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Understanding How Editors Think to Increase Your Chances of Publication

You can increase your chances of publication in peer reviewed journals if you understand how editors think. Here we provide some very candid revelations from one editorial expert who regularly connects with editors of today’s leading journals.

As I am a publishing consultant who only some years ago moved out of academic research, I can vividly remember my illusionary perception of what a journal editor was like. Having never properly engaged with any editors, I maintained an image of a headmistress-looking editor sitting at an excessively large desk, aggressively throwing substandard manuscripts into a wastepaper bin with an attached basketball hoop. Of course, this is far from reality. Or is it? Now that I work at Springer Nature, I have learned that, actually, editors are normal people like you and me. Editors are people too! Let’s explore this and other revelations and consider how we can learn from them.

Editors have aspirations

Just like researchers, editors have aspirations and standards for their work. Editors want the best for their journals. They want the best content. Editors want their journals to be a meaningful and useful resource for the communities that they serve. Therefore, what goes into the journal is of paramount importance to them. An editor wants content that will help increase relevance, quality, research impact, and journal metrics, like impact factor (Clarivate) or quartile score (Scopus).

In addition to being aspirational, editors are also very motivated. In a 2018 Springer Nature survey of over 5,000 editors, we found that 72% of them feel very or quite motivated in their role. It is important to have this in mind when submitting your manuscript to a journal. Editors love it when you talk to them about their journal. That’s why you should discuss why editors should consider your paper as a good fit for their journal when putting together your cover letter and making your submission.

Nota bene: Lots of authors don’t think to edit their cover letters when submitting papers from one journal to another - after rejection, for example. Don’t make that basic mistake! I recommend studying the aims and scope of a target journal to establish what is most important to the editor. With that information in hand, you should be able to help editors understand:

  • The importance of your research to their journal’s readership.
  • How your manuscript will make a positive contribution to their journal - and therefore be relevant, read, and cited by others.

Don’t write that cover letter just yet. We have more guidance on this in the next section.

Editors are super busy

As is the case with researchers, editors are also extremely pushed for time. They might also be active researchers, editing and managing a journal alongside a neverending list of research tasks.

In the same 2018 Springer Nature survey of over 5,000 editors, we found that editors on average spend only 2.5 hours on editorial tasks each week!

It is tempting to imagine that your editor will spend all day reading through manuscripts, but this is far from the truth. Editors really only spend a small portion of their week looking at submissions. They have a wide range of other duties that can include budgeting, hiring, participation in meetings, production-related discussions, as well as their own potential research and teaching work.

I recommend writing a concise and clear cover letter with your submission. This cover letter should only be one page and briefly highlight:

  • (1) Why your study needed to be done.
  • (2) What your aims are.
  • (3) What your key findings are.
  • (4) Why your work is important for their readership.

Editors spend a lot of energy - and need to conserve it where possible

The conservation of energy has been a critical part of our human evolution. We naturally want to take the easiest paths in life. Or is it just me? Why am I bringing this up?

Editors are not always willing to spend a whole day trying to interpret your manuscript. Even if they had the time, it is more than likely that your work is simply not worth that much of a time investment. Make reviewing your manuscript an easy experience for your editor:

  • Use simple and clear English.
  • Use short sentences (20 words max).
  • Apply their journal’s formatting. Editors will be used to this and so it will be quicker and easier for them to evaluate your manuscript effectively and fast.
  • Make it easy and obvious to navigate between text and figures. Number everything in sequence and correctly.
  • Use descriptive figure captions that explain why you did the experiment, key trends, and your interpretation of the trends. Make sure your figure captions are standalone so that these can be easily understood out of context from the rest of the paper.

Editors like to be recognized - by name

Picture the scene: Whenever I receive an email that starts with ‘Dear colleague’ or ‘Dear researcher’, I am immediately disengaged. This feels so impersonal and cold.

People love hearing their own names. Please never write to an editor as ‘Dear editor-in-chief’. Use their name to show you know who they are as an individual! “A person’s name is to that person, the sweetest, most important sound in any language” is a quote from self-help author Dale Carnegie. He is spot on. This is why when politicians answer questions from members of the public you will hear them repeat back that person’s name a number of times when talking to them. They’ve been trained to do this.

This might take a little research. Dig around on the journal website to find out the name and affiliation of the relevant editor.

This is a good way to make sure your letters and emails are as personal as possible to make that connection and give your paper the highest possible chance of acceptance.

Editors have their own way of doing things

Respect that we all have our own preferences. Use all of the information on a journal website to learn what the journal expects from author submissions.

I recommend reading the aims and scope, formatting guidelines, and all other journal policies before submission. The editor will see and truly appreciate that you have taken time to learn all of these requirements for their journal.

Final Thoughts

Making a connection with journal editors - and providing high quality, relevant research for their journals - are the keys to publication success.

Let AJE’s staff of editorial experts help you succeed through our English-language editing, manuscript formatting, and journal recommendation services. AJE’s Free Journal Cover Letter Writing Guide and template can help you effectively connect with editors and get your paper published. Download our writing guide and template here.

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