By Jim Thompson
I have based much of this article on the presentation made to Young Professionals at various Inter-Noise conferences. Many people have contributed to this presentation. A primary author and contributor was Courtney Burroughs. Other contributors include Stuart Bolton and Patricia Davies. I am sure there have been others. I will primarily use the last version I put together, but it is the culmination of the work of several people. I owe them for their contribution.
There are numerous publications. Many conferences provide a means for publication. These may be with or without a review process. In some cases, like Noise-Con and Inter-Noise conferences only the abstract is reviewed. Others like SAE, ASME, and many more provide a more rigorous review of the paper with the opportunity for publication in a journal in addition to or as a substitute for the conference proceedings. My focus for this article is on publication in a journal. As the editor of the Noise Control Engineering Journal, NCEJ, this will be my focus. However, most of what I will talk about is equally appropriate for the Journal of Sound and Vibration, Applied Acoustics, the Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, and many others.
I can see several reasons for publishing. If you have done something worthwhile, the best way to disseminate the work is through publication. Many more people will see the publication in a reputable journal than will ever attend a conference. Remember you do not have to have invented a new theory of relativity. A novel twist on technology, demonstration of a new measurement method, understanding problems with a measurement or a model, or a new application of existing technology can make outstanding technical papers.
In addition, NCEJ accepts Case Studies. These are meant to be thorough applications or investigations of noise control techniques. They should provide value to practicing noise control engineers and presented in a manner that provides useful insight.
Many people use the publication as a tool in their research programs. Developing a publication forces them to organize their thoughts and document what they have done in a deliberately logical manner. Often this process uncovers gaps that need to be addressed or provides insight into new work that needs to be done. In this manner, publishing can be a part of the research process.
In some instances, funding agencies impose a publication requirement. For the research program to be considered complete there must be publications in recognized journals. This serves as a quality control factor for the funding agency. If a publication cannot be approved through the journal review process, it is probably not of sufficient quality.
There are also personal reasons to publish. A journal publication demonstrates your credibility in an area or research and demonstrates the acceptance of your work by peers. It certainly looks good on your resume and some employers, such as universities, base promotions on your publication record.
It is also a good learning process for a researcher. Building a logical and well-discussed publication from research is a learned skill. I see too many poor papers from people who have done outstanding work but have a difficult time describing it in a clear and well-ordered fashion. Learning to work with publishers and reviewers is also a process that takes practice to develop.
Before I go any further, I want to touch on ethics. Most authors and their submissions are highly ethical and appropriate. However, there are exceptions and you do not want to be an exception. Below are a series of things you should not do. Some may seem obvious but believe me I have seen all of these and more.
Do not submit the same paper to more than one journal at the same time. This shotgun approach will probably lead to the paper not being published anywhere. The pool of editors and reviewers is not so large that this will not be discovered. If it is, it will be rejected by everyone.
Do not attempt to publish the same paper or nearly the same material multiple times. It will get caught. This is a disservice to the technical community, and it will be a stain on your reputation. People will remember such an incident and you will have a reputation for not doing original work.
Do not plagiarize in any way. Repeating your work as noted above is bad and is a form of self-plagiarism. When it comes down to it, plagiarism is a nice term for stealing other people’s work. Most journals have software that combs publications and the Internet to see if similar work has been done elsewhere. I get a similarity report for each paper submitted to NCEJ. You will get caught. The result can be significant. Due to one case of plagiarism that are three authors from which I will never accept a paper for NCEJ.
Do not take a conference paper and send it unaltered to a journal. This submission may violate copyrights if the conference publishes the paper in the proceeding. In addition, a journal paper is generally much more substantial than a conference publication. It will often take significant additional material and editing for a conference paper or multiple conference papers to make a good journal paper submission.
The first thing that happens when your paper is submitted is that it is reviewed by the editor. This first review is simply to see if the paper is appropriate for the journal, to check similarity to other published material, and to make a first evaluation of the quality and content. Once I have reviewed and approved the paper, it goes to an Associate Editor to send it to three or more reviewers.
