A PlosOne review process of one article is worth of sharing. I do not remember the times taken correctly, but all this took very long, several months regardless of continuous asking about the process.
The editor told to each inquiry that he had not found any reviewers. It is good to mention that the manuscript dealt with a rare subject. Even so rare that during the writing, it had been difficult to find ‘enough’ relevant articles to be referred. However, on the other hand, the subject was pretty general and the methods were relatively simple microbiology and, in my understanding, it should not have been so extremely difficult to find any reviewers.
Finally, the reviews came. There were three of those, and none of them suggested rejection. Each of them suggested revision, one minor, and the two other reviewers wrote that the topic is important and emerging. Two latter reviews were of high quality and the reviewers seemed to know about the subject. However, the editor rejected the manuscript. The editor required additional experiments, although he should have understood that this was a field study and not possible to make any new experiments. None of the reviewers suggested more experiments, they suggested minor-moderate changes in writing.
The oddest thing to happen was still to come. It appeared later, that there had been one more review that had been very positive. We came to know about this review, because the reviewer in question contacted the author and told about it. This reviewer had been studying the same research subject. We had no reason to believe that this positive review would not have been on the editor’s table.
The only explanation I can imagine for this is that because the subject was really rare, it could have been presumed that it will gain only few citations in the near future. PlosOne is a journal wanting to increase its impact factor (although all journals want, of course) and therefore, it may keep the possibility to gain citations as one important principle to assess the manuscripts.
Finally, the manuscript was pretty fast accepted elsewhere.
If you want to share your review experiences, go to SciRev sites and write them there. You can also compare different journals on the sites and read experiences.
The best practical advice for choosing the journal is: take a look at your reference list and choose the journal from there. Assess the aspects I wrote earlier: whether the article fits better to an applied or to a basic science journal, and whether your data fit to the quality of the journal.
After you have chosen the journal, read the current and previous year titles article by article ˗ do not trust on any searches, they may not find the most recent articles. Add a couple of relevant and recent references into the text. It is good to show that you have followed the journal in question. Like this, you can show that you know the recent literature. Of course, you should know the relevant articles in other journals as well. However, you possibly make a fatal mistake by ignoring the articles just recently published in the journal in question. Let’s say there was a special issue about your subject in the journal lately. If you do not refer to any of those, the editor will not trust on your literature knowledge.
Read the scope of the journal and be sure that your subject fits within the scope. It may take months before the editor tells you that your subject is out of the journal’s scope.
After choosing between applied and basic science journals, your choice is between low- and high-quality journals. Try to assess the quality of your data realistically and take a look at articles published. If you have time, you can first try a higher-quality journal. The acceptance is also much in luck - although no editor would admit it.
I have limited experience about the lowest-quality journals, but I have come to a conclusion that it is best not to submit anything to them, unless they are new or open access. The journals in quartile 4 (in any science ranking), of which I have any experience, have been very slow with a very low-quality and random review.
It's best to check the dates submitted and accepted. An additional aspect to check in advance, is the speed for giving the page numbers. At some universities, it is possible that you would need the final page numbers, for some reason. Getting the final page numbers may take a year or so.
The quality of the review may be low. I have seen reviews that come after several months and only say something about a need to correct the poor English language, written with very poor English language. Of course, if that is the case, it would be simple to order an English proofreading, if you hadn’t it already. However, the next step might take several more months in the journal, which probably sends the revision to a new review-round. And, after all, it is possible that you get a rejection.
These journals also want to reject some articles, and when the review is low-quality, the rejection or acceptance is as much random as in any other journal. Therefore, my advice is: try first any other journal than the one in the lowest quartile. You should be able to get any reasonable-quality data (even relatively poor data) accepted in a quartile-3 journal, if the writing is of reasonable quality, and the structure of the article is good and follows usual instructions.
I think that the first choice between the journals is whether you want to publish in an applied science journal or in a basic science journal. The former are, for instance, biotechnology, agriculture, forestry, remediation technology etc. oriented journals. The latter are (micro)biology, ecology, biochemistry, soil science, water science etc. oriented journals.
There may be a slight difference in the writing between these journal groups but, in practice, there seems not to be any universal rule for the difference. Many times, the articles are, in fact, much similar and only some nuances make the difference.
