Nature Reviews editors are more hands-on than editors at other journals. Before reviewers even lay eyes on the paper the editor will have provided multiple rounds of detailed feedback. In fact, that’s what most of us love about our jobs: working collaboratively with authors to produce the best possible paper on a topic that will be accessible to the broadest possible segment of the journal’s readership.
However, for most of our authors this will be a new experience. So we want to shed a little light on our process, what we do, and why we believe it helps us publish great papers, in a series of posts that take you behind the scenes of Nature Reviews Psychology.
Today’s installment: Macro-edit
After an author agrees to write for us, the first step is the synopsis, which is the first time we provide feedback on the paper’s planned structure and scope. After that, the authors take some time to write the full draft of the paper. When that full draft is submitted, it’s time for us to get hands-on again with the macro edit.
No two manuscript drafts are alike, which means no two macro edits are quite alike either! The macro edit is our chance to flag anything that the authors should revise before the paper goes out to review. We ask our reviewers to focus on the scope and science of the paper, so we want to make sure that the structure and writing are clear enough to convey the paper’s message and make the reviewers’ jobs easy.
The first thing we do is a close read of the entire draft, thinking about the role of each section in the overall narrative. We check whether the introduction motivates the piece, explaining why it is important and timely and setting up the narrative of the rest of the paper. The final section of the paper serves a slightly different role depending on whether the piece is a Review or Perspective article, but either way we are looking for the authors to bring the paper together and propose future directions to move the field forward.
Even though we thought carefully about the paper’s structure and logical flow at the synopsis stage, sometimes once a draft is written it becomes obvious that some changes would help convey the message more clearly. For example, if section 2 refers extensively to section 5, maybe the sections should be adjacent to reduce redundancy and prevent the reader from having to flip back and forth across the paper. We also check for transitions across sections: Does a section on treatment types rehash the previous section on diagnoses when it could jump straight in?
While the macro edit isn’t the time to go through the paper with a fine-tooth comb (that comes later!), we also look at the level of individual paragraphs. Do the paragraphs convey the message of each section in a logical order? Is there extraneous information that disrupts the flow of the narrative and could be deleted (or moved to a box)? Is there any missing information that needs to be added for a complete discussion? Is the terminology clear to a non-expert, or should glossary entries be added to clarify key terms? Finally, we look for places where the author might need to add citations so that the paper becomes a great point of reference for future readers. (Although we don’t strictly need references to be formatted in our house style at this point, we do need them to be complete so that reviewers can find a particular reference if needed).
The message of the paper also needs to come through in the display items (figures, tables, and boxes). We look at whether each of these items is clear and makes a valuable contribution to the paper. At this stage authors typically send us schematic or sketched figures, which is just fine! Our in-house art editors redraw all figures after peer review, so we look for whether the figures will be effective and whether the information in them is scientifically accurate, rather than whether they are aesthetically pleasing. If a figure includes a lot of text, we may suggest ways it can be simplified, or that the authors convert it is to a table or box to take advantage of those text-based formats. If we have an idea for how a figure might be revised or for a new figure to be added, we might draw a version ourselves to serve as a starting point. Because we have the full draft tin hand, at this stage we can notice if any concepts might benefit from adding a figure or if a figure is purely redundant with the text. Any revisions we suggest are to help the display items complement and enhance the main manuscript text as one complete package.
The extent of a macro edit for any given paper varies considerably. One paper may be clear and focused in its writing but have lackluster display items. Another paper might need some finessing of the sections to bring the narrative out but have figures that do a wonderful job of clarifying complex topics. The macro edit can even be skipped entirely if, after a careful read, we decide that the paper is in good shape and can go directly out to reviewers. There’s a trade-off between asking for revisions now and waiting to see what the reviewers say; it may make sense to do a lighter macro edit and go straight to the peer experts. If a macro edit is conducted, the suggested edits go back to the authors for a quick revision before the next stage: peer review.