20. How to Submit a Manuscript

© Gábor L. Lövei, CC BY 4.0 https://doi.org/10.11647/OBP.0235.20

Once you believe the manuscript is ready to be sent, it is still worth being careful. Now, your natural desire is to see your work published as soon as possible; however, from this point, the manuscript will have to be handled by several people before publication and, therefore, extra care on your side will speed things up.

Electronic Submission

Many journals, and most of the journals published in developed countries, require that you submit your manuscript electronically. This takes time — sometimes a lot of time. Prepare your manuscript carefully. Several journals provide you with a checklist (see Box 14 for an example) — it is a good idea to save one of those and use it, even when the target journal does not have one. Once all the parts are together, you should first register as a user on the journal website. Do this with thorough attention, checking all the questions or options, as well as what you authorise the website to use your data for.

Once you have registered and chosen a password, you should log in, and start the submission process. The process is step-by-step, and largely self-explanatory. Usually, all steps are obligatory. During electronic submission, the submitting author must do most of the clerical work that used to be done by the journal personnel. The submission process is tedious, often non-intuitive, and always takes a lot of time. Additionally, it depends on the speed of your Internet connection. The publisher wants you to believe that this system will allow you to track the path of your manuscript — but it is not actually much help. The editorial team will not want to hear from impatient authors immediately post-submission: “Leave us in peace, we are working on your manuscript”. The author, preferably, would like a daily update on her manuscript. Here the editor’s interest prevails — for months, all you may see is that your manuscript is “in review”.

When submitting (unless the journal requires otherwise), combine your manuscript into one file. The figures do not have to be in their finest resolution, especially if this necessitates the use of different programs and file types — it is much easier if everything is together. You can attach figures to a Word document and, if possible, do so. When naming the file, include the corresponding author’s name.

During the submission process, you should normally enter all the authors with their affiliations, the title, abstract, keywords, length of your manuscript, suggested and non-preferred reviewers, and various other bits of information that are sometimes not easy to link with your actual manuscript. Finally, you upload the manuscript itself, which will be converted to a pdf file. You will have to open and approve this. Only then will the manuscript be finally submitted. It is a good idea to save a copy of this pdf file.

Do not forget about the accompanying letter. This can sometimes be added as a separate file — but, even if not, there will be space to send a message to the editor.

The Accompanying Letter

Never send anything without an accompanying letter. This is not only a matter of courtesy; it is in your, the author’s, best interest to attach a cover letter, as it can speed up the handling of your manuscript. Editorial offices often resemble organised mayhem; they may handle several journals, and sometimes receive hundreds of manuscripts per day. Some are first submissions, others are annotated manuscripts, sent back by reviewers, still others are revised versions, or final manuscripts, sent by authors. The accompanying letter helps the office to handle your manuscript more effectively — and this means processing it more speedily.

In the accompanying letter (see a sample in Box 15), state the following:

  • What is being submitted? Is your work a new submission, a revised manuscript, or a final version?
  • For which journal? Offices may run many journals and, from the title, it may not be obvious which one your work has been submitted for. You cannot ask the office to decide where your manuscript could fit; you have to make that decision (see Chapter 4).
  • Declare if any part of the work has previously been published and, if so, which parts and where? If it was presented as a talk, or a poster at a conference, it is also worth mentioning. An abstract in a conference volume is not a publication, but may be worth a mention. Be careful with Internet publishing — while many journals allow pre-publication in an open manuscript depository (such as BioRxiv: https://www.biorxiv.org/), others even if you put the manuscript on your personal website, consider it published, and will not touch it.
  • Indicate the name and address of the corresponding author. Even if this is already noted on the manuscript, redundancy here is acceptable, even welcome. The editor does not then have to look up the address from the manuscript. Also, indicate if the corresponding author will have a different address during the next 6-8 months, even if temporarily. This will help the editor to get in touch with the corresponding author without delay. Do not go overboard — there is no need to let the editor know when, and where, you are going on holiday for 2 weeks. However, if you will be away from your workplace for more than a month, it is worth letting the editorial office know this, and give the temporary address. Even if they cannot reach you, at least they will know the reason for your lack of reply.
  • You should also state the co-authors’ agreement. This declaration will have to be repeated when the paper is accepted and the copyright form is signed. Nevertheless, it is also required here.
  • State the uniqueness of the work, indicating that this manuscript contains new, unpublished results.
  • State that the work is not under consideration elsewhere. You cannot send the same work to more than one journal at any one time.
  • Finally, in one or two paragraphs, argue for the merits of the manuscript. Journals have become so overloaded that the first decision is often made by the editor, who, after a quick scan of the paper, decides whether the manuscript should go out to reviewers, or be rejected without review. Assist the editor by pointing out the major new findings in your manuscript, and provide reasons why it should be considered for detailed review. This summary should not contain sentences “cut and pasted” from your manuscript — rephrase them.

Submitting by Mail

Today, electronic submission is the usual practice, although a few journals still operate “on paper”. To these journals, you have to submit your manuscript by mail. Your manuscript will be ten or more pages, and you are routinely requested to send three or four copies. This makes it a rather bulky shipment. If it is in a flimsy envelope, this may tear; parts of the manuscript can get damaged, arrive in battered condition, or lost; all this may slow the handling and publication process. If you do have to submit paper copies of your manuscript, use a strong envelope, possibly a padded one, and make sure the edges are strong enough or protected by extra tape. You can even use duct tape to strengthen the sides and corners — this is where a bulky envelope will be most easily damaged. Carefully separate the different copies — but do not staple unless the journal specifically requires you to do so.

Send the manuscript by air mail (where required) and pay the appropriate postage charges. Mail services often downgrade mail with inappropriate postage and your manuscript may spend weeks or months, instead of days, in transport.

Keep a hard copy for yourself. This will be your insurance against computer crashes and other unforeseen complications. This will also be the proof of the existence of the work — in many cases, electronic copies are not accepted as proof.

Check that you have the required number of full copies. It is probable that different parts of your manuscript (for example, the text and figures) will be created using different programs and, thus, it is not always sufficient to print X copies of the same document. Be meticulous. Many journals provide help by offering a pre-submission check-sheet — use these.

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