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How Journals Work - UPDATED


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Publishing the results of one’s research is an integral
part of the scientific process, yet scholarly journals are
often seen as black boxes by researchers. What happens to a
paper after it is submitted? Who is deciding on its fate?
What is the role of the journal editor and the editorial
office? How does the peer-review process work, and are its
core principles still relevant in today’s changing
publishing landscape? In this talk, I will endeavor to
discuss these and other aspects of scientific publishing
from a journal editor’s perspective, and I’ll share my
experience going from the research lab to the “other side”
of scientific publishing.

(Previous Version of this talk also online in slideshare. Few updates on current role of scholarly journal & alternative peer-review models)

Published in: Science
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How Journals Work - UPDATED

  1. 1. A view (and a career) from the other side of scientific publishing JOURNAL EDITOR Matteo Cavalleri – Editor-in-Chief International Journal of Quantum Chemistry John Wiley & sons, inc.
  2. 2. How do journals work? THE YOUNG SCIENTISTS’ VIEW?
  3. 3. How do journals work? THE SENIOR SCIENTISTS’ VIEW? By Nick Kim (; used with permission
  4. 4. Why researchers publish? • Fame • Recognition by peers • Fortune • Promotions • Grant applications • Establish precedence • Responsibility • Taxpayer-funded research • Making your research public • “If your research does not generate papers, it might just as well not have been done.” – George Whitesides • Papers provide the shoulders that others can stand on BEYOND PUBLISH OR PERISH
  5. 5. Why journals? TRADITIONAL ROLE VS. TODAY -REGISTRATION: Recording author precedence and merit -VALIDATION: Quality control via peer-review -DISSEMINATION: Sharing results and methods -ARCHIVING: Maintaining records of publication And more recently: -SEARCH & NAVIGATION: Increasing the discoverability
  6. 6. How do journals work? THE PEER-REVIEW
  7. 7. What is the peer-review process?SINCE 1665, TOUCHSTONE OF THE SCIENTIFIC METHOD “Peer review is the critical assessment of manuscripts submitted to journals by experts who are not part of the editorial staff”-International Committee of Medical Journals Editors WHAT IT CANNOT DO (*)WHAT IT SHOULD DO -Filter out bad/uninteresting work -Make as sure as possible the work is reported correctly -Make sure results are interpreted correctly, and convincingly -Improve the quality of publication -Detect fabrication -Prevent duplicate publication -Pick the most interesting papers -Ensure quality -Ensure the article is right for the journal (*) AUTOMATICALLY
  8. 8. What is the peer-review process?SINCE 1665, TOUCHSTONE OF THE SCIENTIFIC METHOD “It seems paradoxical that scientific research, in many ways one of the most questioning and skeptical of human activities, should be dependent on personal trust. The fact is that without trust the research enterprises could not function” - Arnold S. Relman WHAT IT CANNOT DO (*)WHAT IT SHOULD DO -Filter out bad/uninteresting work -Make as sure as possible the work is reported correctly -Make sure results are interpreted correctly, and convincingly -Improve the quality of publication -Detect fabrication -Prevent duplicate publication -Pick the most interesting papers -Ensure quality -Ensure the article is right for the journal (*) AUTOMATICALLY
  9. 9. Peer-review is always evolvingPEER-REVIEW TYPES -ANONYMOUS: Most common -DOUBLE BLIND: Medical journals -OPEN: Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics -SIGNED: Non-anonymous referees, BMJ -TECHNICAL PEER-REVIEW ONLY: PLoS One, Scientific Reports, PeerJ,… -MIX OF THE ABOVE: Independent/Interactive, “Frontiers In”, EMBO… -NONE: Evaluation by community post-publication, arXiv, F1000,… -INDIPENDENT FROM JOURNAL: Rubiq, Peerage of Science
  10. 10. How do journals work? THE PEER-REVIEW
  11. 11. What editors look for? INSIDE PRE-SCREENING MOST JOURNALS -Novelty -Importance (in specific field / in related disciplines) -Interest ALL JOURNALS -Scope -Format (Communication, full paper, review…) -Understandability Editors are not always qualified to evaluate the technical merits of manuscripts. This is the job of the referees.
