The academic publication process: how it works

I am sometimes asked by junior researchers or by the public how the publication process for academic articles works. The academic peer review timeline varies depending on the journal, but it typically takes several months (sometimes even longer) from submission to publication.

1. Submission: You submit your paper to the journal. Make sure your paper is well-written, checked for spelling and grammatical errors, follows the journal’s style and formatting requirements, and that you submit your paper to a journal that is a good fit for your work.

2. Initial screening: An editor at the journal reviews your paper to make sure it is within the scope of the journal & meets the journal’s style and formatting requirements. Some articles are rejected at this stage, without external peer review (particularly, by larger journals).

3. Peer review: The editor sends your paper to one or more external experts in your field for review. Reviewers are asked to assess the originality, significance, rigour of your research methods, & the validity of your work. They may suggest revisions to your paper or rejection.

4. Initial decision: The editor reviews the reviewers’ comments and decides whether to accept, reject, or revise your paper. Acceptance without any revisions is unusual and generally, the authors have to respond to the comments from the referees and editor, and revise the paper.

5. Revisions: If your paper is accepted with revisions, you will be usually given a deadline to make the necessary changes. When sending back your revised paper, it is also normal practice to send a letter explaining how you have changed the paper in response to the comments.

6. Your response. Respond promptly to reviewer comments. Make sure your revisions are comprehensive and address all of the reviewer’s concerns and any comments from the editor. Be respectful and cooperative with the editor and reviewers.

7. Final decision: Once your paper has been revised, it may be accepted without further changes; you may be asked to revise it again; or it may be rejected. If accepted, the editor will send you a copy of the proofs for your final approval. This is your last chance to make changes.

8. Publication: Once you have approved the proofs, your paper will be published in the journal. Some journals (such as the BMJ) offer readers the opportunity to comment on a paper. It’s important to respond to these comments, which may sometimes highlight problems with your paper.

9. Responding to comments. When responding to comments, aim to be polit and respectful in your reply. Some comments can be constructive and others can be very critical of your paper. This post-publication review of a paper is an important part of the academic publication process.

10. The total time it takes to go through this process can vary from a few months to a year or more. It is important to be patient and to follow the instructions of the editor and reviewers. By doing so, you can increase the chances of your paper being published in a high-quality journal.