It is very much possible that from a basic science journal, you get a request to submit to an applied journal. And then, from an applied journal, you will get a request to submit to a basic science journal. The difference may be in reader’s eyes. Many times, basic science journals have really applied articles published, but probably applied journals do not want if there is no practical application. However, it is anyway good to think of the journal's scope, read it in any case.
Many times, I get articles that are ‘only’ applied science. With this I mean, that there is no mechanistic, process related, biological or ecological aspect, but only a practical environmental aspect. Just to develop a new technology, for instance. These articles are not the ones I am the best to assess. I can do my best and help to write the general parts, but I do not have personal experience in solely technological articles and journals.
In general, I keep solely technological articles often easier to write than ecological articles. Because, usually there are some observations to report and one does not need to discuss much about them. In contrast to technology, ecology is never easy – if you want somehow to increase its understanding. Ecological issues are always complicated, there is usually always more than one aspect when interpreting the results.
Whether an ecological or an applied journal, increasing the understanding of the issue studied is most probably highly appreciated by the editors. It is a must in many ecological, higher-quality journals; try to write about any mechanisms behind your observations, write if you have any explanations for the observations. If you cannot do this, choose an applied journal.
Next time, I will write about choosing between low-and high-quality journals.
Many times, I first pay attention to the use of terminology because I see many terms used for the same meaning. Sometimes, the author gives a new term in each paragraph, and a reader must think how this term is related to the one used in the previous paragraph. It would be good if a reader understood the use of all terms immediately – without special thinking. You know; a reviewer does not want to think so much, she only wants to understand all rapidly. Reviewers and readers are busy. Science is difficult and needs much thinking in every case. Try to serve your study as simply as possible. Try to make it easy for readers.
My point is that you could think how the introduction flows so that a reader always understands the new term used. It is good to stop each paragraph so that a reader knows to wait for the next paragraph and is not surprised why it is coming. Present the new term already in the previous paragraph, or start with the term already used and give a new term.
Even if you think that your readers are familiar with the terminology, and thus maybe not wonder it like me, I would advise to think carefully the logic to use the terms. Be sure that a reader always knows, how the new term is related to the ones used before. This is the case also when you are using well-known terms.
I take an example about pollution of halogenated and/or chlorinated compounds. I do know, and most Finnish high school graduated people know, that chlorinated compounds belong to halogenated compounds. However, I was confused about the logic of using the name for the pollution. I started to think if there is logic, and if I must be aware when the author talks about halogenated and when about chlorinated only.
Be especially aware when you are using narrow and wide terms in a mixture. Sometimes, it is necessary to use them in a mixture, but check that there is certain logic in it. Why are you choosing a narrow term (chlorinated) or a wide term (halogenated) in this particular case? You may not have any particular idea to choose the term, most probably you just used them more or less accidently and not thinking why. However, the reader does not know it. She starts to think why you are changing the term, and if the change has any meaning.
Even when your terms are relatively simple and even when you can presume that your readers know the terms, try to minimize any possible confusion. Try to minimize this kind of unnecessary thinking that you are giving to your reviewers. Make it simply.
When the terms are complicated, possibly technical, it is even more important to use the terms logically. It is possible that they are used with good logic and the problem is that I am unfamiliar with the terminology. However, many times the reviewer indeed is unfamiliar with a specific terminology.
Use only one word / term to mean a certain variable, treatment or treatment level.
Sometimes, two or more synonymous words are commonly used in the research area in question. For instance, such word pairs are: altitude vs elevation, secrete vs exude vs produce, tolerance vs resistance, decomposition vs degradation. I would choose one word to be used in one article.
I always suggest using one term for one meaning. I do not see any point in trying to avoid linguistic repetition in scientific writing. When you want to say that there are many terms used for the meaning in question, tell it first to a reader. Make the list of the synonyms even if they perhaps are well-known. The readers might well understand the terminology after they have read the article for the second and third time. However, they most probably want to understand it when reading the text for the first time. Therefore, it is much better to use one term for one meaning. I am here for you to notice the possible difficulty in the terminology you use. It is my work – but a reviewer is just irritated about unnecessary thinking.