How Can Journals Better Serve Authors?


A philosopher who was recently appointed to an editorial position at an academic journal has a question for authors.

She asks: “Are there little things journals could be doing to make authors lives a little better”?

What kinds of things?

Here’s one example she shares:

If the author of a paper I’m handing hasn’t received a decision three months after submission, I e-mail them letting them know what stage the process is at, and my estimate about when they’ll get a verdict. It only takes me a minute to do, and my hope is that it takes some of the anxiety out of the waiting period.

Whether that or other suggestions might work for any particular journal may depend on various factors (such as volume of submissions an editor handles), but it would be good to get some ideas out there. What should editors consider doing? (Also: what are editors at some journals doing that others should consider emulating?)

guest
37 Comments
Oldest
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Bea
Bea
2 months ago

The editor could check out the reviews before sending them to the authors, to make sure that they do not contain patronising, humiliating tones.Report

JDF
JDF
2 months ago

My kingdom for proper copy-editing. Alas, this might not qualify as a ‘little’ thing, budget-wise.Report

statsstatsstats
2 months ago

They could post stats about acceptance rates, R&R rates, rejection with comment rates, and desk reject rates, as well as average times to each sort of decision. Some journals are very good about this (e.g. Phil Review), but others don’t do it at all.Report

Still on the market
2 months ago

Try to send revisions to reviewers who suggested R&R, instead of brand new reviewers. If you have to send revisions to brand new reviewers, ask if the revision can be evaluated in light of the previous comments. Furthermore, read the reviewer comments before rejecting a revision or demanding another revision, especially if the recommendations of rejection or revision are because the author(s) revised in light of the previous comments.

(Just want to point out, I had revisions rejected based on following the suggestions made by the editor in light of previous reviewer comments, and a revision demanding that I undo stuff suggested by the editor again based on previous reviewer comments.)Report

Kevin Zollman
Reply to  Still on the market
2 months ago

As an associate editor, this was always our policy. Alas, often the original reviewers would refuse or (worse yet) agree and then not complete the review.Report

Archie Mann
2 months ago

I think there should be more immediate desk rejections. (This sounds bad, but hear me out). Nothing is more miserable than waiting three or four months to get desk rejected. The editor in chief could really play a valuable role here by making desk-rejection decisions almost immediately, and by being even more heavy handed than usual in doing so. That is, the editor should *only* send the paper to reviewers in rare cases where they think it has an excellent chance of getting in (bearing in mind the low acceptance rate). The brutal sounding policy above would prevent a lot of people from wasting their time.Report

Brendan Ritchie
Brendan Ritchie
Reply to  Archie Mann
2 months ago

So the kind of policy that many many many science journals (at least in psych and neuro) use without issue? I entirely agree.Report

Sum
Sum
2 months ago

Be like Ergo.Report

Matt Weiner
Matt Weiner
Reply to  Sum
2 months ago

Ergo’s fantastic peer-review system is open source and worth checking out! https://github.com/jweisber/ergonaut#readmeReport

Still on the market
Reply to  Sum
2 months ago

Wholeheartedly agree. Best experiences for both rejections and acceptances. Rejections are superquick, and the editors will find reviewers very quickly. Furthermore, all this can be seen in the submission status.

If journals were ranked according to editorial practices, Ergo would definitely be among the top.Report

Olle Blomberg
Olle Blomberg
Reply to  Sum
2 months ago

I agree. Be Ergo or like Ergo.Report

Moti Gorin
2 months ago

They could always accept my papers without revision.Report

Not a Philosopher
Not a Philosopher
Reply to  Moti Gorin
2 months ago

Agreed (so long as “my” is interpreted de dicto)!Report

Kevin Zollman
2 months ago

Here’s a small thing that I think would improve reviewing. Stop insisting that reviewers recuse themselves if they know the identity of the author. Ask them to tell you how they know, and make a case-by-case judgment about conflict of interest.

In small sub-fields, this policy puts authors into an awkward position. Do I get comments and present at conferences, thus excluding many relevant reviewers? Or do I keep the paper under wraps in the hopes of getting people who know the field well to review the paper.

This puts especially junior scholars in a tenuous position where both choices seem very bad.Report

Junior Academic
Junior Academic
Reply to  Kevin Zollman
2 months ago

This sort of situation doesn’t get discussed enough!Report

Dale E Miller
Reply to  Kevin Zollman
2 months ago

As an editor I rarely have to exclude reviewers on this basis. Generally they exclude themselves, with evident relief.Report

Wesley
2 months ago

I really like it when editors share their rationale for their decisions and think it would be great to see more of this (e.g. why they decided what the reviewer said warranted acceptance or rejection, or what things they’ve said, in particular, must be addressed in revision).Report

Emily Sullivan
Emily Sullivan
Reply to  Wesley
2 months ago

We do this at EJPS! As an editorial team we have been trying to make decisions more transparent for authors and give guidance regarding r&r’s. It was the previous editors in chief, Federica Russo and Phyllis Illari, who really initiated this kind of work.Report

CA2021
2 months ago

When giving a revise and resubmit verdict, give some editorial guidance on which revisions you think are key and which you think are not. Especially in cases where different reviewers want to pull the paper in different directions.Report

Fiona Woollard
2 months ago

Don’t require papers to be put in house style until after acceptance. And make this clear on the website.Report

Neil Levy
2 months ago

Stop demanding papers adhere to arbitrary conventions at submission. If you insist on a particular style, require it when the paper is accepted (this is what the AJP does). John Holbo recently posted about a journal sending back his paper after three months because the abstract wasn’t included on the first page (i.e., the reviewer would see the abstract only once). I’ve never had to wait three months for such a decision, but similar things have happened to me multiple times.

