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Library Research Guides

Graduate Student's Guide to Publishing

Tips on how to get your work published in a variety of formats.

Peer Review Process for Scholarly Articles

Diagram of the Peer Review Workflow

While the peer review process for journals can vary, it typically follows the pattern described below.

  1. Author submits article to a journal.
  2. Managing editor determines if it is suitable for review. If not, the submission is immediately rejected without being sent out to peer reviewers. If it is suitable for review, managing editor sends the submission to reviewers.
  3. Peer reviewers recommend one of the following:
    1. Accept without revisions
    2. Accept pending revisions
    3. Reject
  4. If revisions are required, the author submits the revised article to the managing editor.
  5. Managing editor and/or peer reviewers determine if revisions are sufficient.

Very few articles are accepted without revisions. Being asked to revise your work is a foundational practice in scholarly publishing, and often results in the work being stronger after it has undergone review.

Finding Journals in Your Field

You’ve written an article, and now you need to find a home for it. Understanding the publishing landscape of your own field can be challenging for new scholars without established professional networks, and for those who are seeking to publish in different venues than their mentors and advisors have used in the past, or for authors whose work crosses disciplinary boundaries. It can be helpful to ask yourself a few questions as you try to determine the outlines of your own disciplinary domain:

  • What is the audience for my article? Where does that audience go when they want to read something new in their field?
  • Are there professional societies or organizations for your field? Or perhaps conferences, annual meetings, or other events?
  • Where was the material I cited in my article published?
  • If I wanted to read articles on a similar topic, where would I find them?

A librarian in your subject area can help you work through all of these questions, and help you find other scholarship in your field. In addition, you may also want to ask your advisor and your colleagues for other recommendations.

Disciplinary indexes and databases are the best way to find articles like your own, and every subject area has its own specialized resources. You can use the U-M Library’s Search Tools to see a list of databases in your discipline and access full text using your U-M credentials. For example, if your work is in the areas of literature, language, or linguistics, the MLA International Bibliography would be an excellent place to start searching, while if you work in the areas of psychology or psychiatry, PsycINFO would be an important resource. If your work is highly interdisciplinary, Google Scholar can be a place to start.

In many disciplines, there are resources devoted specifically to the task of finding publication venues. Scholars in business, education, psychology, and other social science fields can use Cabell's Directory of Publishing Opportunities to search for information about journals’ areas of focus, acceptance rates, and submission policies. The American Psychological Association Journal Statistics site offers information about manuscript rejection rates, circulation data, and publication lag time. The MLA Directory of Periodicals describes the scope of journals in many areas of literature and language study, including circulation figures, submission guidelines, information on whether or not journals are peer reviewed, and publication statistics. The Journal / Author Name Estimator allows you to compare your work to published articles in Medline to approximate possible publication venues.

For more information about finding journals in your field, talk to your librarian.

Choosing a Journal for Your Work

After you have identified appropriate journals in your field, you'll want to select the best home for your submission.

  • Look at the journal's editorial board. Are any of its members in your sub-field?
  • Look at a few issues of the journal and the information provided on the journal’s webpage. Does your article fit within the journal’s typical subject areas and scope? 
  • Does the methodology of your work fit what this journal typically publishes? (e.g. quantitative, qualitative, case study, survey, meta-analysis, etc.) 
  • Be realistic about your journal selection (don’t aim too high, don’t aim too low), and don't let fear of rejection guide your choice. 
  • Ask colleagues in your research area where they have submitted work. 
  • Are metrics like impact factors or Eigenfactors important in your discipline? If so, find out the relevant metrics for journals you are considering.

What about the journal's impact? You'll often hear advice about publishing in "high impact" journals. But how do you determine a given journal's impact if your field doesn't use bibliometrics impact factors or Eigenfactors? There are several criteria you can use to suss out possible measures of "impact":

  • Who is on the journal's editorial board? Are they recognized scholars in your field?
  • Who is publishing in that journal? Are they also recognized scholars in your field?
  • Examine Google Scholar Metrics or Google Scholar Citations, if available.
  • Is the journal indexed in databases relevant to your field? (e.g. JSTOR, Web of Science, MLA, etc.)
  • Is the journal affiliated with a professional organization, scholarly society, or conference relevant to your subject area?

Once you have decided to submit your work to a particular journal, make sure your submission meets their basic requirements. Nearly all journals include instructions for authors. Read them carefully and follow specific instructions such as word limits, preferred citation styles, document formatting, file types, etc. If you're not sure where you'd like to submit, but you have a target publication in mind, start working from their requirements in order to prevent headaches later on. In addition, have friends and colleagues read your work and provide feedback before you submit. A fresh pair of eyes can be incredibly helpful for spotting mistakes and areas in need of improvement.

Responding to Reviewers' Feedback

Below are resources that provide suggestions and guidelines for responding to reviewer feedback:

  • How to Review a Paper, Advances in Physiology Education 27, no. 2 (June 2003), DOI: 10.1152/advan.00057.2002.
    By Dale J. Benos , Kevin L. Kirk , John E. Hall
    A helpful overview of what reviewers are typically looking for when evaluating journal submissions. Though focused on the sciences, the guidelines can be useful for authors themselves in many disciplines.