By Andrew Jermy
Let’s face it, this may well have been one of the first questions that springs to mind when you glanced through the editorial services that I offer through GSC. For many researchers, a pre-assessment report will be unnecessary and a waste of money. Those of you feeling that you fall into this category will likely have written a load of papers, published in journals across the microbiology publishing landscape, from those highly selective single-name titles and their sisters, to non-selective manuscript repositories and everything in between.
For others though, charting the course for taking a study from draft manuscript through to final publication may be more challenging. Indeed, even for extensively published researchers, I would argue that each manuscript and journal submission will bring its own idiosyncrasies and potential problems to address.
You can enter a marathon without any preparation, but it probably wouldn’t be advisable. The more training and preparation you put in ahead of time, the smoother and quicker the race will likely be.
In a decade of delivering talks on how to get a paper published, I would invariably advise researchers to show their draft manuscripts to a colleague not intimately related to their field but whose opinions they valued and trusted. This colleague acts as a proxy for the handling editor, the reviewers and ultimately the readership of the journal. If they can understand the main message of the paper, how the experiments were carried out and how the data support the conclusions drawn, then the battle is half-won. Of course, if they do not draw the desired take-home message after reading the manuscript, then perhaps the draft, or indeed the data, need to be reconsidered.
So where do I fit in to all of this? Well not everyone has that trusted colleague, and if they do, their time (and yours) is incredibly precious. Indeed time is perhaps the single most valuable commodity given its finite nature and scarcity in the modern workplace. Asking a colleague to carefully read and provide detailed feedback on a manuscript may mean them snatching time here and there to dip in and out of the draft over a period of several weeks or months. Meanwhile your paper is not moving, not being submitted to a journal and not progressing towards publication. And even when it does come back from your colleague, the level of scrutiny and detail in the feedback provided will likely vary from manuscript to manuscript and colleague to colleague.
Through carrying out an editorial pre-assessment, and providing you with a standardised pre-assessment report, I can stand in for that colleague.
Based on the same process that I used and trained other colleagues to use while an editor at Nature and Nature Microbiology, I will undertake a deep and focused assessment of your manuscript draft and provide consistent and detailed feedback in the form of a pre-assessment report. This is not just a few boxes ticked and crossed. I will read and make notes on all materials submitted, the cover letter, the main text, the data, the methods and the literature cited. I will then provide my editorial feedback on what I think are the main messages conveyed and whether the data supports the conclusions drawn. I will also note any potential concerns in the writing, the data presentation, methodological descriptions and compliance with current norms for manuscript publishing. I will also provide recommendations for journals that I think would be likely venues in which this work would be a good fit as well as suggestions for the reviewer expertise that I would expect to need to be used to properly peer review the manuscript. If you already have a particular journal (or group of journals) in mind, I will give you my assessment on likely success for ultimate publication in the venue and whether I think anything is missing/could be addressed to maximise the chances of success.
You will essentially get an advance (and complete) view of the editorial assessment process that would be undertaken by a quality journal upon submission. This information will allow you to ensure that the manuscript is in best possible shape prior to formal submission. It can also help you in choosing the journal in which to seek publication of the study to maximise visibility to researchers in your community and beyond while balancing the likely time taken to publish the work.
You may now have some other questions, I’ll try to answer some in advance, but feel free to contact me if the below doesn’t cover what you are thinking.
Surely this is just another way for someone to squeeze money from already stretched research budgets?
Well in part, yes, I am levying a charge for a pre-assessment report, but one that I think is reasonable for what you will get in return. I am confident that in almost every case, this will help you to improve your manuscript prior to submission. My feedback and advice for journals in which to publish could save many months, sometimes even years, from the publication process. Time that you and your colleagues could be working on other things. On follow up projects that build on the work published. On securing funding on the back of a publication to carry out that work. On spending more time with your friends and family.
What makes you think that you are qualified you to assess our study?
My background is well described on this site and in various other places on the internet. You can read what I have had to say in various places, like the Nature Microbiology Community, or in editorials written and work selected for publication in Nature Reviews Microbiology, Nature and Nature Microbiology between 2008 and 2019.
Of course I would not argue that I am qualified to peer review your work; this is a task that should fall on active researchers around you in the field. I am, however, qualified to provide insight into how an editor is likely to read and assess your manuscript.
How long will it take to get my pre-assessment report?
I will provide you with a detailed pre-assessment report within 5 working days from sending me your manuscript. If for some reason I cannot meet this time-frame, I will tell you!
Being an ex-Nature editor, are you going to bias your recommendations towards your former colleagues?
In short, no. I do have friends that work at Nature, but I have no on-going affiliation with Nature¸ Nature Microbiology, or any other Springer Nature journal. I have long-believed that a healthy publishing landscape requires researchers to have access to a wide range of journals and publishing models when chosing where to submit their work. A degree competition between journals can be healthy for the ecosystem as a whole in terms of driving progressive publishing policies and ensuring things like author service are valued. The landscape needs journals that vary in terms of the selection criteria that they apply for the work that they publish, and there is space for both for-profit and not-for-profit publishers. On the latter, society journals fulfil an important function in supporting the good works that the learned societies undertake and should be cherished. My recommendations will be drawn from all journals that publish microbiology research and I will suggest groups of journals to be considered that cross publishing company and publication models.
Will getting a pre-assessment from you improve my chances of success for submission to a Nature journal?
No, and yes.
No in the sense that as noted above, I have no ongoing-affiliation with any Nature journal, all of which employ their own editors and editorial standards. Obtaining a pre-assessment report from me will almost certainly not see your draft manuscript given any special treatment if you submit to a Nature journal. You are, however, free to include the pre-assessment report as supplementary material for editor consideration when submitting your manuscript to any journal – the editors may find value in the report, or may simply ignore it.
However, I would also argue that yes, a pre-assessment report will help you to improve the draft of your manuscript before you submit to ANY journal, not just a Nature one.
What if I disagree with some or all of your feedback, or feel that you made a mistake/missed a key point?
I am not infallible and you are of course free to ignore any or all feedback provided in a pre-assessment report. But to help me improve the service that I provide, I would like to maintain a dialogue so that I can discuss any specific points with you and see if there are opportunities to learn and improve. It may be that where a point of disagreement arises, the manuscript can be improved to ensure that the same problem doesn’t occur when editors/reviewers and readers engage with the work in due course.
Once I have read a manuscript and sent the pre-assessment report, I will not be able to refund the fee. However, you are of course entirely free to not engage my services again, to leave a review on my website and to let the world know your feelings via social media.
Would using GSC to obtain a preassessment report need to be acknowledged in the draft manuscript submitted?
Entirely up to you. Some publishers may mandate that such information be provided, but I have no preference.
Okay, so I am at least curious if not yet entirely convinced, how can I try out this service?
Simply go to this page on my website and buy the editorial report. You will receive an email with an order number and a link that will take you to a short Google form to fill in and through which you can upload your files.
I will then check that I can access all of the files and then get back to you with your report within 5 working days.
If your institution or funding require any payment to be settles after an invoice has been raised (rather than paying in advance using a credit/debit card or PayPal), contact me and we can discuss alternative arrangements.
Thanks for reading this far. Once again, if your are potentially interested in obtaining a pre-assessment report on your manuscript, and have questions not covered above, just drop me a line.