In two short videos, New Phytologist Editor-in-Chief Prof Alistair Hetherington provides a step by step guide for early career researchers, intending to publish their work in New Phytologist.
“One of my top tips would be: get the author list decided very early on.”
Alistair talks through the process of working out whether research is within the scope of the journal, deciding the author list, and submitting a presubmission enquiry.
“Remember, the Editor will use the covering letter to help him or her decide whether or not to send your work out for review. You need to put your work in context, and describe how your findings are novel, and exciting.”
In part two, Alistair explains the submission process, including what should be included in the covering letter. He then describes the peer review process at New Phytologist and what to do after you’ve received a decision on your manuscript.
Read the transcript of both videos below. The audio from the videos is available to download under a Creative Commons licence from our Soundcloud page. You are welcome to redistribute this for teaching purposes, for example.
More tips for early career researchers from New Phytologist Editors
- Amy Austin, Environment section
- Colin Brownlee, Physiology & Development section
- Alistair Hetherington, Editor-in-Chief
- Francis Martin, Interaction section
- Maarja Öpik, Interaction section
Publishing in New Phytologist: some tips for early career researchers (transcript)
Part one: Should I submit my work to New Phytologist?
Good morning everybody.
My name is Alistair Hetherington. I’m Professor of Botany at the University of Bristol, and I’m also Editor-in-Chief of New Phytologist. And today, what I thought I would do is talk to you about publishing your work in New Phytologist. In particular, what I wanted to do is to share with you some tips – tips especially for early career scientists – on how to get your work published.
Maybe one of the first questions you need to ask yourself is: is the scope of my work suitable for publishing in New Phytologist? And if you want to try and address that particular question, one of the first things you might want to do is ask yourself, ‘do people in my field actually publish in this journal?’ In order to get some information on that, what you should do, I suggest, is have a look at some recent issues of the journal itself. Ask yourself the question: ‘would I be pleased to see my work published alongside these papers?’ You can also check the scope of the journal itself by visiting the journal homepage.
So what you’re having a look at now is a screenshot of the journal homepage. As you can see, there is all sorts of useful information. Among the information you’ll see there, and highlighted by an arrow, is a tab which will take you to the aims and scope of the journal itself. This provides a wealth of information, and I would strongly suggest that you consult this. You will also see that there is a tab that takes you to the current issue itself, so you can engage with individual papers, and there, that’s the opportunity to find out: does the journal publish the sort of things that interest you? You can also have a look at the members of the Editorial Board, because, by looking at this, you may recognise some leaders in your field, and again this could give you increased confidence that the journal might well be interested in your work.
Let’s talk next about writing your manuscript. Perhaps the best place to start is, I would suggest, you’ve got to agree who should be an author. And also, it’s very, very important to decide the order of the authors in the author list. If you decide this right at the outset, this can get rid of any possibility in the future of any disagreements. So one of my top tips would be really: get the author list decided very early on. I would also say that the role of the senior author is very important. This is because she, or he, will take overall responsibility for the manuscript. That’s the preparation, and the overall submission process. And then once that’s been decided, I think it’s very important to divide up the work and assign specific tasks to your colleagues.
You’re looking again at another screenshot. I think it’s important also to decide what type of paper you’re writing, and – very much so – become familiar with the author guidelines. And again on the screenshot, you can see there’s a tab to the author guidelines. These are very important, and these dictate the format of the manuscript which you will write, and you really must pay very close attention to these.
Another issue that comes up and that we’re asked about fairly frequently is the question of the presubmission enquiry. And the major question here is: what is it, and is it worth the effort? The purpose of the presubmission enquiry is to find out whether, in principle, New Phytologist would be interested in publishing your work.
So the presubmission enquiry – let’s talk about that in a little more detail. Typically, it’s a letter, it’s about one page in length. The purpose of the letter is to describe the context of your work, and what that means is that it’s an opportunity for you to place your work in a bigger picture. The letter also describes – and this really is very important – what’s novel about your work, what’s exciting about it, and really why readers of New Phytologist should be interested. Once you send this to us, one of our Editors will get back to you within about 48 hours, with a decision, and the decision will be either: no thanks; or yes we’d like to learn more about this, and we’ll invite you to submit a full application. Of course, at this stage, anything you receive on the presubmission front will certainly not predicate or inform the final decision taken by the Editor. However it will, we hope, allow you to proceed.
