The Decision-Making Process in a Scientific Journal
The decision making process in scientific journals is not uniform and is very much dependent on the size of the editorial staff. However, the most important thing to understand is that in every journal the decision whether to publish or reject an article lies with the editor and not the peer-reviewers.
The process can generally be divided into the following steps:
The first step is technical. A staff member, usually not a scientific/ medical professional, reviews the submission and makes sure that it meets all of the journal’s technical requirements. The current electronic submission systems allow staff to discover errors very quickly. Exceeding the allowed number of tables, images or words (in the full article or just the abstract), absence of contact details of the co-authors, incorrect format of citations or bibliography, can all be identified quickly upon a quick and superficial review of the submission. Detection of such errors casues the article to be returned to the author for corrections. The staff member must also make sure that the article meets the most basic ethical requirements such as the declaration of any of the authors’ conflicts of interests, and sufficient details concerning recommended reviewers. Sending the article back to the author at this point is not considered a rejection, the author can easily correct any errors and resubmit.
At the second stage, the article is reviewed by an associate editor, a junior editor (in large journals), or the senior editor (smaller journals). At this stage, the editor checks the article, decides whether it falls within the journal’s scope, and critically assesses the content. Following this round, the editor can reject the article or send it out for peer review. Rejection at this stage is often a final rejection, and authors whose work was rejected at this stage will rarely have the opportunity to correct and resubmit.
The third stage is peer review. The editor sends the article for review by reviewers with expertise in the article's specific subject or in related fields. The choice of reviewers can be based on the editor's acquaintance or on the recommendation of the authors. Articles are usually sent to two or three reviewers that can recommend either "accept as submitted", "minor corrections needed", "major corrections needed" or "reject". When reviewers disagree, the article is usually sent to another reviewer in hope that their recommendation will facilitate a decision.
The last step - reviewer recommendations are sent to the editor and the editor or editorial board makes the final decision whether to accept the article (with or without a requirement for changes) or reject it.
On dealing with each of these responses - in the next post.