Skip to Main Content

How to publish a scientific paper: Editorial process

peer review flowchart

Image: Peer review, the nuts and bolts (Sense about Science, 2012), p. 3

Editorial and peer review process

The scientific journal editorial and peer review process (simplified)

1. Submission: The manuscript is submitted by the corresponding author, and receives a submission or tracking ID number.

2. Preliminary editorial screening: An editor reviews the cover letter, title and abstract to decide whether the paper is suitable for the journal.

  1. If the editor feels that the paper falls within the journal's aims and scope and is otherwise a good fit, the manuscript will be sent to peer reviewers.
  2. If the editor feels that the paper falls outside the journal's aims and scope or has other fundamental problems, the manuscript may be:
    1. recommended for transfer or submission to another journal, or
    2. rejected.

3. Peer review: The reviewers evaluate the paper and submit their reports to the editor. The reviewers will generally make one of three recommendations:

  1. Acceptance without changes (uncommon)
  2. Acceptance with revisions (minor or major)
  3. Rejection

4. Editorial decision: The editor weighs the peer review reports and makes a decision:

  1. Acceptance without changes: Uncommon
  2. Conditional acceptance: If revisions have been suggested by the reviewers, the paper is accepted pending the changes.
    1. Minor revisions (spelling, grammar, style): Once the changes are made the editor will check them and accept the paper if they are satisfactory.
    2. Major revisions: The revised manuscript must be submitted together with the authors' detailed response to each reviewer comment. The revised manuscript and the comment responses are sent to peer reviewers for re-review (see step 3).
  3. Return for resubmission: The paper is rejected in its current form, but the authors are invited to substantially revise it to address the peer reviewers' comments and resubmit. Generally a letter is required with the resubmission referencing the previous submission and offering a detailed response to each reviewer comment. The resubmission will then be sent for peer review (see step 3).
  4. Rejection: The journal will not publish the paper even if changes are made. At this point the authors are free to submit the paper to another journal.

Reasons for rejection

Common reasons for rejection

1. Lack of novelty/significance or flawed experimental design.

Solution: Do a thorough review of the literature to ensure that the research question has not been investigated before and that the experimental methods are appropriate. Librarians can help!

2. Paper does not match journal's aims and scope.

Solution: Find a journal whose scope better matches your paper; see Submitting the manuscript, or contact a librarian.

3. Issues with writing, spelling, grammar, and/or organization.

Solution: Have your paper reviewed by a scientific editor, more experienced colleague or mentor, or the Graduate Writing Center. Some publishers offer in-house editing services (for an additional fee). For writing and organizational tips see Writing the paper

4. Unclear or poorly designed figures and tables.

Solution: Make sure that the captions, legends and labels for all figures and tables are clear, and that data visualization best practices are used. See the Data Visualization guide

5. Lack of adherence to manuscript submission guidelines.

Solution: Carefully read and follow the submission guidelines; see Submitting the manuscript

6. Oversimilarity to or duplication of other published work.

Solution: Cite all sources, clearly indicate direct quotes, and avoid paraphrases that make only slight changes to the original.

Peer review resources

For more information