Thoughts on the publication process


I’ve recently published my first, first-author paper in a peer-reviewed journal. It was a fairly bland paper, comparing the tree diversity and woodland structure of some woodlands in Bicuar National Park, Angola, with other woodland sites around the miombo ecoregion. The paper was part of an invited special issue on African biodiversity. While I’ve been a co-author on papers before, this is the first time I have been the one responding to emails and actually going through the process of submitting the paper. There were a few things in the publication process that I found were different to how I expected them to be. I don’t know how unique my experience was to the journal I was publishing with, or maybe even coloured a bit by Coronavirus stuff and people adjusting to working remotely, but some things irked me a bit.

I was surprised at the reviewer comments I received. I was hoping for more of a constructive discussion around the content of the paper, the actual scientific merit of the analysis, but instead I mostly got back comments like “you should add a table to display those ANOVA results” and “I don’t think you should use the word ‘permanent’ to describe these plots, because they are only two years old. Tedious stuff. Maybe I shouldn’t have expected so much, I guess this paper isn’t dealing with anything particularly controversial as far as the analysis and discussion is concerned. I think it would have just satisfied me a bit more knowing that my peers had read the manuscript in depth and properly thought about its implications.

The second thing is I was surprised at how hands-off the editorial team were. I feel like part of the editors job should be to properly assess whether the reviewers comments are informative and “true”, and also to check whether the author’s responses adequately address those issues. It seemed at times like the editors just skimmed through the changes, if they checked them at all. Finally, I think given the exorbitant price of publishing, the editors really need to provide a greater proofing service, this seems like it should be one of the main roles of a copy editor. Asking the authors to adhere to the journal’s style on tiny things like the italicization of table headings seems like the wrong way round to me. Sure, if the author’s formatting style makes the manuscript less easy to follow, but if the only change is one formatting consistency for another formatting consistency, I think that should be the prerogative of the journal editors.