I occasionally get notes from authors asking whether they should submit their paper to EPIDEMIOLOGY. Some authors describe their paper in a sentence or two; others enclose the abstract. These requests are well intended. The submission process is not trivial. If a journal is going to reject a paper without review anyway (as happens with two-thirds of our submissions), why shouldn't authors be able to find out before doing all that work?
Here is the reason: if I decide (based on incomplete information) that the paper is not a good fit for our journal, authors forgo any possibility that their paper could have been accepted. If I say sure, send in your paper, the manuscript's chances are not improved in the slightest. (Some authors may think otherwise, but trust me on this.).
EPIDEMIOLOGY is a broad journal (within the realm of our narrow field, at least). We give highest priority to etiologic health research and the methods that undergird it, but we are open-minded about what might constitute a contribution—and about what our readers might find interesting. Our instructions to authors leave the door open for all types of papers, including hypothesis papers, historical vignettes, reviews, poetry, and others.
It is when their papers are not our usual fare that authors are probably most likely to inquire. Papers toward the fringe require special strengths to be accepted—and it is just those strengths that are hardest to judge from a few sentences, or even from an abstract. If the editors find that some aspect of study design, or results, or discussion makes a strong contribution (even if the general topic is a bit marginal for us), then the paper is in the race.
The author's interests are best served by formally submitting their whole paper, together with full supporting information. If the paper is not right for us, I try to let authors know quickly—usually within a few days. Formal submission may be a chore, but it is the price authors pay for editor's undivided (if sometimes brief) attention.
To spare future authors the inconvenience of sending me a presubmission note, I am providing here my 2 standard letters of reply. Authors are welcome to choose the one that better suits their situation.
For most: “Thanks for your inquiry. The editors of EPIDEMIOLOGY do not provide presubmission opinions on manuscripts because we cannot give such papers a fair and full evaluation. If you would like to submit your paper through our journal Web site, we will be happy to consider it.”
For the rest: “Thanks for your inquiry. Your paper appears to be outside the journal's usual purview. However, it would be unfair of us to make such a decision without seeing the full paper. If you would be willing to submit it to EPIDEMIOLOGY, the editors will be glad to consider it.