Journal Editing

Assess a paper and make an editorial decision

Background

A primary role of an editor at a scientific journal is to evaluate incoming manuscripts to determine whether the study is appropriate for the journal, and the conclusions are generally supported by the data presented. If the decision is positive, the editor will find reviewers for the paper. The editor will also manage the peer review process, and write a response to the authors.

This job simulation focuses on the role of traditional editors that work on Open Access journals such as PLoS or eLife, where editors select papers based on the journal´s scope and are involved in decisions for both (1) assessing whether the manuscripts they receive should be sent out for peer-review, and (2) evaluating reviewers’ comments and authors’ responses in order to make a final decision on whether the manuscript is to be published.

Note: While traditional scientific journals play an important role in science publishing, more platforms are opening up for immediate publication (without scope and/or novelty suitability pre-screening) such is the case of PLoSONE, F1000, or BioArxiv. Transparent peer-review is also on the rise, such as or F1000, eLife, or EMBO Journal. In these types of open access platforms, the editor often doesn’t need to address the novelty or suitability of the article for the journal, instead the editor focuses on the soundness of the science – which, some argue, makes the publishing process less subjective.

The Process

Basic Stages of the Editorial 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 consult with an academic editor or the editorial board before making a decision.

More on the editorial processes and timelines for different PLoS journals:

The Exercise

Determine whether a paper is suitable for consideration in PLoS by carefully considering the manuscript, and the journal scope and criteria. Write a recommendation that includes and broad assessment of the paper, and a recommendation of whether the manuscript should reviewed or rejected, and suggest reviewers if applicable. Write a final decision letter to the authors.

For this exercise, you are an editor at PLoS and part of a team evaluating papers for publication. You are also responsible for managing and responding to reviewers and authors throughout the revision and publication process.

Task 1: Editorial decision
Triage this article from F1000 research. Read the manuscript and assess whether it would be considered for full review. Take into account both the journal’s scope and triage guidelines (provided below). These guidelines are meant to facilitate the final editorial decision on the publication.

  1. Journal Publication Scope (can be found on the journal’s website)
  2. Use the adapted guidelines for manuscript assessment for PLoS Journals to address the following points:
    • Research Question
    • Methods
    • Main results
    • Novelty
    • Summary
    • Pros
    • Cons
    • Concerns
    • Relevant References (it may be helpful to include abstracts sometimes)
    • Recommendation (options might include Review / Consult with an Academic editor / editorially reject)
    • Academic Editor / Reviewer suggestions

If you wish, you can select a different article from F1000 or Bioarxiv as your test manuscript.

If your decision is to reject, skip to Task 3.

NOTE: This task is routinely included as part of job interviews for editorial positions, where candidates will be given two manuscripts, one within the field of expertise, and one outside the field of expertise. Ideally this task should take you no longer than one hour, spend a maximum of two hours.

Task 2: Peer review decision
Part 1: Identify 2-4 reviewers and/or an academic editor.

  1. The reviewers must possess the technical expertise to thoroughly assess the methods as well as the conclusions. It may be necessary to invite reviewers with distinct expertise to consider different parts of the manuscript.
  2. For this simulation in which you are an editor for PLoS, suggest an academic editor who is a leader in this field. PLoS is a journal that consults an academic editor.
  3. Include your reasons for your suggestions

Part 2: Make a decision after reading reviewers’ comments

  1. Read Reviewer’s 1 & 2 comments and recommendations
  2. Make a decision on whether the paper should be accepted for publication or not based on the F1000 Peer Review Guidelines

DECISIONS: Accept, minor revisions, major revisions, reject

Task 3: Final editorial decision and letter to the authors
Following from the decisions made in Tasks 1 and 2, and regardless of your decision from Task 2, write a letter to the authors

  1. Provide the decision: accepted, minor revisions required, major revisions required, rejected
  2. If relevant, refer to the comments from the Academic Editor or the reviewers
  3. In the case of revisions:
    • Articulate specifically what revisions are necessary for reconsideration. This may be experimental requirements or editing.
    • be sure to reconcile conflicting reviewer comments by noting the inconsistency and clarifying for the author what you are asking of them.

The Deliverable

Instructions

For Task 1 – provide a list that addresses each point. Length: no more than 2-3 sentences per point listed in the task above.

For Task 2 – provide reviewer and academic editor suggestions and your reasons for selecting them.

For Task 3 – write the final decision letter to the authors based on reviewers’ comments. Length: 3-4 paragraphs. It may be useful to read other editorial decision letters from eLife papers. The letter should include:

  • Summary of the manuscript
  • Essential revisions needed per reviewers’ requests
  • State whether the paper needs to go back to reviewers (if they have requested so because of major revisions) or if it will be accepted once revisions are addressed.

Resources

General resources to get you started:

Skills

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 authors: Elena Minones, PhD and Liz Silva, PhD
Simulation vetted by professionals from science journals and academic journals