Monday, October 15, 2012

Publishing in a scientific journal, part 1

On Friday, I submitted a paper to the Journal of Geophysical Research-Space Physics. This gives me the opportunity to blog about the process of getting a paper published in a scientific journal. When you do scientific research, you have to share your results with other scientists, which is done through presentations (talks and posters) at conferences and through peer-reviewed publications. Publications are especially important because of the peer-review process during which other scientists read your paper and provide critical feedback on the merits of the paper, methods of research, and conclusions made based on the results.

A paper generally consists of an introduction that provides a background to the topic(s) discussed in the paper with references to other research relating to the topic, a description of the data used and methods with which they were obtained as well as analysis methods, a presentation of the results, a discussion of the results and what they mean for the topic being discussed, and final conclusions of the paper. Most papers include multiple authors, each of which has contributed in some way to the data collection, analysis, and or writing. All authors must agree with what is included in the paper.

Most journals have an online submission process. The author uploads an article file and enters information about the authors and details about the paper, including keywords that describe the paper topics and suggested reviewers. After submission, the journal editors get a basic idea of the paper to make sure it meets basic standards, then requests that other scientists in the field review the paper. Most journals have 2 reviewers for a paper. The reviewers have several weeks to read the paper, then provide a decision about the paper from the following options (there is some variation among journals):  publish without changes, publish with minor revisions, may be suitable for publication after major revisions, reject. The reviewer also provides comments to support that decision, including suggestions for revisions and questions about information that needs to be explained or clarified.

So now we wait to get the reviewer comments back from the editor. The identities of the reviewers remain anonymous, except in some journals when a reviewer agrees to be acknowledged in the final publication.