Part two: Submission and peer review
What about the submission process itself? It’s very important that, again, you refer to our author guidelines, and again you can find these on the homepage. Don’t forget the covering letter. Now, the question arises, why is the covering letter so important?
Let’s talk about that in a little more detail. Do remember, the Editor will use the covering letter to help him or her decide whether or not to send your work out for review. So what you’re going to do in your covering letter is you need to put your work in context, and again describe how your findings are novel, and exciting. Also, you can use the covering letter to suggest suitable referees. Or indeed, request that your work is not sent to one or two individuals. If you do this, you need to provide justification. You need to provide justification why your work should not be sent to these people. If you’re suggesting the names of referees – and the journal would probably find this helpful – please provide full contact details. That obviously means their address but also, most importantly, their email addresses.
OK, next we’ll consider what happens to your manuscript after it’s been submitted. So let’s have a look at this flowchart here. As you can see, the manuscript’s submitted, and in the Central Office of New Phytologist an Editor is assigned to look after that manuscript. The job of the Editor at this point is to decide whether or not the manuscript should be sent out to review. At this stage, if he or she decides to send it out, he or she assigns three referees to the manuscript. Then, once the reports have come in from the referees, the Editor is then able to make a decision, based on the content of the referees’ reports, and also his or her own judgement. And as you can see here, there are three basic outcomes: the manuscript can either be accepted, it can be accepted subject to satisfactory revision, or it can be rejected.
Let’s follow through what happens after a situation in which the manuscript is accepted subject to revision. You will then be invited to submit the revision, and then this will come back to the Editor and at this point she or he will then be able to decide whether at this stage enough work has been to satisfy the Editor, in which case it is accepted or, as may be necessary in the case of more substantial revisions, the Editor will feel he, or she, should send it out again to referees for further comment. This would be another round of refereeing. And at the end of that, the outcome, we would imagine, would normally be that it’s accepted.
Let’s now talk about these decisions in a little more detail. The first one we can talk about is the accept decision. So what do you have to do there? Well, very little apart from celebrate. And obviously we hope that this happens to you. Much more common, in terms of decisions, is the situation where your work is accepted subject to satisfactory revision. If this happens, what you will do is you will receive a message from the Editor who is handling your paper, and it will contain the comments that have been made by the referees. You need to read these very carefully indeed. You also – possibly even more importantly – need to read the letter from the Editor very carefully, because in this letter he or she will tell you what work you have to do.
When you submit your revision, please provide a detailed covering letter, in which you describe, on a point-by-point basis, how you have dealt with the comments raised by the Editors and the referees. Please cross-reference this letter to manuscript so as to highlight what changes you have made, and where they are. And what I mean by that is: for example, let’s imagine, in a comment from the Editor, the Editor has asked you to provide some additional discussion. So in your response to the Editor, you will say ‘I have done this’ and you would state what you’ve done, but you would also say that ‘this material can now be found on page 3, line 29,’ and you could even highlight the text in the accompanying copy of your manuscript.
What we’re going to look at now is the reject situation. Now, obviously this is disappointing news. But there are ways of trying to take positive things from this. So do read the comments from the referees and the Editor carefully, as they may help you to do more work, in order that you can publish your results elsewhere. A question which then arises is: are appeals possible? The answer here is yes, but you’ve got to remember they need to be fact based. So, for example, this would be a situation in which a referee has misinterpreted your data. An opinion based appeal, for example, ‘my work is really important,’ is unlikely to succeed.
If you do with to appeal, it’s necessary to construct an appeal letter. Please provide clear evidence that an error has occurred. This could include, for example, additional data or evidence from the literature that supports your appeal. Remember, don’t be rude about the referees. Your appeal must by fact based. When you submit your appeal letter, an Editor will consider your appeal and respond to you in due course.
And finally, do remember, when writing your manuscript, or responding to comments from the referees, simply make it easy for the Editor to say ‘accept’. My final message is good luck, and I wish you good fortune in submitting your research to New Phytologist, and we look forward to seeing it in print.