Publishing in a Medical Journal: The Peer Review Process

Understanding the peer review process can increase your appreciation for the medical literature and help you publish your manuscript.

Whether you are a pharmacy student, resident, or established pharmacist, publishing in a medical journal may seem daunting, but it can be a very rewarding experience.

Understanding the peer review process can increase your appreciation for medical literature and help you publish your manuscript.

What Is Peer Review?

Most scientific and medical journals are subject to the peer review process, which is considered a form of quality control in the literature. The main objective of peer review is to identify manuscripts appropriate for publication, improve the quality of the manuscript, and ensure proper interpretation of results.

Peer review is typically performed by a handful of experts in the field in which the manuscript pertains to. In general, peer review should increase the credibility of the article and provide the reader with confidence that the publication has integrity.

Choosing a Journal and Article Type.

Identifying the journal to which you want to submit your work is what some may call the most crucial step in publishing. It is very important to select a journal in which your work would be most appropriate.

Most journals will have information on their website regarding the scope of their publications, and this should guide your selection. Occasionally, journals may release a “Call for Papers,” which signals that they are planning a special issue and requesting article submissions in a particular subject area.

You may also contact the editorial office with your manuscript idea to inquire if they would be interested in publishing your work in their journal. Additionally, you may consider the journal’s impact factor, costs of publication, and whether it is indexed in a bibliographic database such as PubMed.

Choosing the type of article you wish to write is almost as important as choosing the journal. Journals publish many different types of articles, such as original research, review, letters to the editor, commentary, and opinions. It is very important to distinguish between these types, as not all articles are peer reviewed.

Submitting a Manuscript.

Once you have finished preparing your manuscript and chosen a venue for publication, you're ready to make finalizations prior to submission. All journals publish information for authors detailing required formatting of manuscripts, such as title pages, corresponding and contributing author contact information, main article text, and table and figure formatting.

Additionally, some journals may require a cover letter in which you should provide reasons why your article is appropriate for publication. Some journals may also request that you suggest specific experts who you believe would be appropriate to peer review your article in the cover letter.

Understanding the Peer Review Process.

Once you have submitted your manuscript, it will be assigned to an editor who will handle the peer review process. The editor will contact you introducing themselves and offer their contact information should you have any questions while your article is being reviewed.

The corresponding editor will either reject the manuscript without review if it is not deemed suitable for publication or send your manuscript out to reviewers.

Be patient, as journals have varying timelines for their reviewers. Some may take several weeks or months.

Once all of the reviewers have finished their part, the corresponding editor will determine if further review is required. If not, he or she will contact you with the decision made on your manuscript—accepted, accepted with revisions, or rejected.

If accepted, the manuscript will continue on through the editorial process to prepare for publication.

If accepted with revisions, the corresponding editor will provide you with each of the editors’ comments and suggestions for revisions. You should be timely in addressing the comments made by reviewers and submit a revised manuscript and respectful responses to the reviewers’ comments.

Some journals may have a timeline in which you must submit a revised manuscript. The manuscript will then reviewed by the editor and accepted, rejected, or sent out to the reviewers to repeat the process until a final version of the manuscript is accepted without revision.

If rejected, the editor may encourage resubmission if major revisions or further experimentation may be necessary, or they may not recommend resubmission to their journal.

Once the manuscript has been through the editorial process, it is ready for production. Many journals offer early online publication before the article appears in a printed issue of the journal, such as “Online First” or “E-pub ahead of print.”

Understanding the peer review process and having a plan for submission can make publishing your manuscript an enjoyable, less intimidating process.