This particular reviewer read to page 4 of our 18 page manuscript, when the main result was on page 10. This was what we received after almost a full year under review (11 months and 7 days to be exact, but I am not bitter!). Yet the first reviewer read the manuscript carefully and provided detailed feedback along with a recommendation to publish. We have contacted the journal’s editor to request a third referee report — a tie breaker if you will. What next? We wait. Hopefully less than a year…
This can be the reality of academic publishing. But let’s be honest: it is appalling that a reviewer would only read to page 4 of an article and be bold (arrogant?) enough to say that they did not read the article carefully after the fourth page. Yet my undying optimist, ever the academic, wants to find some lessons in this experience, or to at least reflect on what one can do prior to the submission of a manuscript that may help the overall outcome: getting an acceptance.
So here is a pre-submission check list you may find useful.
Giving a seminar talk
There are varying pieces of advice on this. Of course you should give talks about the results of the paper as often as possible. However, do make sure you have things written already and in draft form because people may ask to see the details and you want to be ready to present those when requested. Also, giving a seminar is a quick way of getting people to think about your work and possibly collaborate.
Have students read your work
As my dear mentor Rebecca Garcia, mentioned to me (as she gave me feedback on this post!): Getting your students to look at your work is a solid way to get some high quality feedback. Students are wonderful at finding inconsistent use of notation, lack of clarity in exposition, and have even spotted errors in definitions, examples, and results in papers they have read — just ask my students Alexandre Gueganic and Maryanne Masibo. Asking students to read preprints of manuscripts seems to be more common practice these days, since I’ve noticed various acknowledgements where authors thank their students for their feedback. Perhaps this could even be the start of a research project with the students!
Once you have given talks and polished the manuscript here is what I do next.
Let the work marinate
My dear friend and wise coauthor Erik Insko taught me the value of letting an article sit on the arXiv for some predetermined period — often 10 days. This short time gives people the chance to see the article and possibly send you comments on the work before you have submitted it to a journal. In fact, Erik sometimes sends an email to his math friends with a paper announcement saying something to the effect of “Hey, here is my new paper on X. Let me know what you think!” I recently found out that this is more common practice than I realized. In fact, I added my email to Bruce Sagan’s listserve where he sends a preview of his upcoming papers before they hit the arXiv. The point? If well-established mathematicians are sharing their work with their friends, so should you! This leads naturally to our next two items.
Request peer feedback
If you are a postdoc+ (+ denotes and beyond), it is likely that your peer (another postdoc+) will referee your work. Then you might as well give them the opportunity to ask you questions about the work out in the open rather than under the veil of anonymity the review process imposes. So go a head and email someone you cite in your references, who is at a similar career stage as you, and ask for their feedback. Sometimes they may even have suggestions on how to expand the work or what would be a natural direction for future research.
Send the manuscript to a more senior mathematician
This is scary (can you hear my teeth rattle?). Yet, to my complete surprise people do respond to a junior mathematician’s emails and they may even say your results are cool! Or tell you that they have some ideas on how to prove a thing you and your friends conjectured, from which a new collaboration may emerge (William T. Trotter this is a shout out to you sir!). Of course one can’t ask these things very often (not sure what very often is… once a year seems like a good guess) but this is one good way to solicit some advice from people who likely know the standards for journals in your area. One way to ask for help is to tell them about your work and ask if they may have a recommendation for a journal to which you could submit the manuscript. That way it is a precise question and if nothing else now these mathematicians know your name and the type of work you do.
Submit to a journal
After doing some/all of the above things, and implementing any feedback received (along with updating your acknowledgement section) you may find that you are ready to submit the manuscript. Don’t do it. Sleep on it. Then reread the manuscript out loud. I know it sounds silly but it is the only way I find typos. After all, you are trying to avoid falling prey to the best way to find typos — hitting the submit button!
Did you sleep on it? Ok then submit!
If you have any other advice to add to this checklist please use the comment section. I look forward to seeing your advice!
PS. I want to thank Alicia Prieto Langarica and Rebecca Garcia who I sent this blog post to for feedback, and I wanted to point out I did in fact sleep on it before submitting. Yet, its likly hat this post still contians typos 😉
PPS. Quick thanks to Rene Ardila for finding a typo that was unintentional.