As editors, we're constantly being asked by our readers and contributors how we do what we do. Here, we've fielded some of the more frequently asked questions about the journal's editorial process.
1. How many manuscripts do you receive each month?
We've been averaging 100 new submissions each month—this includes articles and brief communications as well as presubmission inquiries.
2. Is it worth sending a presubmission inquiry?
Yes, if you're unsure whether the paper falls within our scope. Presubs are most useful if, in addition to the abstract, you give some background providing the broader context of the question being addressed. We'll get back to you within 24 hours. However, a positive response from a presubmission inquiry does not guarantee that the article will be sent to review once we've read the full-length manuscript. Since we usually turn around full manuscript submissions within 2–3 days, it is often better to just submit the full manuscript and skip the presub inquiry.
3. Do you really read all the papers?
Yes, we do. Each manuscript is assigned a primary editor who reads it and writes a summary of the paper that is circulated to the other editors. The paper is then discussed at the daily editorial meeting.
4. How many articles do you reject without review?
We reject between 75–80% of the articles submitted to us.
5. Who makes the decision?
We do. At each editorial meeting, each primary editor presents the new papers and/or revisions that s/he is responsible for, leading the discussion of the paper and describing the questions the authors are trying to address. The discussion often includes what the state of the field is and how the manuscript contributes to the field: that is, what was known at the time, what the study finds and how much of an advance the findings represent. Because the journal covers many areas, we are constantly discussing and reassessing the criteria we apply to the different fields we cover.
6. How many people are on the editorial team?
We have four full-time editors, including the chief editor. We also have an editorial assistant and a copy editor, and work with a production team that is shared with the other Nature research journals.
7. Should we include a cover letter?
A cover letter can be useful, if it explains why the findings you report are interesting, how they contribute to the field and why they should be reported in our pages. The letter also allows you to notify us of competition or identify related papers that are in press or submitted elsewhere. Feel free to suggest appropriate referees, but please make sure they're not all your best friends. Also, please don't include celebrity endorsements in the cover letter, such as “Nobel prize winner X thought this would be appropriate for your journal, and my parents liked it, too.”
8. Does writing count for anything?
Yes, of course it does. An ideal manuscript is accessible to specialists and nonspecialists alike. Bear in mind that our journal is read by a broad spectrum of scientists, from biophysicists to geneticists. It is important to write simply so that the key issues and advances are apparent, keeping in mind what background a nonexpert might need to know to understand and follow the study (but remember, you are not writing a review article). A useful tip is to have a scientific colleague outside your field read the manuscript and highlight areas that nonspecialists may find confusing.
9. How will I know if my manuscript is being sent out to review?
Once we have made a decision, whether it is positive or negative, you will always hear from us by e-mail. If we decide to send a manuscript out to review, you should expect a short e-mail informing you of our decision, and then not to hear from us again until 3–4 weeks have passed, when the reviewer comments are in. Please remember that it takes time to secure appropriate reviewers (we try to get at least two per manuscript).
10. How do you choose who reviews the manuscript?
We look for people with appropriate technical expertise (for example, an NMR spectroscopist if the data includes chemical shift mapping) as well as scientists with a broad knowledge of the biology of the system being studied. We also favor those who give fair and thorough reviews (as opposed to one- or two-liners), and we particularly love reviewers who are known for submitting their comments on time.
11. Do you respect reviewer exclusions?
Yes, but please don't make blanket exclusions, such as all research institutes in Japan, the entire state of California or anyone who works at Harvard, because that just narrows the reviewer pool, making it harder for a manuscript to get a fair review.
12. How do you make a decision once all the reviews are in?
We consider a variety of factors when making a decision at this stage—it's not simply a tally of positive and negative reviews. Often, a positive-toned review will have concerns similar to those raised in a very negative review. It's at this point that we decide what experiments must be done in order for the paper to be published in our pages, and this is when authors and/or reviewers can expect to have a lot of interactions with us to help us get a sense of what is feasible in a given time frame and what is beyond the scope of the current study.
There are certainly many other frequently asked questions to be addressed (regarding, for example, the appeal process), and we will try our best to do so in future editorials. As editors and scientists, we appreciate that every manuscript is the result of countless of hours thought and experimentation and is dear to the authors who submitted it. It is important to keep in mind that all of us—editors, authors and reviewers—are working towards the common goal of publishing the best possible papers.