First, it is important that what you have written is relevant for the journal. This can be checked by looking at previous issues of that journal. Have any previous articles dealt with the same topic that you have investigated?
First, you will submit your work according to the guidelines of the journal in question. There are mainly two versions of this task: (a) to email it directly to the editor; or (b) to submit it using an online website for article submission. If the latter is the case, make sure you follow the instructions carefully. In both cases, it is important that you remove any references to your own name in the manuscript.
After submission, your paper will fall into the hands of the editorial staff who will assign it to an editor or the editor (depending on the size of the journal). They will make one out of two decisions: (a) your paper is desk rejected, which is more likely the larger and prestigious the journal is; or (b) sent out to referees. If the latter is the case, that is a very positive thing. Most journals have a so-called double blinded review process. This means that neither the author nor the referees know the names of each other. However, the referees still can Google your article and find your name (for example if you have presented it at a conference). This is not a major problem for the process.
The referees are usually experts in the relevant field. It can be one, two, three, or several referees. Their task is to write a referee report that the editor receives. It is the editor that decides the future luck of your submitted article, based on the referees’ reports. Now your paper has four possible outcomes: (a) rejection, which implies that you must fold, or take into account the referee’s report, rewrite the paper and find a new journal; (b) major revision, which means that is potentially publishable, yet needs major rewriting following the referee’s suggestions; (c) minor revision, it is publishable pending on minor revisions according to the reports; or (d) acceptance, which means that it is ready to be publish, and only language editing remains.
If you get a major or a minor revision you have to go through the review process again. Often, your manuscript will be sent to the same referees, in other cases it can be different referees. Some of the largest journals operate with several rounds of different referees.
Your tasks are not only to write a solid research manuscript and adhere to the suggestions given by the referees and the editor. It is also important that you write solid letters to the referees/editor where you explain the changes made. Here it is of uttermost importance to be humble and polite.