NCEJ like most journals require three reviews. We do our best to be sure the reviewers are knowledgeable in the area. To help to assure no bias in the review process, we submit blinded manuscripts to the reviewers. They do not see the names or affiliations of the authors. This review process typically takes 2-3 months.
If the paper has recommendations for revisions and is not accepted as is or rejected, it will go back to the author for revision. I will talk more about this later, but the input from the review process is valuable and should be treated as such.
The author has a defined period to make the changes and resubmit the paper. It will then be reviewed again. This process will be repeated until the paper is either accepted or rejected. On average, NCEJ papers take less than six months from submission to acceptance. Currently, between 66 and 75 percent of annual submissions are not published. Most of this percentage is due to rejections. The process is intentionally rigorous to ensure the quality of the journal.
My role as Editor is to perform the first review and monitor the process. In the case of difficult cases or other issues, I will get involved to help decide on a paper. All decisions on a paper are led by the reviewers’ input. I am heavily involved once your paper has been accepted. We will prepare a draft manuscript for your review, and I will work with you to prepare and publish the final issue of the journal containing your paper.
Ingredients of Successful Papers
Most of the items I am going to talk about in this segment are common sense, but as the old saying goes “the only problem with common sense is that nobody has it”. The most fundamental rule is that the paper must present new material and back that up with the literature review that demonstrates this. Without new material, there is nothing to write. Combined with the material being new it must be an important contribution to the research in the area of noise control. It may contribute new important knowledge or address a problem in current methods and research.
Before anyone says this excludes Case Studies, it does not. New material for Case Studies means a test method, noise issue, or other aspects of noise control engineering that has not been previously covered in a Case Study. Simply documenting a traffic noise survey in a metropolitan area is not new. However, including the study of the implications of this data and the methods of environmental noise reduction can be new.
It should go without saying that the paper must be well-written. There should be high-quality figures and tables that support the arguments of the piece. Please note that well-written does not mean flowery or convoluted language. If the paper is written in coherent English, written as simply as possible, and well organized, it has a much better chance of being accepted. No reviewer enjoys working through difficult language, explanations, or organization. Even important new findings might not be accepted if written poorly.
The subject of the paper must be of interest to the audience. In the case of NCEJ, this means noise control engineers and researchers. Therefore, I reject papers on electrical circuit noise immediately. If you want to be sure the topic is relevant, search the past issues to see what has been published previously this is a good guide.
An important part of your paper is the abstract. I have seen too many authors do this as an afterthought when the paper has been completed. Take the time to prepare a quality abstract that provides a good preview and captures potential readers’ interest. The first item I read for every paper submitted is the abstract. If I come away from this confused or skeptical about the quality of the work, I am less likely to approve the paper to go to an Associate Editor.
It is vitally important that the paper you submit is your FINAL version. It should be your best effort. It should not be a rough draft for which you hope to get feedback from the reviewers to finalize it. I guarantee such a paper will receive highly negative reviews if not be rejected immediately. Everything in the paper should follow our guidelines and be as perfect as you can make them. This includes equations, figures, tables, references, and citations.
Paper Review Process
We seek to have three good reviews of each paper. In some cases, we make go with two if there is a strong consensus between the two reviewers and the Associate Editor. Sometimes we will go to four reviews if there are strong disagreements among the reviewers.
It is important the reviewers are selected by the Associate Editors based on the subject classifications in which they have asked to receive papers and the Associate Editor’s knowledge of the individuals and their past performance. Generally, our reviewers are professionally qualified, highly motivated, and do an excellent job. They are not compensated for their hard work in any way. As noted, before, they receive blinded manuscripts – they do not know the authors’ names or organizations.
We allow two months for the first review and reviewers usually meet this time frame. Of course, there are exceptions, but these are the minority.
