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BITC: Publication Class -- 9. Cover Letter and Reviewers

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Okay, let's imagine that you have your final manuscript. It is prepared elegantly. It is illustrated well. It is consistent and without errors. Let's imagine that. I hope that's mostly true. Now, you need to send it to the journal. When you send it, you need to preface it with a letter. You need to introduce yourself, your work, and this particular manuscript to the editor. So, how do we do that? Ideally, I will use this format. It's very simple. 'To the editor, please find attached to this letter a manuscript entitled <i>your manuscript title</i> for consideration for publication in <i>the Journal<i>. This manuscript is the intellectual product only myself and my co-authors —meaning that everybody who should be a co-author is included as one, and this manuscript is not currently submitted for publication with any other journal.' This is basically saying, 'I'm submitting it to you for consideration and I'm not sending it out to five journals at a time and wasting somebody's time.' Notice that, in this minimalist version, all I go on to say is, 'I hope this manuscript proves acceptable. Please do not hesitate to contact me if you need any further information. Sincerely, me' I like this because I don't like to argue for, or try to sell, a paper. In some situations, that's necessary. Let's talk about those situations. When should you argue for your paper in the cover letter? Certainly, for the highest end journals like <i>Science</i> and <i>Nature</i>, or <i>PNAS</i>, it's critical. Those journals do most of their reduction by editorial decisions in advance, <i>not</i> by peer review. If you don't convince the editor that your paper is very important, your paper will not make it through that pre-review editorial decision. For more pedestrian journals, where most of us publish our work, it's a matter of choice. Many people do include a paragraph of why the paper is important. I try to avoid it. However, a lot of journals are trying to do more of these pre-review editorial decisions because it increases the time to decision to review every paper. Rejecting a lot of papers very quickly also helps increase an impact factor. So, even for the higher rank normal journals, these days I'm seeing more and more non-reviewed rejections. In those journals, you may have to argue why your paper is important. Be very careful not to overstate. The editor is not a dummy. The editor is going to look at what you write in your letter and look at what is expressed in your manuscript. So, be very careful not to overstate the importance of your work. Another element of the cover letter or submission process is suggesting reviewers. Many journals allow you to provide suggestions regarding appropriate reviewers for a manuscript. In some cases, these suggestions are optional. And, in some cases, they're required. That depends on the journal. And, the editor may or may not follow your suggestions. This is just your attempt to provide an assist to the editor because being an editor takes a ton of time and you're asked to find the appropriate reviewers -the experts- in a field that may not be yours. When you suggest reviewers, there are some guidelines. Reviewers should be people who have expertise and experience in the area of the paper, or at least in some component of the paper. Maybe they're a taxonomic expert on the organism that you're studying. Maybe they are somebody who's used a particular analysis. But, the reviewer must be an expert in something directly related to your paper. Reviewers should not have a conflict of interest with any of the authors. Please don't include amongst potential reviewers your brother or your best friend or spouse or major professor or your closest colleague. It really is not appropriate because they have a conflict of interest. They may think, 'ew, this manuscript is bad. But, I don't want to hurt my friend.' So, be honest. Your work should stand the test of peer-review by somebody who is more objective than someone who has a connection with you. At times, you can also indicate people who you <i>don't</i> want to review your paper. As I said, reviewers should be objective. And, one kind of non-objectivity is when we're talking about reviewing a paper from your brother. A very different kind non-objectivity would be to review a paper from somebody with whom you have a conflict. So, you as a reviewer and you as an author should avoid those situations. We need to avoid those situations where conflicts of opinions, personal disagreements, maybe nonfunctional personalities, or whatever clouds the objectivity of peer-review. So, authors can request that editors remove such individuals from consideration. This can be in the cover letter. Or, increasingly frequently, it's via lists on web pages. If it's in the cover letter, you can put in something like, 'Based on past experiences in which so-and-so showed lack of objectivity in peer reviews of manuscripts by myself and my co-authors, I would respectfully request that so-and-so not be considered as a reviewer for this manuscript.' Something like that. You don't need to go overboard and detail what the problems are. Keep it very generic. The editor can take your suggestion or not. He or she may want that other viewpoint. And, hopefully, he or she will take into account that concern that you had about non-objectivity when making decisions. These are very complex topics; and, you should see this set of issues from both sides. When you're a reviewer, you should make sure that you are objective. And, when you're an author, you should hope that the reviewers and the editors will assure that same objectivity. That's one of the basic foundational elements of the peer-review process in building effective scientific literature.

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Duration: 7 minutes and 50 seconds
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Language: English
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Posted by: townpeterson on Jul 5, 2016

Publication Class: How to Publish a Scientific Paper

A. Townsend Peterson, University of Kansas
In English

Academic productivity and effective communication of research results depend critically on publishing scientific articles in scholarly journals. This set of 13 video segments aims to provide an overview of the entire publishing process. It is not specific to biodiversity informatics, but rather can be quite general for the natural sciences at least.

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