Thursday, May 24, 2012

Getting to Review

The editor's "desk" is the entry point to the review process. You finish your article and send it off to the journal and that's where it lands. If the editor chooses to send it back to you immediately, without sending it out to the reviewers, you have been "desk rejected". How does the editor make this decision?

There's an abstract and concrete answer to that question. In the abstract sense, the editor has to assess the degree of fit between your paper and the aims and scope of the journal. Is your paper about the right things? Does your research use a methodology that its readers respect? Does your research contribute to one of the bodies of literature that also shapes the thinking of the readers? Is it well-written enough? Does it seem finished? Can the editor actually think of suitable reviewers for the paper?

But there is also a more concrete way to answer the question of how the editor makes the desk decision. What does the editor do? How does the editor read you paper? I don't really know how your editor does it, but here's one way to go about it. First, the editor reads the title and the abstract of the paper. The question here is whether the paper that is being described is about the sorts of things that the journal is interested in and whether it reaches an interesting conclusion about those things. If the editor can't answer this question, the paper is likely to be desk-rejected, so you should make sure, when writing the abstract, that you state clearly and efficiently what you are talking about, and what you are saying about it. If if the editor is puzzled or unmoved by the abstract, he or she may still look at the whole paper, but properly speaking, if the abstract describes a paper that is not obviously suitable for the journal, the paper could legitimately be returned to the author with a remark to that effect alone.

Next, the editor reads the introduction. This is a very important section in this part of the process. After reading the introduction, which should not be very long (about 600 words, on my approach), the editor should know exactly what you are going to show, how you are going to show it, why you think it is important, and which scholars ought to think so too. Notice that if the editor does not know the answer to these questions, he or she can't send it anywhere in particular for review. After reading the introduction it has to be clear who the intended reader of the paper is. The editor can then find someone to represent that reader in the decision-making process for publication.

Next, your editor will now probably read the conclusion in order make sure that the paper stays on topic or "feels connected", as Andrew Shields put it in the comment to yesterday's post. The editor is now making a preliminary assessment of the quality of the paper, its argument and the writing. This will probably only involve skimming the text itself (though some editors pride themselves on reading everything that lands on their desk). It is usually easy to spot a paper that simply hasn't been finished and will waste a reviewers time.

Keep in mind that you are anonymous in the review process. If the reviewer feels his or her time is being wasted, he or she will blame the journal, not you. The editor is trying to protect the journal from this judgment because the journal needs the reviewers. When the reviewer gets the paper, the first thing they should do is exactly what the editor did, in order to decide whether they want to review it and are qualified to do so.

No comments: