Since a few months, I've been taking on the task of being editor in chief of the science and engineering journal ACI Avances en Ciencias e Ingenierias, the technical journal of Universidad San Francisco de Quito. Being the editor in chief of a small journal means that I handle a large number of different tasks (from inviting reviewers, contacting authors, to arranging the copyediting and galley publication stages), and given the broad scope of the journal (exact sciences, biology and associated fields, and engineering), I get to look into a variety of publications and make the first call of judgement.
I truly enjoy the variety of topics that I get to read and learn about, but I've also had to do a number of desk rejections. A while back, Dr. Nancy R. Gough shared her perspective as an editor for authors. I've also written about what I look for as a reviewer in a manuscript, and I follow these guidelines as an editor as well. Besides these pieces of advice, there are nine items that I've found to be important as an editor.
1. Does your manuscript contain all required sections?
You'd be surprised, but sometimes authors submit manuscripts without a literature review, without a discussion of results, or without a summary and/or conclusions at the end. Most journal will tell you which sections you should add to a manuscript. Carefully revise this requirement to avoid a direct rejection. Some journals require the addition of funding information (separate from the acknowledgements), a section with research significance, a section with author contributions, a list of notations, or a conflict of interest statement. Provide the sections that are required.
2. Is your work free of (self-)plagiarism?
It's easier nowadays to identify cases of (self-)plagiarism with tools such as iThenticate, turnitin etc. Editors can now see with one click if authors have already published similar work elsewhere. Avoid copying the work of others without clearly showing that you are citing someone else's work. Avoid reproducing work you've submitted before and that only contains marginal improvements.
3. Have you suggested reviewers?
While typically not mandatory, but often optional, suggesting reviewers is good practice, especially for multidisciplinary journals. Make sure you don't have a conflict of interest with any possible reviewer you suggest. If you find it difficult to think of a good reviewer with whom you have no collaboration ties, then check the list of references from your paper. You can suggest the authors of the most recent papers that you've cited as a starting point.
4. Have you followed the guidelines for manuscript preparation?
Depending on the journal, you may need to follow strict guidelines regarding formatting. For uniformity, all journals have a preferred citation style - make sure you use the right style. Is it sufficient to upload a PDF of the entire manuscript, or should you prepare a title page, anonymous manuscript, and cover letter? Make sure you adhere to what is required for submission.
5. Is your literature review up to date?
Are your references up to date, or is your most recent reference 20 years old? Make sure your literature review is based on the current state of the art, not on the state of the art from 20 years ago. If you've been working for several years on a manuscript, give it an overall refresh before submitting it to make sure the work is still actual. Also - write a literature review, not an annotated bibliography (yes, this is one of my pet peeves).
6. Have you provided high-quality figures?
When you generate the PDF of your submission at the end of the uploading procedures, check the document that will be sent to the reviewers. Are your figures clear, or did you provide low-quality figures that look all blurred in the PDF? Make sure your visual information is clear; this is one of the first elements the editor will check.
7. Does your article fit the scope of the journal and/or section you are submitting to?
A large number of papers get a desk rejection because they don't fit the scope of the journal, and one can often hear editors sigh in despair over this fact. If you are submitting to a multidisciplinary journal, make sure you select the right section. If your work fits in a special collection, clearly identify this during submission.
8. Does your abstract convey the core of your work?
I see a large number of abstracts that are stylistically not abstracts. If you need information on how to write an abstract, check my post on this topic - it's an all-time favorite on my blog. Make sure you add conclusions to your abstract. Describe your methods. Don't just say what you did - say what you did and what you learned from that.
9. Are your metadata filled out completely?
Some journal submission systems won't let you proceed when your information is not properly filled out. If that's not the case, make sure you've completed all the requested information: author information and contact details of all authors, properly uploaded abstract, and all the other metadata the editor needs to process your submission. Often, it's not difficult to follow the steps in a submission system - just make sure you set aside the time and required concentration to do so without missing information.