  12. 12. This how referees are chosenPART SCIENCE & PART ART -Editors’ knowledge & experience -From related papers: - cited manuscripts - literature search -Additional research: - conference/lab visits - web search (good ‘ol Google) -Reviewer database: - keywords, interest, history…
  13. 13. Referees suggestions are welcomePREFERRED & NOT-PREFERRED REFEREES LIST -Not just the big names, please -No collaborators, previous advisors, grant co-applicants, … -Tell us about circumstances that may prevent impartial review: - close competitors, who may “scoop” you - other conflicts …within reason…
  14. 14. The cover letter is important NO COVER LETTER = WASTED OPPORTUNITY THERE IS MORE -Disclose conflicts of interest -List related papers in press, submitted- prepare to provide copies! -Provide reviewers suggestions EXPLAIN TO THE EDITOR -Why work is significant -What is the major advance -What is new, better on previous works -Why the journal is the right on for work The cover letter should take shape from the paper’s intro & conclusion TIP: Get the journal/editor’s names right! Especially if not 1st choice…
  15. 15. Accept, Reject or Revise? THE EDITOR’S JOB -REJECTION - Without external referee reports (Editor) - Based on reports -REVISION - Reconsideration or resubmission possible after major revisions -ACCEPTANCE - Without changes (rare) - With minor changes
  16. 16. Beyond peer-review FROM PAPERS TO JOURNALS Author Correction Early View Online Publication Issue Build and checking Issue Publishing and Distribution TypesettingSubmission Peer review Copy-editing Peer Review Article Publishing (Early View) Issue Publishing
  17. 17. Publishing is changing, Right nowONLINE & MOBILE RULES -Print is on the way out -EarlyViews, ASAP instead of issues -DOI is more important than page numbers -Read papers anytime, anywhere…online -Get real data, enriched contents, supplementary information, videos… -Central stores, personalized journals,… …could create new roles in science publishing…
  18. 18. Publishing is changing, Right nowNEW WAYS TO FIND PAPERS -Papers discovered through alerts & searches of keywords, structures, … not issues -News sites –, … -Discussion sites, forum, Nature Network, Twitter & social media -Paper commenting; e.g. PloS One -Less use of issues, more Google Scholar, WoS, … -New ways to discuss and evaluate work. Impact Factor on the way out? -Conferences, Meetings,…
  19. 19. Models of editorial office IN-HOUSE VS. EXTERNAL EDITORS EXTERNAL EDITORS …all ACS & Elsevier titles, some RCS, most Wiley journals… IN-HOUSE EDITORS …+ PRL, PRB, some RSC (PCCP), some IOP titles (NJP, JP:CM)…
  20. 20. Models of editorial office IN-HOUSE VS. EXTERNAL EDITORS EXTERNAL EDITORSIN-HOUSE EDITORS Work full time on journal – can dedicate more time and resources on new developments General view Have own research group Expert in specific field BOTH: peer-review, decision making, dealing with appeals, commissioning, conference participation and lab visits, writing news stories, contributing to “input” marketing …
  21. 21. In-house editor is a career for PhDsTYPICAL BACKGROUND: ME IJQC, October 2011 Most editors are PhD-trained scientists… …often with PostDoc experience. Own research experience is invaluable!
  22. 22. In-house editor is a career for PhDsA REAL CAREER IJQC, October 2011 Editorial Trainee  Editor physica status solidi  Associate Editor J. Pol. Sci.:Pol. Phys.  Editor-in-Chief Int. J. Quantum Chem.  World Dominance?
