Research In Brief: Stages of Publication

In 2016 we began the Research In Focus series, highlighting new and interesting findings from NIDILRR-funded studies, presented in a reader-friendly format. As a follow up, we offer our occasional series Research In Brief, where we break down some of the terms you might find in peer-reviewed studies.

In this month’s Research in Brief, we present the various steps researchers take to get a study published. During this time of COVID-19, we are eager for the most up-to-date findings. But, research findings must undergo review to ensure their quality before they are presented to the public.

While each field of science has its own journals that may handle publication differently, most scientists follow this general sequence to get a study published:

  1. Submission: The researcher identifies a suitable scientific journal and sends a copy of their research article to the journal editors. Usually, a journal editor reads the article and makes sure that it meets the journal’s publication guidelines. Then, the editor will send the article out to two or three peer reviewers. Peer reviewers are other researchers, not involved with the study, who are experts in the research topic(s) or the methods used.
  2. Peer review: Each peer reviewer then reads the article and will evaluate the quality of the research, including the importance of the findings, the soundness of the methods used, and the conclusions drawn in the article. Each peer reviewer will recommend whether or not the article should be published. Usually, peer reviewers also recommend several revisions that the researchers should make to improve the article. These can be major revisions, like conducting a second study, or minor revisions, like explaining methods in more detail.
  3. Editorial decision: After receiving the peer reviews, the journal editor will decide whether to publish the article as-is, request revisions, or reject the article. The editor will then notify the researchers. Usually, articles have to be revised at least once before publication.
  4. Online and print publication: After an article has been accepted for publication, it is considered to be “in-press.” That means that the researchers can share the research findings with their networks. Most journals publish an online version of the article first (online ahead of print). For journals that publish printed issues, the research article will be printed in the next available issue, sometimes up to a year after the online publication.
  5. Indexing: Some research journals, like PLOS ONE, are “open-access.” This means that anyone can read the article by doing a Google search for the article title, going on the journal’s website, or using a free database like Google Scholar. Other research journals, like Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, instead require someone to subscribe in order to read the research articles. A person can pay to read a specific article, pay to subscribe to the journal, or if they attend or work at a university, they can download the article from the university’s library. Regardless of whether an article is published in an open-access or a subscription journal, however, a brief summary of the research (called an abstract) will be made publicly available to the reader. These articles may be indexed in one or more indexing databases. Disability and rehabilitation literature may be indexed in free databases like REHABDATA, PubMed, or subscription databases like CINAHL, or PsycINFO.

The publication process can take considerable time: An article may take more than a year to be published. However, that time is important to ensuring the accuracy, quality, and long-term value of research and practice. If you are an author, or curious about the publishing process, the following articles might be helpful:

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