How to submit a journal article manuscript

What do journal Editors want?

Journal editors evaluate all manuscripts that are submitted to their journal, select those which they consider to be suitable for the journal to send for peer review, and consider peer reviewers’ advice to make a final decision about what gets published. Therefore, it is important to know how they make their decisions.

Journal editors are busy and usually have to make an initial decision on the suitability of a paper quickly. When first faced with a manuscript they usually look at the cover letter, abstract, conclusion and references. They use this to judge whether the submission is in scope for the journal and of sufficient impact. Editors always aim to evaluate the novelty and significance of a paper against the expectations of the readership and the impact of the journal.

Journal editors want to publish good quality research that is of interest to their readers

Your submission is more likely to be accepted if it:

  • Is within the scope of the journal
  • Is novel and describes research that advances the field (see the tip in the right column about “mega” or “sound research” journals)
  • Adds to an active research field
  • Is carefully prepared and formatted with all required sections present
  • Uses clear and concise language
  • Follows ethical standards
  • Your manuscript should relay a scholarly message that clearly explains the importance of the study.

Cover letters

A good cover letter can help to “sell” your manuscript to the journal editor. As well as introducing your work to the Editor you can also take this opportunity to explain why the manuscript will be of interest to a journal's readers, something which is always at the forefront of an Editor’s mind. As such it is worth spending time writing a coherent and persuasive cover letter.

The following is an example of a poor cover letter:

Dear Editor-in-Chief,

I am sending you our manuscript entitled “Article Title,” by Researcher et al. We would like to have the manuscript considered for publication in the Journal.

Please let me know of your decision at your earliest convenience.

With my best regards,

Sincerely yours,

A Researcher, Ph.D.

Instead, check to see whether the journal’s Instructions for Authors have any cover letter requirements (e.g. disclosures, statements, potential reviewers). Then, write a letter that explains why the editor would want to publish your manuscript. The following structure covers all the necessary points that need to be included.

  • If known, address the Editor who will be assessing your manuscript by name. Include the date of submission and the journal’s name. 
  • First paragraph: include the title of your manuscript and the type of manuscript it is (e.g. review, research, case study). Then briefly explain the background to your study, the question you sought to answer and why.
  • Second paragraph: you should concisely explain what was done, the main findings and why they are significant.
  • Third paragraph: here you should indicate why the readers of the journal would be interested in the work. Take your cues from the journal’s aims and scope. For example, if the journal requires that all work published has broad implications explain how your study fulfils this. It is also a good idea to include a sentence on the importance of the results to the field.
  • To conclude state the corresponding author and any journal specific requirements that need to be complied with (e.g. ethical standards).

Submission checklist

Before submitting your manuscript, thoroughly check its quality one more time. Evaluate it critically—could anything be done better?

Be sure that:

  • The manuscript follows the Instructions for Authors
  • All files are in the correct file format and of the appropriate resolution or size
  • The spelling and grammar are correct
  • You have contact information for all authors
  • You have written a persuasive cover letter

Peer review process

Peer review exists to ensure that journals publish good research which is of benefit to the entire scholarly community.

Sometimes authors find the peer review process intimidating because it can lead to the rejection of their manuscript. Keep in mind that revisions and improvement are part of the publication process and actually help raise the quality of your manuscript.

Peer review is a positive process

Peer review is an integral part of scholarly publishing that confirms the validity of the research reported. Peer reviewers are experts who volunteer their time to help improve the journal manuscripts they review—they offer authors free advice.

Through the peer-review process, manuscripts should become:

  • More robust: Peer reviewers may point out gaps in your paper that require more explanation or additional experiments.
  • Easier to read: If parts of your paper are difficult to understand, reviewers can tell you so that you can fix them. After all, if an expert cannot understand what you have done, it is unlikely that a reader in a different field will understand.
  • More useful: Peer reviewers also consider the importance of your paper to others in your field and can make suggestions to improve or better highlight this to readers.
  • Of course, in addition to offering authors advice, another important purpose of peer review is to make sure that the manuscripts published in the journal are of the correct quality for the journal’s aims.

Different types of peer review

There are different forms of peer review used by journals, although the basis is always the same, field experts providing comments on a paper to help improve it. The most common types are

  • Closed—where the reviewers are aware of the authors’ identities but the authors do not know who reviewed their manuscript.
  • Double blind—in this case neither authors nor reviewers know each other’s identities.
  • Open—where the reviewers are aware of the authors’ identity and the reviewers’ identity is revealed to the authors. In some cases journals also publish the reviewers’ reports alongside the final published manuscript.

You can learn more about the peer review process, including how to serve as a peer reviewer, in our forthcoming peer review tutorial. 

Next: Common rejection reasons