Dodging Vaporware: In Preparation, In Submission, Under Review, Accepted Pending

As we all know, much of the evaluation of scientists for various important career purposes involves the record of published work.

More is better.

We also know that, at any given point in time, one might have work that will eventually be published that is not, quiiiiiite, actually published. And one would like to gain credit for such work.

This is most important when you have relatively few papers of "X" quality and this next bit of work will satisfy the "X" demand.

This can mean first-author papers, papers from a given training stint (like a 3-5 yr postdoc) or the first paper(s) from a new Asst Professor's lab. It may mean papers associated with a particular grant award or papers conducted in collaboration with a specific set of co-authors. It could mean the first paper(s) associated with a new research direction for the author.

Consequently, we wish to list items that are not-yet-papers in a way that implies they are inevitably going to be real papers. Published papers.

The problem is that of vaporware. Listing paper titles and authors with an indication that it is "in preparation" is the easiest thing in the world. I must have a half-dozen (10?) projects at various stages of completion that are in preparation for publication. Not all of these are going to be published papers and so it would be wrong for me to pretend that they were.

Hardliners, and the NIH biosketch rules, insist that published is published and all other manuscripts do not exist.

In this case, "published" is generally the threshold of receiving the decision letter from the journal Editor that the paper is accepted for publication. In this case the manuscript may be listed as "in press". Yes, this is a holdover term from the old days. Some people, and institutions requiring you to submit a CV, insist that this is the minimum threshold.

But there are other situations in which there are no rules and you can get away with whatever you like.

I'd suggest two rules of thumb. Try to follow the community standards for whatever the purpose and avoid looking like a big steaming hosepipe of vapor.

"In preparation" is the slipperiest of terms and is to be generally avoided. I'd say if you are anything beyond the very newest of authors with very few publications then skip this term as much as possible.

I'd suggest that "in submission" and "under review" are fine and it looks really good if that is backed up with the journal's ID number that it assigned to your submission.

Obviously, I suggest this for manuscripts that actually have been submitted somewhere and/or are out for review.

It is a really bad idea to lie. A bad idea to make up endless manuscripts in preparation, unless you have a draft of a manuscript, with figures, that you can show on demand.

Where it gets tricky is what you do after a manuscript comes back from the journal with a decision.

What if it has been rejected? Then it is right back to the in preparation category, right? But on the other hand, whatever perception of it being a real manuscript is conferred by "in submission" is still true. A manuscript good enough that you would submit it for consideration. Right? So personally I wouldn't get to fussed if it is still described as in submission, particularly if you know you are going to send it right back out essentially as-is. If it's been hammered so hard in review that you need to do a lot more work then perhaps you'd better stick it back in the in preparation stack.

What if it comes back from a journal with an invitation to revise and resubmit it? Well, I think it is totally kosher to describe it as under review, even if it is currently on your desk. This is part of the review process, right?

Next we come to a slightly less kosher thing which I see pretty frequently in the context of grant and fellowship review. Occasionally from postdoctoral applicants. It is when the manuscript is listed as "accepted, pending (minor) revision".

Oh, I do not like this Sam I Am.

The paper is not accepted for publication until it is accepted. Period. I am not familiar with any journals which have accepted pending revision as a formal decision category and even if such exist that little word pending makes my eyebrow raise. I'd rather just see "Interim decision: minor revisions" but for some reason I never see this phrasing. Weird. It would be even better to just list it as under review.

Final note is that the acceptability of listing less-than-published stuff on your CV or biosketch or Progress Report varies with your career tenure, in my view. In a fellowship application where the poor postdoc has only one middle author pub from grad school and the two first author works are just being submitted...well I have some sympathy. A senior type with several pages of PubMed results? Hmmmm, what are you trying to pull here. As I said above, maybe if there is a clear reason to have to fluff the record. Maybe it is only the third paper from a 5 yr grant and you really need to know about this to review their continuation proposal. I can see that. I have sympathies. But a list of 8 manuscripts from disparate projects in the lab that are all in preparation? Boooo-gus.

32 responses so far

  • dr24hours says:

    I had a paper, now published, where the initial decision was "Accepted with Minor Revisions". It's a real thing. But I have no idea how common it is.

  • qaz says:

    What I hate is "in preparation for journal X", particularly when journal X is hard to get into. I remember one CV I saw that contained no published papers but three or four in preparation for Nature, Science, and Nature Neuroscience.

  • Dr. Noncoding Arenay says:

    "I remember one CV I saw that contained no published papers but three or four in preparation for Nature, Science, and Nature Neuroscience."

    LOL that's ridiculous! That person better have been born only yesterday to do such a thing. Said CV goes straight into the trash without further ado, I expect?

  • Jim Woodgett says:

    Here's some ideas:

    "accepted in principle" (the principle being the authors, not the editors/reviewers)

    "in aspiration" (not actually a manuscript, more a figment of my imagination)

    "in flagrante delicto" (in actual preparation, as in the experiments are in progress)

    "in denial" (it's been rejected by 5 journals and am next considering posting to my blog)

  • fjordmaster says:

    I wrestled with this issue during my job search last fall. I generally only put accepted papers on my CV, but I had no publications from my postdoc at the time when most applications were due. I had one "under review" and three I considered "in preparation." I put the "under review" and one "in preparation" on my job packet CV because I wanted to show something. Also, my job talk and research plan were based on the "in preparation" I included and I had a draft of that work done. I never thought about putting the other two in preps on the CV because that would have been way too much of a stretch. In fact, they are both still in prep.

  • fjordmaster says:

    qaz,

    Do you feel the same way about "Submitted to journal X" or "Under review at journal X" if it is still in the desk review phase?

  • Grumble says:

    DM, you know, it really fucking amazes me how someone so incredibly smart and insightful, and with a true gift for blogging and stirring up interesting blogospheric debate on so many issues of interest to me, can still spend so much brainpower on utter bullshit minutia like this.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    Some trainee was asking about it on the Twitts . Your minutia may be someone else's query of the day...

  • physioprof says:

    Many (most? all?) institutions expect you to put all this "vaporware" on your internal CV for promotion and tenure purposes, and to explain in detail the actual status.

  • Tinkering Theorist says:

    Yeah, in my field there are definitely journals for which one of the check boxes on the review form says something about minor revisions (wording is different) but if you check it it implies, "these are suggested revisions, but accept the paper even if these revisions aren't done". Depending on how the editor's decision is then worded, I feel one can consider it accepted for most intents and purposes.

  • Cynric says:

    What I hate is "in preparation for journal X", particularly when journal X is hard to get into. I remember one CV I saw that contained no published papers but three or four in preparation for Nature, Science, and Nature Neuroscience.

    Yeah, I've seen a few CVs with "submitted to Nature" manuscripts listed, as though that is an achievement in itself.

  • Cynric says:

    I must have a half-dozen (10?) projects at various stages of completion that are in preparation for publication.

    It's horrifying how the vapourware builds up. I'm making a concerted effort to clear mine this year, and looking hard at what we're doing wrong to let so many 3/4 papers hang around neglected.

  • Ola says:

    @qaz "submitted to X"
    It is never a good idea to list the actual journal, for anything other than actually accepted. there's nothing worse than someone seeing it submitted to C/N/S on one version of your CV/Bioscrawl, then at the next cycle it's listed as accepted at a mid/low tier clearing house, prompting a subconscious devaluation of the actual pub, regardless of its actual merit worthiness at its final resting place.

  • Eli Rabett says:

    Interesting.

    Accepted pending minor revisions may be more common in the physical sciences and engineering. Who knows.

    However, for submitted stuff it is becoming increasingly common to deposit the manuscript to arXiv or put it on the net and link it in your CV. That way anyone interested can look and make their own judgement.

  • Odyssey says:

    "In preparation" is so widely abused that it's become essentially meaningless. With very junior folks I can see listing one or two "manuscripts" that way, but more than that, or with more established folks, I frankly tend to ignore them. I've seen CVs listing 8 or more. That's just looks bad.

  • whimple says:

    Call me a hardliner, but unless it is "in press" (has been accepted) or has been published, it doesn't exist and shouldn't be listed -- anywhere, ever. When I see anything listed other than that my opinion of the person trying to pull that automatically goes down.

  • whimple says:

    Also hilarious (in a somewhat unfortunate way) are listings of "pending" grant support which is code for "grant applications I have submitted that probably won't be funded".

  • physioprof says:

    anywhere, ever

    You have already been told that some (most?) institutions require listing manuscripts and grants in various pending states. Is this for some reason difficult for you to comprehend?

  • DrugMonkey says:

    As far as I am concerned a NIH grant is only "pending" when the NGA has been issued and your budget office hasn't got around to giving you your spending code yet.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    PP are you required to tell your institution that the manuscript is in it's fourth round of reviews at Nature or just "under review"?

  • physioprof says:

    We are required to give an honest statement of the status of manuscripts in progress. It is up to the individual how much detail to provide. And you are confused about the meaning of "pending" in relation to grants, at least in terms of the NIH official definition used for Other Support statements.

  • AcademicLurker says:

    In these days of low funding success rates, often institutions want to see evidence that you're at least trying (and hopefully getting credible scores). So they want your submitted proposals and scores if available listed on your annual activity report.

