Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Publishing an article and what happens next...

Christina Smith has just begun her 2nd year with us here at PVL as a Postdoctoral Fellow. She obtained her PhD at the University of Manchester. Her first paper for PVL created quite a stir, as can be seen from the press coverage above. How will her 2nd paper be received?

By Christina L. Smith

A major part of academia is the writing and (hopefully) subsequent publication of journal articles describing a research project. This can be quite a lengthy process. First, a draft article is produced by the authors - this itself will usually go through several iterations where the authors correct, clarify and comment upon the manuscript which describes not only the methods and results of a project, but also background information. The draft paper is then submitted to a journal and at this point the specifics differ journal to journal, but the general process is the same.

First, the paper is examined by an editor who decides whether or not the article is of a sufficiently high standard to be sent to referees to review. Referees are experts in their field and one or more referees may be asked to review the article and give their comments and views on the manuscript. Referee reports can fall broadly into several categories: rejection, recommendation of major/moderate/minor corrections prior to publication, and acceptance.

Recommendation for rejection/acceptance of an article are fairly straightforward: the referee believes that the article is either completely unsuitable for the journal or they believe that the article is sufficiently robust and has enough scientific merit for publication, usually with tiny corrections such as typos. A recommendation that major/moderate/minor corrections be completed prior to acceptance means that the underlying science is believed to be interesting and have merit but there are some areas that require work in the article before the referee believes it should be published in the journal in question. This is the most common type of report, at least in the initial cycles of refereeing and correction.

The editor may also add their comments on an article and use their judgment if reports vary wildly between referees or conflict on points within the article. The article may go back and forth several times before all referees, authors and editors are happy that the article is satisfactory for publication and you get that magic email: your article has been accepted.

The process doesn't end here, however. The article then goes through the process of typesetting and proofing by the journal and it is vitally important that an author thoroughly checks the final proof-article as errors can be introduced at any time by any party and once it's published the opportunity for corrections has passed! When the final proof is approved by all parties, the article will be published - usually initially online and then, after a time that varies from journal to journal, in print.

There are numerous archives and tools that are used by space scientists, physicists and astronomers alike to publicize their articles. One such archive that I personally am a fan of is called and, where the journal's copyright agreement allows, I post my accepted articles prior to journal typesetting. Some of the benefits of submitting to an archive like this is that people get notified of new articles in their field the day that they are posted, no matter what journal they are published into.

The last paper I posted on arxiv - "Possible ground fog detection from SLI imagery of Titan" - was picked up by a number outlets on the back of posting it on arxiv. This was completely new to me! First, twitter and reddit picked the article up with very positive interest (and some excellent puns). Then, I began to receive emails from journalists asking whether I could answer a few questions about the article, summarize the exciting findings and comment on articles they had written about our science. This was incredibly exciting! In total I gave around half a dozen email-based interviews giving on-the-record comments from myself and co-authors. Then, the articles came out and were picked up by more outlets and eventually our science was being discussed in news outlets from Room The Space Journal, to Universe Today, to even the Daily Mail! It's a fabulous feeling when people both inside and outside the scientific community find your work exciting, interesting and want to know more!

Hopefully, this is just the first of many!

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