On-line guide to scientific publication


Initial planning

Producing the outline

Producing the manuscript

Finishing touches

Submitting the manuscript

The refereeing and publishing process

The refereeing and publishing process
Responding to comments from referees | The publication process

Responding to comments from referees

Most journals will send manuscripts to at least two respected workers in the field in which you are writing.  It is their role to examine your work critically and compare it with the quality they expect to read in scientific journals.  They will comment on all issues which need to be addressed to bring your paper up to that standard.  That means that when you receive comments back from the editor it can appear as though they have been picking at every small part of your work and not praising you enough.  But while praise is often given it is usually dealt in small rations.  If you need a pat on the back then look for it from your boss not the referees. 

It is not pleasant for anyone to receive criticism about their work and it can be particularly difficult if this is your first paper.  But, don't be upset.  Remember it is the job of the referee to make sure that only the best papers are published so they are almost certainly going to find some aspects of your manuscript that they don't agree with.  In this regard it is worth remembering that over the last four years no paper has been accepted for publication in the International Forestry Review without some modification being asked for from referees.

If you can't stand criticism then the answer is simple: don't offer your paper to a journal.  Science publishing is a tough business and it is important to keep standards high.  If you paper is of poor quality it is important that it isn't published.  But if you want to see your work published you have to read carefully what the referees are telling you.  Look on this process as a positive part of your work.  After all, you are getting free advice from two experts! 

You will be expected to respond to each of the comments made by the referees when you send your revised manuscript back to the editor.  This doesn't mean that you necessarily have to agree with them but if you don't you will have to explain exactly why you don't and justify your views with clear arguments.  It is important to remember that editors do not take sides with the referees.  It is not a case of 'me against them'.  An editor is only interested in making sure that work of the highest standard is published in the journal.  So, don't be afraid to say you don't agree with the referees, as long as you can justify your view.

In some cases journal editors will put your paper in a certain category such as 'falls outside the subject of the journal', 'rejected', 'accepted with minor modifications'.  These are fairly self-explanatory but a covering note from the editor will explain what is required of you.  In other cases categorisation has been surpassed by a detailed letter from the editor specifying the changes that are required.  In both cases the author should be given clear instructions about what the next stage.  If you are unclear then get back to the editor and ask them to be more specific.

The publication process

Once you have made the necessary alternations to your text the next step is to re-submit your paper.  You should send a covering letter, or email, to the editor explaining in detail how you have responded to each of the comments made by the referees.  The editor will check these and determine whether you have done this to his/her satisfaction.  If not, you will be asked to rectify the situation.  However, if the editor is happy with your changes the paper will be passed for publication.

The length of time between acceptance for publication and seeing your paper in print can vary between 3 months to 2 years.  While this might seem like a long time it is the result of limited availability of publication space in journals.  Most journals give a rough idea of publication times on their websites.  If not, ask the editor.

And finally....

The publication process is a long and sometimes rocky road but it is hoped that this guide has offered you some assistance with each step.  Follow these recommendations and you will save yourself a great deal of extra work and improve your chances of your manuscript getting into the journal you are aiming for.

Good luck!

Supported by the Commonwealth Foundation