Journal Editing: Triaging Papers


Editors at scientific journals receive an abundance of paper submissions and must be able to quickly assess and critique the papers. In the triage process, editors aim to determine whether the paper is a fit for the journal’s scope, and whether the conclusions are generally supported by the data presented.

In editorial meetings, editors receive a list of abstracts and must make an initial assessment of each study’s scope and potential impact on the field. Following a more complete reading of the papers, those with the highest potential for publication are moved forward into the peer review process. This job simulation focuses on the editorial triage and critique process.

The Process

  1. First decision or initial triage: Papers submitted to a scientific journal will be assessed for suitability taking into account the scope and guidelines of the given journal.
  2. Editors will then decide whether a manuscript will be sent out for peer-review or not. Professional editors may decide to consult academic editors, who are part of the editorial board of some journals and are experts in the specific field.
  3. Peer review: If the editors consider the work to be suitable for further consideration, they will identify experts on the field to anonymously peer-review the manuscript.
  4. Final decision: The editors will evaluate and consider the reviews. If need be, they may follow up with the reviewers or consult the editorial board before making a decision.

The Exercise

Critique an article from an editor’s perspective and prepare your summary and arguments for the editorial team meeting. Read an entire volume of your journal of choice. No need to read carefully, but focus on the abstract. Select the best and worst papers from the journal and write your critiques. For this exercise, you are an editorial intern and part of a team evaluating papers for publication. You will not respond to authors.

Task 1: Select a journal and define your selection criteria

Step 1 from the process above. Choose a journal you’re interested in and read through the abstracts quickly. Identify the advance, or key information on which you will base your decision, and decide whether you would read the entire paper. Define the criteria on which you will make a decision on the best and worst paper from the journal.

Note: This task has been included as part of job interviews for editorial positions, and candidates are asked to come up with their own criteria. Ideally this task should take you no longer than one hour. Spend a maximum of two hours.

Task 2:  Write your critique for the papers in a quick triage

For this task, write your decision to consider the paper for review or not (or maybe) and write your critique based on the criteria you defined.

Task 3:  Determine the best and worst papers from the journal

Using your critique from task 2, select a best and worst paper from the journal. Read the papers in 20 minutes or less and form your argument on whether each paper would be a good fit for the journal and audience and why.

The Deliverable

Task 1 – list of selection criteria

Task 2 – the triage decision and critiques can be paragraph or bullet form as the prompt is that you will share your critique with the editorial team.

Task 3 – your critique of why the papers you selected were the worst and best


We suggest looking up the editorial criteria and process for your journal of choice. Here are examples to get you started.

Skills used to perform this task:

  • Ability to evaluate significance and relevance of scientific findings
  • Critical thinking and analysis
  • Knowledge of specific fields within science
  • Clear and concise written communication
  • Efficient time management

Skills used in the Scientific Journal Editing field:

  • Editing
  • Interpersonal skills in written communication with the authors and reviewers
  • Team work – collaboration with authors and reviewers

Additional tasks

A scientific journal editor may also perform these tasks:

    • Triage and critique papers
    • Edit review pieces
    • Write layman’s terms abstracts or pieces for the journal’s blog or magazine
    • Attend conferences and disseminate the journal’s scope and policies
    • Social media outreach

Science outreach and communication

You are viewing a job simulation. To get started, set up SMART Goals to perform this simulation in a reasonable timeline. If you have completed the task, fill out the Self-Reflection Sheet.

Simulation author: Audra Van Wart, PhD, Director of Education and Training at Virginia Tech and former associate scientific editor of Neuron.