  23. 23. Types of editors NOT JUST PEER-REVIEW PEER-REVIEW EDITOR -Scientific background -Manages peer-review, makes decision -Commissions content TECHNICAL/COPY EDITOR -Scientific backgrounds -Handles accepted papers -Copy edits, ensures best presentation of content to the public -Eye for details, passion for language
  24. 24. Other roles for scientists in publishingJOURNALS, BOOKS & WEB IN JOURNALS -Publishing Editor (portfolio of titles, budgets, strategy, not involved in science) -Editor of articles for broad audience, written by specialists (Nature’s News & Views,..) -Science journalist (works as freelancer) IN BOOK & THE WEB -Book Commissioning Editor -Web portal Editor (,,…) Plus marketing, adverting and sales (Science education less crucial)
  25. 25. Editor’s career pros & cons WHAT’S HOT & WHAT’S NOT …AND WHAT I WOULD DO WITHOUT -Journal/process development can be slow and frustrating -Angry authors are difficult to deal with -Fraud/Ethical violations are not uncommon and very exasperating! -Sometimes I miss coding, hacking hardware (being a “lab-rat”) -Career progression after Editor-in-Chief not easy WHAT I LOVE… -It’s a career at the “center of science” -Entrusted the knowledge of entire disciplines -Bird-eye view over science, see best results 1st! -Contact with the scientific community -Add & participate at the scientific debate and progress -Plenty of (international) travel -Real possibility of professional growth
  26. 26. What is a good editor made of?PASSION & SKILLS … BUT YOU WON’T LOVE IT IF YOU … -love being in the lab and do research -enjoy being the world expert in a specific subject -don’t like changing topics several time a day -hated writing your thesis IT MAY BE THE JOB FOR YOU IF YOU … -are passionate for science communication -recognize the importance of publishing in the scientific process -are curious about a broad range of topics & disciplines -know the art of diplomacy and have people skills -have analytical, and decision-making skills -are creative, with an eye for detail (and the “next big thing”) ENGLISH IS THE LANGUAGE OF SCIENCE -Publishing not restricted to native speakers anymore -BUT, you need to be fluent in communicating science with it
  27. 27. Wiley is wonderful, really, … …BUT OTHER PLACES ARE AVAILABLE -Peer-review editors wanted: -Other roles: and more…
  28. 28. Questions? Complaints? MCAVALLERI@WILEY.COM & ON TWITTER: PHYSICSTEO Find IJQC at
  29. 29. For further reading SEE ALSO: WWW.SLIDESHARE.NET/MCAVALLERI • Peer review • I Hames, Peer Review and Manuscript Management in Scientific Journals, 2007 • E Wager, F Godlee, T Jefferson, How to Survive Peer Review, 2002 • Sense About Science, Peer Review and the Acceptance of New Scientific Ideas ( • Nature’s Peer Review Debate ( • Advanced Materials “Guide for Authors” ( • M. Biagioli, Emergences, Volume 12, Number 1, 2002act Factor and h-index • JE Hirsch, PNAS 2005, 102(46), 16569 (DOI: 10.1073/pnas.0507655102) • J Bollen, H Van de Sompel, A Hagberg, R Chute, PLoS ONE 2009 4(6): e6022. (DOI:10.1371/journal.pone.0006022) • ISI Web of Knowledge ( • Journal Citation Reports ( tion_reports) • Publishing ethics • EuCheMS Ethical Guidelines for Publication in Journals and Reviews ( • ACS Ethical Guidelines ( • COPE – the Committee on Publishing Ethics ( • Preparing the manuscript • AM Coghill, LR Garson, ACS Style Guide, 3rd edition, 2006 • GM Whitesides, “Writing a Paper” Adv. Mater. 2004, 16, 1375 (DOI: 10.1002/adma.200400767) • M. Rolandi, K.Cheng, S. Perez-Kriz, Adv. Mater. 2011, 38, 4343 (DOI: 10.1002/adma.201102518) • Advanced Materials “Guide for Authors” ( • Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, 2003