    If you're submitting multiple RO1 proposals per year and consistently getting scores in the ~15% range, then it's a reasonable inference that you're going to hit eventually, even if you've missed the cutoff the last few rounds. That's an important consideration when it comes time to make decisions about bridge funding.

  • Juan Lopez says:

    I know of a university where faculty are required required to report all manuscript submissions (yes, every submission and resubmission) on an online system. Annual reports only include published manuscripts. Lurker's argument makes sense, but wheter the higher ups consider close-but-no-cigar grant application scores is not doslosed. My guess is that they do not, and faculty gets the usual: show me the money.

  • Mac says:

    I largely agree with 'in prep' as worse than useless. I might ignore it generally but if your number of 'in preps' is greater than number of pubs I will think you're naive, if all your in preps are to be submitted to Nature/Science I will begin to actively dislike you. I have though used 'in preps' a couple times. This was very early on when the ms was in a state I would be happy to share (I included a 'ms available upon request' note with the title), it demonstrated a new research direction, and I had co-authors dragging their feet. I'm not sure it helped or hurt in my job search, I didn't get a job that year but there are lots of factors there, but I did get a good postdoc position with that CV. I think carefully used in early career stages 'in prep' can have meaning and value but there's a narrow window.

  • cookingwithsolvents says:

    I list stuff that is submitted as "submitted". If I put a cover letter on it, worked through the b.s. online system (not to mention did the science and wrote the manuscript) then it counts. I put my name out there on the science and have submitted it to the world for acceptance. Value it as 0.1 or 0.99 of a "paper" or whatever you want but I'll list it in places were it is relevant. As for accepted, the 'just accepted' and early view/asap sections of journals let you put your money where your mouth is with a DOI.

    I wouldn't list "submitted" on a grant application as one of my 10 in the biosketch, most likely. Maybe if the preliminary results are a good chunk of the prelim section, maybe, but I'm a jr person and carving new areas. Even then, I would probably only put accepted papers in the biosketch. I would use "submitted" as a reference in the narrative, though, and be sure to detail the results more than I normally would.

    I did have a unique situation with my last yearly activities report where I had a patent application pending that was holding up several papers. I listed the patent app as 'in preparation' (it was at the lawyers at the time) and some of the papers were something like 'manuscript prepared, submission on hold pending patent filing' or some-such like that (and they were prepared and waiting). Others were related and listed as 'in preparation' if they were, in fact, in preparation. They wanted to see all of that stuff for P&T purposes.

  • drugmonkey says:

    I agree that citing and listing submitted manuscripts in the References section of the NIH grant is a good idea. It's not permitted for the Biosketch, so obviously don't do that.

  • Dr. Noncoding Arenay says:

    I don't know anything about listing pubs on faculty review files, but in any of my fellowship or postdoc applications I did not list "in preparation", "submitted" or "under review"manuscripts. Somehow, it just never stood well with me, but then I am satisfied with my publication record at my career level. I only consider manuscripts to be "published" if they are "accepted", "in press" or also in the "minor comments" stage because I reckon most manuscripts are accepted after addressing those minor comments.

  • BioDataSci says:

    What if you had a manuscript that was under review (or even *almost* ready to submit), and you were applying for faculty positions, would it ever make sense to include these in your submission as evidence that they are not vaporware?

  • meshugena313 says:

    So I only include "in active preparation" on documents for my department, etc. In fact I was just working on that section for my annual review with the chair when I read this post. I had a separate section for "planned manuscripts". In preparation only listed those for which we have figures done or almost done and the text in progress. I also had a separate section for a manuscript "in revision" - manuscript was rejected but we added substantial new data and are about to resubmit to the same journal.

    I never considered listing these on a biosketch or anything for public consumption, I think that would be nuts and begging for trouble later.

  • Joe says:

    I stopped using "in preparation" because I got tired of seeing the same title there. I'm not going to submit that manuscript until someone does the missing experiment. A "planned" or "in preparation" listing can be useful for evaluating junior faculty progress, but it is useless if you are not going to get to question them about expected submission dates, etc.

    Of course you will list "in press" manuscripts, but it is also worth listing "submitted", and "in revision" manuscripts for some purposes.

  • cookingwithsolvents says:

    @BioDataSci

    When I applied for academic jobs I did not list anything other than published papers. I had one paper come out during the process and I forwarded the proof + and updated CV to places with a request to add that to my file. Most replied that they had done so, including the eventual institution where I ended up.

    Having been on the other side of search committees I would certainly accept an updated CV+the paper to the package provided they had met the original deadline. It also is a demonstration that the candidate is invested in the process and your institution.

  • pinus says:

    my internal promotion documents require details about everything under review, it is very different than NIH rules.

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