In psychological research, publishing papers is all too important for your career. But how does the process of publishing your research work? In this article, I will break down the publication process including how to pick the right journal, the different types of reviews to expect and what they might look like, how to approach and respond to rejections and revisions, and what happens once your paper is accepted, including how to promote your research.
Before getting into the publication process, the first step in every project is coming up with a research question. We then state our hypotheses, collect data, analyze said data, and rigorously prepare and revise our manuscript. Once each of these steps has been completed you will then begin the journey (and roller coaster) that is the publication process.
Picking the right journal
Selecting which journal to send your paper to is not as simple as it may sound. Every journal is different and there are tens, possibly even hundreds of potential outlets for your research. Academic journals vary in prestige and impact factor, the relative importance and exposure of the journal within its field. Each journal also has a specific aim, scope, and subject area. For help finding the right journal, try the Journal/Author Name Estimator, SAGE Publishing Journal Recommender, the Elsevier Journal Finder, or the Directory of Open Access Journals.
Every good manuscript has a home and once you find the right journal, you need to read and comply with all the manuscript guidelines and then you are ready to submit (make sure to check out each journal’s author guidelines for information on submission requirements)! However, before I discuss the different types of reviews and the next steps in the process, authors should know that almost every paper gets rejected at least once. In the publishing world, and research as a whole, you need thick skin. Some people just are not going to like your work or your methods, and you may encounter harsh reviewers. It is important not to overreact to negative feedback and know that receiving criticism is par for the course and will eventually result in a better manuscript. Additionally, the resubmission process often involves multiple rounds of revisions, feedback, and more revisions. But if you can persevere and find the right home for your paper, you could get a coveted publication!
After you submit your paper, you will receive feedback from experts in the field. This can happen in a matter of weeks, or it can take several months, depending on the journal. There are five potential outcomes: desk rejection, outright rejection, rejection with an invitation to resubmit with major revisions, rejection with an invitation to resubmit with minor revisions, and acceptance without any changes.
A desk rejection means the editor read your paper and chose not to send it to reviewers. This often occurs due to a poor fit with the journal’s aims and scope, sloppy writing (failure to follow submission guidelines, grammar issues, etc.), or poor study design. Although this may seem like the worst outcome, desk rejections have a quick layover (usually just a few days) and if your paper was rejected because it didn’t fit the journal’s aim or scope, or if you failed to follow submission guidelines, you can make a quick round of revisions and submit your paper to a new journal. However, if the paper was rejected due to poor study design, you may want to consult your advisor and revisit your research question and how your study answers that question.
Another possible outcome is outright rejection. This means your paper was sent out for review, but the reviewers found the paper to lack sound methodology or writing style, results were analyzed incorrectly, or conclusions were drawn with insufficient evidence. While this is also a disappointing outcome, feedback from reviewers can be extremely helpful and insightful, and will often guide you towards a greatly improved manuscript. There are also instances where the reviews are helpful and make many useful suggestions but also include some comments that do not seem relevant or important to your research question. These are the most common types of reviews you will receive. However, on occasion, you may receive reviews that lack constructive feedback, are overtly negative, and offer very little in terms of ways to improve your manuscript. These reviews result in a waste of your time, sometimes up to three or four months of waiting time at that journal. This is among the times you need thick skin and to remember that you can always submit your manuscript to a new journal.
If your paper is not outright rejected, the editor may invite you to submit a revision. Although the editor will usually use the term “reject,” this is a desirable outcome. An invitation to resubmit indicates that the editor and experts in the field found merit in your work. However, resubmitting your manuscript does not guarantee eventual acceptance; your resubmission will usually be subject to re-review before a decision is rendered.
Invitations to resubmit can involve major or minor revisions. Papers that involve major revisions often require rewriting large portions of the paper and/or conducting additional experiments. However, if the revisions are minor, reviewers often ask you to simply incorporate additional references or conduct additional analyses; rejection with minor revisions is generally the best outcome you can hope for on your first submission and often leads to eventual acceptance. The last potential outcome, submitting a paper and having it accepted without any changes, is extremely rare.
After much hard work preparing and submitting your manuscript, hopefully, you will be invited to resubmit your paper after making major or minor revisions. If you are lucky enough to get to this point, it is critical that you carefully consider each reviewer’s comments and resubmit within the given deadline.
When you respond to reviewers’ comments, you must write a detailed letter addressing every comment, concern, and suggestion. For example, if a reviewer asks for justification of your sample size, you should thank them for their feedback and compute the necessary power analyses and add this information to your manuscript. To illustrate, if a reviewer makes a comment like “I encourage the authors to use phrases such as ‘more biased’ rather than ‘less accurate’ to be more consistent with the literature,” you should respond saying something like “We agree that using the term more biased is more consistent with the literature. We now refer to the accuracy of our variables as more biased rather than less accurate as suggested.”
Although it may seem needlessly formal and a large amount of work, you must demonstrate how you have addressed each comment and prove to the reviewers and editor that your paper now makes a novel and clearer contribution to the field and exemplifies sound writing and methodology.
The fruits of publication
If your paper is accepted for publication, it will then be sent to a publisher and they will post your finished paper. Next, you should celebrate! If you get to this stage, you should acknowledge your and any co-authors’ hard work. Take the night off and relax, publishing is a great accomplishment!
After ample celebration, you should consider promoting your paper via social media (like academic Twitter where researchers share abbreviated abstracts to entice people to read the entire paper) and blog posts. This can be an effective way to get the word out about your research and get other researchers to cite your work and engage in a two-way conversation about your topic of interest. The research process continues long after your article is published; publishing your work informs other scholars in your field and the broader community who can benefit from the knowledge you just created! If you think your research would be a good fit, consider sharing your research via UCLA’s Psychology in Action!
The publication process can take as little as a few months, although this is rare, and up to several years. It is critically important that throughout this process, you keep a positive attitude and remember that nearly everyone in academia has experienced the hardship of repeated rejection, impostor syndrome, and burnout at one time or another (see Jaremka et al., 2020 for several personal stories from scholars; see also Neer & Price, 2020). It is also important to know that no matter how many times you are rejected, every good manuscript has a home. Even if you think you have found the perfect journal for your manuscript, papers often end up at a different journal than you originally expected. To survive in the world of academia and publish your research, work hard, persevere, be patient, and keep an open mind! If you would like to learn more, check out SAGE Publishing’s free online course.
Jaremka, L. M., Ackerman, J. M., Gawronski, B., Rule, N. O., Sweeny, K., Tropp, L. R., Metz, M. A., Molina, L., Ryan, W. S., & Vick, S. B. (2020). Common academic experiences no one talks about: Repeated rejection, impostor syndrome, and burnout. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 15, 519-543.
Neer, E., & Price, G. (2020, April). The Bad, The Ugly, and Trying to Find the Good: Problems and Solutions for Graduate Studies. [Web blog post]. https://www.psychologyinaction.org/psychology-in-action-1/2020/2/24/the-bad-the-ugly-and-trying-to-find-the-good-problems-and-solutions-for-graduate-studies?rq=emily