Monday, March 19, 2007

Publishing and The Peer Review

Our grad secretary sent out a link today to a pretty cool online resource for (Canadian) grad students called The Peer Review, that includes an excellent article on publishing as a grad student called The Ultimate Guide to Scholarly Publishing. Here are some highlights/key points from the article that I think are of particular importance to grad students trying to get their work published:

When to Publish:
"[T]he most important thing is to start the process early as possible. One thing many students don’t get their head around, Freeman explains, is that when you are admitted to graduate studies, it is because of your potential, but your ongoing progress is based on your accomplishment."

Picking a Journal 1:
"When choosing where to publish, the key is to match the publication and the quality of your work. [...] It’s great if you can get into the most prestigious journal in your field, but the main goal should be to work progressively to a goal: "stay productive, be out there, be putting your work out in places that people can see it and often that means in a variety of places.""

Picking a Journal 2:
"The easiest way to know if your work will fit in a particular journal is to read the journal. "Why on earth would you submit to a journal you don’t read?" asks Freeman. If you read a journal, it is likely that you not only have a sense of the type of research it publishes, but also some of the finer points of its style."

The Three Keys to Editing your Submission:
- Quality: "It’s amazing the number of articles that get tossed out at the beginning because the quality is just so poor,"" [...] "The less editors need to work on your piece, the more likely it is to get selected for publication."

- Clarity: ""What did you do? Why did you do it? What does your study or idea contribute to what we already know about the subject? State this clearly in the abstract, introduction and cover letter...""

- Context: ""If there is one mistake authors make, it is not to describe the big picture," says Dhand. "What is known, what this piece of work is adding to the field and how this can be applied or take the field further.""

Making Sense of Peer Review Comments:
"[F]eedback is sometimes totally tactless because reviewers are in a hurry. And note that ‘revise and resubmit’ does not mean ‘reject.’ It’s very common for a paper to be accepted contingent on minor changes. Or, they may just say revise and resubmit, and then you will need to find out if it has been accepted, provided the changes are made, or if it must enter the review process again."

Publishing as a Process:
"There is no great mystery to the process, it just seems mysterious because it is drawn out, and can be derailed by any number of very tiny mistakes, errors that are not just technical, like poor editing, but also mental mistakes — assuming, for instance, that harsh comments mean there is little hope for your work..."

The Process of Publishing:
"...journals are picky, reviewers are overworked, publication schedules are slow, and competition is plentiful. If your work is of relevance and importance, you can be assured that there is a journal that will publish it."

To all this I would add that getting involved in the peer review process directly is also a great way to dispel some of your more primal fears about the whole thing. Seeing how it all works from the perspective of a peer reviewer can really help you to identify areas in your own work that might need tweaking/development, to understand the context from which comments and revisions are drawn, and to develop more sympathy/patience for the length of time it can take for the reviewers and editors to get back to you.

On a personal note, I want to wish the best of luck to my partner and colleague Anil Narine who is commencing his week-long comprehensive exams today!!!

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