How to publish a paper in a scientific journal

Former medical scientist and Chief Executive of the UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) Sir Mark Walport said; “Science is not finished until it is communicated”.

One of the principal ways in which scientific advances and the latest research is shared with the wider-scientific community is through peer-reviewed papers, published in scientific journals.

Having your first paper published is a proud moment for any scientist and the pride of contributing to a paper remains throughout a research career.

But how do you go about getting a paper published? We sat down with Publishing Editor Alison Paskins from Cambridge University Press to ask about the process for getting papers published in Quantitative Plant Biology.

“Quantitative Plant Biology (QPB) aims to enhance our quantitative understanding of how plants function from a physiological and evolutionary perspective.

QPB covers all biological scales (from molecular through cellular and organismal to populations) and from a wide range of sources (from lab to field), and also welcomes the submission of quantitative studies involving citizen science.

We wanted to make QPB fully open access, which means all the papers we publish are available online, free-of-charge.

As much as we at the Press would like to make open access publication free to all authors, this is impossible – in order to keep open access journals viable and high-quality, they rely on article processing charges, as they don’t charge a subscription to access the research.

There are various hidden costs associated with publishing which need to be covered, such as editors’ honoraria, processing of papers through the submission site, typesetting and copyediting of papers, hosting costs, and marketing activities.

Open access journals should still follow the same stringent peer review processes as their subscription journal counterparts. Therefore, in order to cover costs, an article processing charge of £2,045 applies to all accepted papers, but we have waiver processes and authors from over 1,000 institutions are entitled to free open access via our ‘Read and Publish’ agreements.

The scientific paper submission process

Anyone is welcome to submit a relevant paper to QPB.

Once you have written up your results (QPB’s own ‘Instructions for Authors’ gives more details on manuscript preparation requirements and article types), the process of submission to QPB is a fairly simple one.

  1. A paper is submitted online, via a portal – for Quantitative Plant Biology this is ‘ScholarOne’
  2. An ‘Editorial Admin Assistant’ will then complete an initial checklist to ensure that the submission meets our formatting requirements
  3. Once this is completed the ‘Editor-in-Chief’ will select an appropriate ‘Associate Editor’ to look after the paper
  4. The Associate Editor will then send the paper out for peer-review. We require a minimum of two reviews for each paper we publish
  5. With the reviews back, the Associate Editor will make a recommendation to the Editor-in-Chief on suitability for publication
  6. As the journals publication date approaches, the Editor-in-Chief will review all the papers and all the recommendations, before making a final decision on which papers to publish
  7. Throughout stages 5 and 6, the paper could go back to the authors for a series of revisions
  8. With these complete, the Editorial Admin Assistant will complete the final production checklist and the article will be passed to the Production Team for typesetting and copyediting

Peer-review and revisions

The most difficult part of the paper publication process is finding reviewers, as often a large number of invitations need to be sent to receive just two completed reviews.

When a paper undergoes peer review, it is likely that some revisions will be asked for and it is very rare that a paper will be published in its original form, with no revisions at all.

As such, once a paper is submitted there are a range of possible outcomes:

  • Accept without any changes (acceptance) – The journal will publish the paper in its original form. This type of decision outcome is rare
  • Accept with minor revisions (acceptance) – The journal will publish the paper and asks the author to make small corrections. This is typically the best outcome that authors should hope for
  • Accept after major revisions (conditional acceptance) – The journal will publish the paper provided the authors make the changes suggested by the reviewers and/or editors. These changes could be for example structural issues that call for a significant reorganisation of the text or existing analysis of data/evidence is flawed and needs to be re-worked
  • Revise and resubmit (conditional rejection): The journal is willing to reconsider the paper in another round of decision making after the authors make major changes
  • Reject the paper (outright rejection): The journal will not publish the paper or reconsider it even if the authors make major revisions

How long it takes to go through this process varies from paper to paper, but as a target we aim for between 30-60 days from submission to acceptance, and then 4-6 weeks from receipt with our production teams to publication.

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