Editors may not even be aware of these silly conventions. They may be imposed by editorial staff at the publishers. So editors: ask authors to let you know if papers are sent back for these sorts of reasons.Report

WiseGuy
2 months ago

If your generalist journal accepts papers on Kant and Hume, don’t tell me that I should submit my paper to a journal that specializes in non-Western philosophy. You *can* find a reviewerReport

Last edited 2 months ago by WiseGuy
Neil Levy
2 months ago

I know this isn’t the subject of this post, and journals can serve authors better (at least most of the things already suggested should be implemented). But temper your irritation with journals by the realisation that editing is not easy and usually not paid. It’s *normal* right now to send out 10 invitations to reviewers to get one acceptance. Most people *never* accept invitations if AJP records are anything to go by. Of course some can’t. But at least click ‘decline’ in the invitation email.Report

happytoreview
happytoreview
Reply to  Neil Levy
2 months ago

This is a great point, and perhaps we can have a discussion (if one has not already taken place on this platform) about this important problem. Many potential reviewers have little to no incentive to review, and editors tend to direct invitations to senior members of the profession (who are probably drowning in requests). I can say this: there are many, many junior members of the profession who are willing to review but are rarely invited to do so. As an assistant prof I get a dozen invitations each year, mostly from the same three or four philosophy journals. Somewhat surprisingly, I have received (and accepted) multiple invitations to review from generalist (and specialist) political science journals. I almost never get requests from the top philosophy journals and there are also many specialist journals in my AOS that never reach out. This is probably just a reflection of my low-profile in the discipline, but my broader point is that I am a member of a (perhaps rather large) untapped pool of philosophers. We are your colleagues. We routinely publish in respected journals. We are almost never asked to review.Report

happytoreview
happytoreview
Reply to  Justin Weinberg
2 months ago

Thanks, Justin! I appreciate the previous post you ran on this topic and think something similar could be of use. Also helpful might be a discussion of publication practices in other disciplines (once again, apologies if you covered this and I missed it). As I mentioned, political science journals are willing to recruit junior scholars to review and as a result are often able to provide helpful comments to authors within a month or two. I’ve had similar experiences in biology. The few occasions I have tried to publish in biology journals I received great comments from those at the postdoc/assistant prof level. All within a month or two of my submission. I’m not sure how much, at the end of the day, we can really learn from studying the publication practices of other disciplines, but it might be worth looking into!Report

Neil Levy
Reply to  happytoreview
2 months ago

I can’t speak for others, but I do not direct requests at senior members of the profession. I use philpapers to identify potential reviewers. They need to have a PhD and (my filter ensures) a recent publication in the area.Report

Still on the market
2 months ago

Get rid of the word count of bibliographies so authors won’t have to think about cutting citations to fit into the word limit.

Also note that real-world examples from countries unfamiliar to the “mainstream” will typically require more words to explain. If your journal values diversity in this respect, consider granting exemptions or other measures that would encourage the diversity of examples.Report

Long Winded Grad Student
Long Winded Grad Student
Reply to  Still on the market
2 months ago

Better yet, eliminate word limits. We’re not printing journals anymore.Report

Too Many Words
Too Many Words
Reply to  Long Winded Grad Student
2 months ago

Not the only reason to have word limits.Report

Stephen Hetherington
Reply to  Long Winded Grad Student
2 months ago

AJP is still printed on paper (as well as being available online). We have a contracted number of pages per year — and hence, in effect, per issue.Report

PDFer
2 months ago

Allow submissions in pdf.Report

Damian
2 months ago

Be fully transparent about the current status of the paper. An online system stating whether it is with one or more reviewers and also when each reviewer submits their report (and what do they recommend) would be ideal.Report

Ethan Mills
2 months ago

Maybe providing more structure for reviewers can help authors. A few ideas: reminding reviewers to be polite (and constructive if possible), asking them to prioritize what they see as essential vs. optional changes and offer a short summary at the beginning of the review, reminding reviewers that they are offering suggestions to the editor rather than instructions, using a review form with guiding questions for what sorts of things will actually help the editor and author, etc. Many journals already do these things, but in general more structure might make reviews more useful for authors as well as more manageable for editors and reviewers. I personally appreciate a little structure as a reviewer, especially if I haven’t reviewed for that journal before.Report

Sam Duncan
2 months ago

There are already a lot of good suggestions here. I have two more. One is pretty easy and small and the other is a little harder and more substantial. The easy one is that editors should personally email balky referees to remind them to get their reviews in. From what I’ve heard from journals where this is the practice it does a lot more to get their butts in gear than do automated reminders which pretty much everyone ignores.
The harder and more substantial suggestion is that journals can do more to formulate explicit rules and procedures about the review process and to make those rules public. For instance, it should be clear how many positive reviews are needed for acceptance and what happens when referees recommend different sorts of R and R or conditional acceptance (i.e. when does it have to go back to the referees and when can the editor make a decision him or herself). At the very least it ought to very clear whether the editor knows who the author is and what he or she can and can’t do in light of that information. I think many journals already have rules like this but they aren’t always publicized. As with many things Ergo is a model on this front. Formulating such rules would make the whole process a little less of a crapshoot and I think making them public would instill more confidence in the process and results.
Also of the many good suggestions here I’d particularly like to second Ethan Mills’ for more explicit guidelines for referees, Neil Levy’s that journals not make people put their journal in a specific format unless it’s actually accepted, and statsstatsstats that journals publish data about acceptances and review times.Report

Felix
2 months ago

Abolish peer review.Report

Eric Schliesser
2 months ago

Make it very easy for referees to access the paper (say by including a link that takes you directly to the paper).Report