Preparing Manuscripts for Peer Review: An Exercise in Tedium


The manuscript is finished. I have even gone through the trouble of styling the whole thing in APA format in its most recent edition, writing a helpful abstract/precis, and listing 5-7 keywords. I have something that I am proud of--a product that makes a fine representative of the months I have spent working on it.

But I'm not finished yet. As it stands, I have but one more digital file on my computer. In order to make my research public, I have to submit it to a journal for review. And there are thousands of journals. 

The first step is to find a suitable journal for my work. Once I find a suitable journal, I will be asked to prepare your manuscript according to their author guidelines. This is where the tedium continues (styling it was tedious enough).

Here is what happened just recently with an article I co-authored with several colleagues. As principal investigator and corresponding author, I was responsible for getting the manuscript into its final form and preparing it for review. I found what seemed to be the perfect journal for it, and looked at the author guidelines. I found the following requests:

  • Times New Roman, 12-pt font, double spacing throughout (excellent, as this only required that I double-space the manuscript)
  • APA-style references, citations, and headings and seriation (7th edition). I double-checked to see if what they understood to be APA 7th edition was indeed APA 7th edition, as it is not always the case. They did, so I got to skip this, too.
  • An abstract of no more than 150 words. Oops, my abstract was 220, so I revised it down to 147 words.
  • Submit a blinded manuscript (without author names) AND a complete manuscript with author names, labeled appropriately. This means duplicating the file and deleting the cover page on one of them, labeling it "Blind". In addition to the many files for data, references, analysis, and literature review, I now have multiple versions of the manuscript itself.
  • Use of they/them pronouns accepted. This is becoming more and more the case. Years ago when this convention was just beginning, some journals asked for he/him/she/her or they/them, and the author would have to go through the manuscript and make 1,000 little changes, always missing a few or forgetting to change the rest of sentence.
  • English spelling used throughout (realise instead of realize, etc.). Hmm... journals in the UK and sometimes South Africa, Australia, and other English-speaking countries have their conventions of speech. As an American author who speaks and writes in English, I don't know offhand which words are spelled differently in British English. So I do an internet search. Behaviour, paediatric, etc. I do my best.
  • Single high commas for quotations, and double high commas for quotations within quotations. Yes, it is true. I said it is tedious.
  • And so on.
Three hours later, my manuscript is now ready for submission. This requires that I make a user profile with the journal's submission software. I already have a profile with the software, so I log in. My username is not recognized. I try another one. And another. I submit my e-mail to change my username, and I am told that an e-mail has been sent to authenticate the request. But I don't get an authentication e-mail. I check spam, etc., and find something else to do for 15 minutes while I wait. I check the fruit fly trap I set up in my office for the mysterious new problem (which I suspect has been caused by my office neighbour [sic]) Still no e-mail. So I create a new profile. The system warns me not to create more profiles. But soon I'm in!

I have to copy/paste my abstract, title, and keywords. I have to list the number of figures and tables, and check various boxes as to the honesty and integrity of the submission. I upload the versions of the manuscript and any other materials the journal requires. I have uploaded as many as five separate documents before, but this one requires only two. 

I search for keywords in their database and am disappointed by how vague they are. I decide if I'm willing to serve as a reviewer for future articles on related themes. I get a dozen requests every month already, so I decline. Copyright checks and initials. I create profiles for each of my co-authors and await their confirmations. And so on. Then I get an e-mail saying that everything is in order, and I review the manuscript and submit it.

The next day I get an e-mail from the editor who is apologetic that the article is too far outside the bounds of the journal's aims and scope. I thank the editor by not responding with a series of clarifying questions. Then I search for another journal and begin the process again.