The life of a manuscript: The peer review process

In This Section:

The life of a manuscript: The peer review process

L. Bruce Gladden, PhD, FACSM |  Oct. 30, 2017

Many people may wonder why an article from a scientific journal should be considered more credible than one from a magazine on the grocery shelf. The most basic reason is peer review. But what is peer review?

When a scientist performs a research study, analyzes his/her data, and writes a manuscript, he/she will submit the work to a journal in hopes of having it published. Any respected scientific journal will subject these manuscripts to a rigorous review by scientific experts (the author's peers) prior to publishing.

Here is the typical series of events in the life of a manuscript:

  1. The journal receives a submission. The first step is to check to see if it has followed the journal’s guidelines for formatting.


  2. The Editor-in-Chief of the journal looks at the manuscript to see if it is worthy of further consideration. A few manuscripts are rejected at this stage for a variety of reasons: it’s not a good fit for the journal’s audience, poor methods, lack of new information.


  3. If the manuscript passes this first simple test, the Editor-in-Chief will assign it to an Associate Editor who has expertise in the area of the manuscript. This Associate Editor will make his/her own additional assessment regarding whether the information in the manuscript is sufficiently new or important enough to warrant a full peer review.


  4. If the manuscript passes this assessment, it is usually assigned to 2-3 reviewers (peers) who are experts in the area of research reported in the manuscript. These reviewers then perform a very detailed critique of the manuscript, including consideration of: the subject population, methods employed, appropriate analysis of the results (both statistics and interpretation) and novelty and uniqueness of the study. The reviewers especially consider if the study increases our knowledge about the topic being investigated. They then rank the manuscript in terms of overall quality.


  5. The critiques of the expert reviewers are then returned to the Associate Editor who carefully considers this feedback and decides whether to reject the manuscript, or to allow the authors an opportunity to revise it.


    By far, most rejections occur at this stage.

  6. If the Associate Editor allows revision, the revised manuscript will undergo the same rigorous scientific review that the original manuscript received, and most likely will ultimately be accepted.

For many high-quality journals, no more than 25% of the submitted manuscripts make their way to acceptance and publication in the journal. The rigor of this process leads some scientists to say that a career in science is a lifetime career of negative reinforcement. Scientists are constantly receiving critiques of their work. Rarely would the first response to a submitted manuscript be, “Wow, this is really great!” However, these critiques are what make peer reviewed articles so reliable, and they protect the integrity of the scientific community.

ACSM published five scholarly journals. You can learn more about those publications and read articles here

L. Bruce Gladden, Ph.D., FACSM, is a professor at Auburn University’s School of Kinesiology. His work is focused on the role of lactate in skeletal muscle and whole-body metabolism. He is the author or co-author of more than 75 refereed research articles and reviews, and his investigative work has attracted research funding from the National Institutes of Health, National Science Foundation, NATO and private research foundations. Dr. Gladden has served as president of the southeast chapter of ACSM, a member of the ACSM Board of Trustees and he is currently the editor-in-chief of Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise®. He was the recipient of an ACSM Citation Award in 2015 in recognition of his significant contributions to sports medicine and the exercise sciences.