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I'm curious to hear whether there is general guidance on when and whether to submit a pre-submission inquiry to a high impact journal (field: biology). Our goal is to identify a journal that will send our paper out for review. I understand pre-submissions are best when there really is a question of appropriateness, e.g., you are submitting a software-oriented manuscript to an experimental biology journal.

I am less clear on whether the current situation will benefit from a pre-submission inquiry. Consulting with my PI, and other faculty on the floor, there seems to be wide disagreements about the utility of pre-submission. Some argue these inquiries are more efficient than full submissions, since formatting a paper for each journal is usually time intensive. Others say they've had pre-submissions meet strong approval, then get editorially rejected. Any general thoughts on this?

Edit 6.27.15. I'd like to specifically highlight bitwise' comment below as that has proven to be the most useful advice. In the last 9 months I've submitted multiple articles not fulfilling the exact formatting requirements, length limits, supplement guidelines, and even figure guidelines, and this has not seemed to affect whether we get reviewed. One paper is currently under review at Molecular Cell that is 4000 characters over limit and has a wildly incorrectly formatted supplement, and 1 figure over the limit.

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I have never found a pre-submission inquiry to be useful, and was always advised against it. The main argument is that it does not increase your chances of acceptance and just adds another hurdle to pass. Additionally, assuming you use a reference manager the difference in formatting between journals is usually minimal (or you can ignore some of the rules on your first submission).

However, I always submitted to journals that I know and read before, so I knew that the topic is generally appropriate. I would only consider a pre-submission inquiry if I am not sure whether the general topic is appropriate for the journal.

  • We agree on the latter point. In my experience, switching journals is rarely as easy as reformatting references. There are wildly different length requirements among journals we apply to. There are also topic considerations.. at a high impact journal, the focus (at least in intro/conclusion) should be on broad implications. At a subject journal, less general background is needed. – vector07 Sep 24 '14 at 16:27
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    @vector07 From my experience (biology journals), in the first round of reviews format is largely ignored by the reviewers and editor. If you are invited to make a revision, the editor then will also tell you to make sure you follow the formatting guidelines. Also, many journals have multiple formats (e.g. Article, Letter, Brief Correspondence) and manuscripts may be directed by the editor into a specific format. – Bitwise Sep 24 '14 at 16:53
  • Interesting about them not caring about formatting exactly the first submission. Will take that into consideration. I should add -- PNAS is one journal that does not allow that; on submission, the full manuscript has to be at most a 7 page pdf, no exceptions. – vector07 Sep 24 '14 at 19:31
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I do not know about your field (I'm in Computer Science), but from my recent attempts in submitting, I have found one situation where pre-submission is required by some journals: submission of a survey or overview article.

Some examples:

Authors interested in submitting overview articles are required to consult first with the Editor-in-Chief (EiC) of their Transactions of choice before submitting a white paper proposal. White papers are limited to 2-pages and should motivate the topic, justify the proposal, and include a list of relevant bibliography including any available tutorial or overview articles related to the subject matter. (...) White paper proposals should be submitted directly to the EiC.

(taken from IEEE Transactions on Image Processing)

Also:

Individuals interested in submitting a survey/tutorial article (not part of a Special Issue) should submit a white paper outlining the content of the proposed article to the Area Editor for Feature Articles (refer to the Editorial page) via the Manuscript Central Web submission system. A white paper is usually no more than five (5) pages long

(taken from IEEE Signal Processing Magazine)


Additionally, when we were considering where to submit (and, in which order, in case of rejection) (among 2-3 journals with the appropriate topic) , we opted for the journal pre-submission first, since, well, in a real review process, the paper can always get rejected. Pre-submission allows a chance of getting some kind of response sooner -- if it is a reject, we can re-submit sooner, and if it is an accept, it is a good sign even tho we know the reviewing is a standalone process.

One last point my supervisors pointed out: even if it is a journal that you read, and you think your submission fits the topic -- the "journal" might not think so, so it is a good thing to check how the EiC and the Editorial Board "breathes" (e.g. my subfield has a hard time getting rid of reputation as using very slow methods, because they were slow in the past but have gotten much more efficient lately, so there is sometimes difficulties publishing in main-stream, general, non-subfield-specific venues).

So, bottom line: while the first part of my answer is dealing with a specific case, I think the second part is applicable generally. Yes, it is possible to get rejected by the reviewers after the EiC accepts your pre-submission, but it is also possible to speed up the process in case of rejection. Ultimately, it is yours and your supervisors decision as which approach is best and most efficient for you.

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An interesting opinion here by Dr. Leslie Citrome, the editor-in-chief of the Journal of Clinical Practice.

TLDR: a pre-submission never hurts the author.

  • The link might go bad over time, so you should pull out the key portion of your source and include it in your answer. – aparente001 Apr 4 '18 at 20:21
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I've sent query letters almost every time I've submitted to a journal. Especially if you've never submitted to a journal, it is a good way to make sure that it's potentially a good fit. For example, one journal wrote me back to say they had no reviewers in my subject area and suggesting I find a different journal. So that probably saved several months of them trying to find a reviewer, and I was able to submit somewhere else instead. Another journal wrote back a snarky remark, I submitted anyway, and they wrote back a scathing review. So if the reply to the query isn't so positive, maybe better not to submit. A third wrote back really positively, and I submitted and that piece is now published. So in my experience it does not hurt, and sometimes it can prevent submitting something to some place that is clearly wrong for your piece.

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