...submit a manuscript

This describes which journal to choose, which suggested (or dispreferred?) reviewers to mention, what should go into a cover letter, how to read the submission system, and when to contact the editorial office about your submission.
I currently serve as Associate Editor of the journal Language & Speech. However, the statements below do not reflect the official opinion of Language & Speech nor any other journal I ever edited or reviewed for. They merely describe my personal experiences with submitting, reviewing, and editing papers, so take them with a grain of salt…

What journal do I pick?

Nowadays, with Twitter, Psyarxiv, and Google Scholar, what journal a paper appears in has become a lot less important. Your peers will see it online no matter where it is published. Moreover, science as a whole is moving towards valuing the impact of an article on its own merits rather than weighing its value by the impact factor of the journal it appeared in. Still, in general, one can say that the broader the interest and audience of the journal, the more prestigious it is considered, and the harder it is to get a paper accepted (think Nature vs. Language and Speech, for instance). That said, the story is a little different for open access journals of broad interest. Even though these journals have papers from a wide range of disciplines, it is - at least in my experience - easier to get into these than their non-open broad-interest counterparts, hurting their prestige a bit.

As speech researchers, we are livin’ on the edge… of the fields of experimental psychology, neurobiology, and the speech sciences. Consequently, we need to consider journals from differents fields. Is your experimental study more appealing and relevant to a psychology crowd, or to hardcore phoneticians, or nutty neuroscientists? Also remember there is no single perfect journal for your study; in fact, in all likelihood you may have to go through several before seeing it in print. Here are some things to consider…

Consider a journal’s prestige because that will influence your chances of getting in.

Consider the journal’s values, for instance in terms of open access and open data.

Consider the implications of your study: some papers simply fit better in a specialist journal than in one of broad interest.

Consider your CV: it’s probably better if your CV lists publications in different journals from different fields compared to only publishing in a single specialist journal.

Consider journal-specific criteria and guidelines, such as what article types do they have (Regular Article vs. Brief Reports), what word limits do they have, etc.

Finally, before submitting check whether your institution has an agreement with the target journal about open access fees. Many academic institutions will have signed contracts with publishers, waiving open access fees for their employees. However, often certain conditions apply, such as applying only to first-authors, or to authors with an institute email address. Make sure you know about these conditions before submitting as whatever details you submit will decide whether or not your paper falls under those institutional agreements.

Submitting your paper

Most journals work with an online submission system, such as Manuscript Central. Go to the website of your journal of interest, search for ‘Submit your paper here’ or something similar, and create an account with the system.

It helps if you create your account carefully because many of your account’s details will carry over to your submissions. For instance, add your ORCID number to your account so your ORCID iD will automatically appear on your publications. Use your institute email address so your institute will pay the open access fees.

Then create a new submission, which typically involves…

  • …selecting an article type

    Is this a Regular Article (most experimental studies are) or a Review Paper (without new empirical data)? Or is it a Brief Report (check out the journal guidelines) or even a Registered Report (pre-registered study in an open repository, like OSF)?

  • …copying some manuscript details

    Copy the title, abstract, keywords, etc. into the relevant boxes. Note that most submission systems are simple text only, so formatting in the title or abstract may get lost. Make sure you enter these details only when the manuscript is in its definitive form. You don’t want to have a different title in the system vs. in the manuscript itself. This is particularly relevant for keywords. Some journals allow you to select keywords yourself (see journal guidelines for how many and what character to use to separate different keywords) but sometimes they ask you to select from a dropdown menu. If the latter, you want to make sure you don’t have different keywords in the manuscript.

  • …ticking a few boxes

    No, we did not submit this paper anywhere else; yes, we adhered to all relevant ethical requirements and guidelines; no, we do not have any conflicts of interest.

  • …uploading all relevant files

    Upload your manuscript (.docx), any supplementary information (.pdf), raw figure files (.eps or .pdf), and a cover letter (.pdf). Check with the journal what file format to use. If possible, use vector-based formats like .eps and .pdf for figures because they look nicer in print. However, because Word doesn’t like these formats, I do use .png or .jpg images inside the manuscript’s Word document. Cover letters are stemming from the olden days when they were used to include ’not published elsewhere’-statements, author contact details, etc., but nowadays these details live inside the submission system. Still, it’s nice to have one, especially to highlight the importance, novelty, and main take-away messages from the paper. For broad-interest journals with lots of desk rejections, the cover letter is important; you’ll really need to sell your study.

Download a cover letter template here.

Sometimes journals ask you to upload a “PDF for reviewers”. This is identical to the main manuscript, except that it is in .pdf format and has all figures and tables in the text. In the olden days, APA guidelines asked you to place figures only at the end of the manuscript, presumably for copyediting reasons. Their positions in the main text were then identified by the authors by including short “Insert Figure 1 about here” boxes. However, this is a real pain for readers, and reviewers in particular (and everyone else too, really…), because this means you need to flip back and forth between main text and figures to understand the results. It’s much easier and more effective if you place figures in text. Even if journal guidelines still ask you to place figures at the end of the manuscript, I usually just put them in text anyway and wait for an editorial assistant to call me out…
  • …adding suggested reviewers

    Sometimes this is mandatory, sometimes this is optional. If optional, it’s fine to leave it open but it can help speed up the review process. It is not uncommon for editors to have to invite >20 reviewers before finally finding two who accept, so giving the editor a hand doesn’t hurt. How to select them? Often these are people whose work you cite in the paper. However, it’s probably better not to go for the big fish, as these people typically already receive many review requests and are more likely to decline. Why not consider selecting a postdoc from their lab? Why not consider diversity and gender balance in your suggested reviewers? Note, by the way, that it is uncommon to suggest reviewers who have not yet obtained a PhD. Also do not suggest researchers you’ve worked with in the past.

Some editorial boards are critical of suggested reviewers because of scams in the past. There have been cases when authors created fake online profiles of “Dr. A.B.C. Smith”, linked abcsmith@university.com to their own email inbox, and then suggested Dr. Smith as a possible reviewer, … well, you get the idea. Nevertheless, it doesn’t hurt to provide a few suggestions (unless explicitly asked not to, of course); it’s the editor’s job to simply be careful in their review invitations.
  • …add dispreferred reviewers

    This is optional; they’re left empty in most cases. I have never filled these out myself and honestly I do not even know how most editors will use this information. Will they invite them anyway to get a different perspective on the paper, or will they honor the authors’ request not to invite them? Even if you have a name in mind for this category, I guess you can still leave this box empty because chances are slim that the editor will specifically invite that person anyway.

  • …clicking [SUBMIT]!

    Fingers crossed! Wait at least 3 months before contacting the editorial office about any updates (don’t use the editor’s personal email address). Be curteous and kindly ask whether they can inform you about your manuscript’s current status. They’ll likely inform you that they’re waiting for one reviewer to get back to them, and if you’re lucky they may give you an indication of when they expect all reviews to be in. The submission system itself usually also tells you what the status of your submission is, but these labels (like “With Editor”, “Under Review”, “Waiting for Editorial Decision”) usually do not tell you very much. Your paper can be “Under Review” the moment the first reviewer accepts, but then the editor may have considerable trouble finding the second one, who knows…?!?

Happy submitting!