How to write a Presubmission inquiry to an academic journal
A presubmission inquiry is a quick and easy way to gauge the likelihood of your paper being sent out for review if you choose to make a formal submission to an academic journal. The process involves simply contacting the chief editor of the journal with a brief description of your paper, most often by email, and asking for their opinion on your manuscript. Common motivations for making a presubmission inquiry are to check whether your paper is in scope for the journal and to get an evaluation of whether the level of advance that your study provides is considered significant enough by the journal to merit review. Importantly, a positive response to a pre-submission inquiry does not guarantee that your paper will be accepted by that journal, or even sent out for review; however, a positive response can help you narrow down potential target journals and feel more confident about your submission.
Why should I consider making a presubmission inquiry?
You may be wondering why you should make a presubmission inquiry instead of simply submitting to a journal, especially given that a positive response is not a binding decision from the journal. The most important advantage of this approach is to save time. First of all, formatting a manuscript for submission to a specific journal can be time-consuming and tedious, and navigating a journal’s submission system can also be a lengthy and complicated endeavour. Making a presubmission inquiry can save you some time by eliminating the need to reformat for submission to a journal that has no interest in your paper.
A second, and crucial, advantage of presubmission inquiries is that you can make multiple inquiries at the same, unlike formal submissions. This means that, for example, if you are considering several journals with a range of impact factors, you can make a presubmission inquiry to each of them at once, and hopefully, given the editors’ responses, get a good idea of the perceived level of impact that your paper has, and thus the appropriate level of competitiveness to target.
Who should I contact with a presubmission inquiry?
If you are considering making a presubmission inquiry, the first thing to do is check your target journal(s) guidelines, as not all journals accept this type of inquiry. If you are unable to find any information regarding presubmission inquiries in the author guidelines, you can always try anyway; in the worst case scenario, you will simply not receive a response.
A presubmission inquiry should be addressed directly to the editor-in-chief of the journal, if their contact information is readily available on the journal website. In other cases it may be appropriate to contact the managing or other in-house editor. If you’re unsure, you can always call the journal’s customer service line and ask who the most suitable person would be to address your inquiry to. A presbumission inquiry should be sent by email, with any relevant information attached or copied into the body of the email.
What information should I include in a presubmission inquiry?
The content of a presubmission inquiry is very similar to that of a cover letter, in that the main focus is to provide a brief summary of the most important parts of your study and clearly highlight the most significant findings and/or implications. Unlike a cover letter, in addition to the title, a presubmission inquiry should also include the abstract of your paper. Providing a well-written abstract at this stage should give the editor a clear and complete picture of the paper as a whole.
It is also important to ask the editor a direct question and/or clearly express the goal of your presubmission inquiry. For example, you may wish to ask: “Do you believe that this study falls within the scope of your journal?” or “We would like to know if, based on the level of advance that our study represents, our paper would be likely to be sent out for review if submitted formally to your journal.” Clearly stating the information you wish to obtain from the editor will help them answer your question more effectively.
It may be helpful to disclose the submission history of your paper at this point, particularly if previous rejections are what have led you to making an informal presubmission inquiry instead of submitting directly. For example, let’s say your paper has been rejected prereview by Cell and Nature, and you wish to submit it to Science. In this case, we recommend explaining the situation briefly to Science’s editor and noting why you disagree with these decisions and/or feel that Science should make a different decision. You could express this as follows: “This paper was previously rejected by Cell and Nature without being sent out for review, with both journals stating that the level of advance was not sufficient to merit consideration. However, we feel that the discovery of X represents a significant advance in the field of Y because Z. Therefore, we would like to ask whether you consider it likely that our paper would be sent out for review by Science if we chose to make a formal submission.”
Some authors like to send a full draft of the manuscript along with a presubmission inquiry, and indeed some journal editors will even request one, especially if they find it difficult to get a complete picture of the paper from the abstract alone. However, this is a controversial practice, as it is risky to share a full manuscript informally without the confidentiality of a formal submission. Ultimately it is up to you whether you feel comfortable providing the editor with a full draft. If you are considering doing so, we recommend that you evaluate the journal carefully beforehand to confirm that it is not a predatory journal, as this could result in unexpected costs or use of your manuscript without your permission.
What happens next?
Generally speaking, you can expect to receive a response from a presubmission inquiry within 1–2 days. If the response is:
• “No”, then we recommend moving on and submitting to (or making a presubmission inquiry to) another journal. While a journal will not reject a formal submission based solely on a negative response to a presubmission inquiry, if they were unwilling to consider the paper informally it is highly unlikely that they will consider it formally. In this case, we suggest saving yourself time and disappointment by looking elsewhere.
• “Maybe”, then read the editor’s response carefully to ensure that you understand what factors would have made this response a “yes” or a “no”. For example, the editor may have felt that the abstract did not contain enough information to fully evaluate the merits of the manuscript, in which case you could consider sending a draft of the full manuscript. In other cases, the editor may imply that the inclusion of additional experiments could make the difference between prereview rejection and being sent out for review; for example, he or she may find an in vitro study intriguing, but feel that in vivo confirmation would make the findings more significant. In this situation, it is up to you whether you want to do additional work based on an informal assessment, try submitting and see what happens, or simply choose a less competitive journal to submit to.
• “Yes”, then go ahead and submit! Keep in mind that there is no guarantee that your paper will be sent out for review even if the editor responded positively to your presubmission inquiry. That being said, it is advisable to refer to this presubmission communication in your cover letter so that if another editor ends up handling your manuscript they will be aware that the chief editor has already given informal approval for the manuscript to proceed to peer review.
Making one or more presubmission inquiry prior to selecting a target journal to submit to can save you time, energy, and uncertainty. We recommend taking advantage of this approach to build confidence in your submission and accelerate the publication process.
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