Negotiating The Article Review Process: Seeing Your Work Into Print

The advice below was written by Steven Wojtal, Oberlin College, for the 2004 Preparing for an Academic Career in the Geosciences Workshop.

Jump down to General advice * How do you know when a manuscript is ready for submission? * Preparing manuscripts: some general comments * Some common shortcomings that you should avoid * Rejections * Revising a manuscript in light of comments from reviewers * Communication is the key

General advice

  • Set aside a regular time without interruptions for writing. The more you write, the easier it is to write.
  • Write, and then continually revise and update, outlines.
  • Start writing as you collect and analyze data. Writing can help you to identify coherence or lack of coherence in a set of observations, and it can help you enumerate a framework for inferences.
  • Most active researchers try to have different projects at different stages of completion at any time. This can help you to take advantage of brief periods you have between classes, meetings, etc. You might, for example, be able to finish revising a figure in a found hour whereas an hour is insufficient to begin writing or revising text.

How do you know when a manuscript is ready for submission?

  • No work is flawless; no manuscript is perfect. Holding yourself to a standard of perfection will ensure that your work is never ready for submission.
  • Your work is at a stage appropriate for publication when
    • You have gotten good feedback on an oral presentation at a professional meeting or other forum.
    • You have direct corroboration or contradiction of an important result in your field.
    • You have significant new data or a significant new interpretation to report.
  • Given that these are admittedly subjective criteria, ask an advisor or a colleague to read your written work and use their feedback to help you to assess the status of your work.

Preparing manuscripts: some general comments

  • Write with a specific journal or other outlet in mind.
  • Aim for substantive contributions, not the smallest publishable units.
  • Separate observations from inferences. Reviewers are more likely to recommend your work for 'revision and resubmission' or 'publication after major/minor revision' instead of outright 'rejection' if they recognize that the manuscript contains significant new data. Editors rely upon those recommendations to make their judgments, but make their own assessments on similar criteria.
  • Write to convince an imagined adversarial reader; try to anticipate and answer their criticisms.
  • Introduction and Discussion sections are key elements in successful articles. Try to use the Introduction to situate your approach, data, or analysis. Try to use the Discussion to explain fully the relevance of your approach, data, or analysis and results.
  • Write a cover letter to accompany your submission in which you situate your argument within the field and highlight your conclusions. The letter probably should not exceed two pages, but it should be long enough to help the editor see the relevance of your work and to aid them in choosing appropriate reviewers for it.

Some common shortcomings that you should avoid

  • Problem: The manuscript does not fit the content or style of the journal to which the author has submitted it.

    Solution: Select a journal that is appropriate for the work you intend to report. Then read and adhere to the Guidelines for Authors.
  • Problems: There are logical flaws or rhetorical leaps in the text. Critical arguments appear too late in the text, or figures are cited out of order. New observations, data, or interpretations appear in the Summary or Conclusion sections.

    Solution: Let the manuscript sit for a while (a few days to a few weeks) before your final edit for content. In this way, you can often recognize problems in organization, logical flaws, rhetorical leaps, mixing of observations and inference, etc. that were not apparent during the initial writing or as you cut and pasted together portions of the manuscript.
  • Problem: There are annoying problems such as missing figures, incorrectly cited references, figures not cited, spelling errors, etc. Some reviewers are naturally curmudgeonly, but many others only become curmudgeons as they work through a manuscript.

    Solution: Check for conformity between text and figures, and make sure that you check spelling after the final edit.
  • Problem: There are so many citations that the manuscript reads like a dissertation or masters thesis discussing the literature.

    Solution: Be generous in citing other work, but stick to the critical references.


  • Nearly everyone has had one or more of their submissions rejected.
  • Remember that it is the manuscript (not you and not necessarily the work) that has been rejected.
  • The writing, the science, or both may not meet the standards of the journal. You can only learn what is the problem by reading the reviews.
  • Perseverance can pay dividends.
  • Remember the story of the Vine-Matthews(-Morley) hypothesis.

Revising a manuscript in light of comments from reviewers

  • Read reviewer's comments with an open mind. If necessary, take the few days or weeks required to cool down before you can do this.
  • Take reviewer's and editor's comments into account in revising, but remember that you need not make every change requested by the reviewers or the editor.
  • When returning a manuscript, write a cover letter that details what changes you have made:
    • Explain what changes (requested or not) you have made and why.
    • Explain what requested changes you have not made and why you have not made them.

Communication is the key

  • Strive to communicate as clearly as possible in your writing—keep the exposition simple.
  • Make sure that your figures or images convey information critical to moving your argument forward.
  • Use your cover letter to facilitate communication with the editor.
  • In submitting a revised manuscript, you have an opportunity to answer criticisms and therefore 'communicate' with the reviewers.