Once the reviews are completed, you will be informed of the results along with the Associate Editor’s decision. I review these reviews and decisions before sending the results to you but find that I agree with the Associate Editors in 99% of the cases. There are a few decisions or recommendations the Associate Editor can make. Please see the list below.
- Reject – the paper is not considered appropriate in quality or material for the journal.
- Major Modifications – the paper is judged to have potential to be a significant contribution, but there are major issues that need to be addressed. The author is requested to make these modifications and resubmit the paper. It will then be reviewed again to see that the necessary changes and corrections have been made.
- Minor Modifications – the paper is judged to need only minor changed to be acceptable for publication. The author will be asked to make the necessary revisions and submit the revised version for review. If the changes are small the Associate Editor may accept the revised paper without the need to send it back out for review.
- Accept Paper as Is – there are no modifications needed. This rare of the first pass. It has happened, but it is much more likely after the one or more revisions.
If your paper is judged to need major or minor modifications, it is important that the reviewers are trying to help you. I have never seen a paper that was not improved by the review process. You are getting advice from experts in the field, and you should take advantage of it.
The advice I used to give my team member was this:
- Take the time to carefully read through the reviewers’ comments. Then put it away for a little while.
- Go have a beer, cuss the reviewers, or do whatever that makes your feel better.
- After at least three days of not looking at the reviewers’ comments read them again. Most people are amazed at how much more helpful and well-reasoned the comments seem this second time through.
- Now carefully go through and make the corrections. It is also go practice to document what you have done. This will help the reviewers during the next round of review.
My advice is to make the corrections and resubmit as soon as possible. I have seen too many papers lost because the changes and corrections did not get priority, or the author moved on to the next topic and forgot to resubmit.
It is important to remember the reviewers are not enemies. The majority of recommendations only serve to make your paper stronger. You should take advantage of them. The most illustrative example of the process at its best is when a mediocre paper is submitted and through multiple reviews with good input from the reviewers, it becomes an outstanding paper. Too many authors try to do the minimum possible to satisfy reviewers hoping they can get by with the minimum number of changes. Taking full advantage of the input from reviewers can lead to a much-improved paper that you will be proud of years later.
The last thing you want to do is get in a conflict with a reviewer. Their editor will almost always side with the reviewer if the input was reasonable. Certainly, you should not back down if you feel the reviewers’ input is in error or somehow misguided but be confident of your position.
It is helpful to everyone involved if you document the changes you have made in response to the reviewers. A simple list is often sufficient. If you feel a short explanation or two is useful that is fine as well. It will help the reviewers to be more efficient in re-review and make them confident that you have addressed their input. Whatever you do, do not make other changes in the paper that were not requested by the reviewers. This will only lead to confusion and in the extreme cause your paper to go back to square one as a new submission.
Publishing your work can be positive in multiple ways. It can be helpful in finalizing the work and understanding what you have done. Despite conferences and other means of describing work, a journal publication is still the best means to provide a detailed explanation of your work and findings. The publication can also be an asset for your career and even required by those who have provided funding. It is worth considering whether you should publish your work at a milestone and how you want to publish it.
Ethics in publications is vitally important. Repeating publications or plagiarism of any kind are wrong and will harm your reputation. If you are scrupulously ethical you will repeat real rewards in the long run with a reputation for genuinely new and quality work.
There is no substitute for new work that is well written. Focusing on these concepts will assure acceptance and positive reaction to your publications. No matter how good a job you have done, you will most likely get input from the paper reviewers. Take this input for what it is: helpful advice from experts in the field. If you embrace this input and make the most of it your paper will be improved.
Finally, I strongly recommend being patient. I get too many emails from authors demanding to know why their paper has not been accepted yet when it was only submitted a month before. Six months is the average period from submission to acceptance for NCEJ. Other journals have even longer times. If you are patient and take advantage of the process the rewards will be worth the wait.