Roles and Responsibilities of Journal Editors in Peer-Review Processes

Roles and Responsibilities of Journal Editors in Peer-Review Processes
Most scholarly authors who submit their writing for publication in academic and scientific journals are aware that the editors of those journals play an important role in the peer review process. However, exactly what those editors do to make the process a positive one that encourages the publication of high-quality scholarship and the advancement of knowledge may remain rather blurry for some. This is unfortunate because understanding the duties of the journal editors who consider papers for publication enables hopeful authors to work more effectively with them and therefore increase their chances of achieving successful publication.
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When a paper submitted for publication arrives on a journal editor’s desk, it usually undergoes an initial check. The process varies somewhat among editors and journals, but a standard approach would be to begin by reading the covering letter provided by the author and the abstract for the paper to determine whether the research fits the range, specialisation and aims of the journal. If so, the paper itself will likely be scanned to determine whether the required content is present, an appropriate structure has been used, tables and figures are properly formatted and references are recorded in the correct style. The journal’s guidelines for authors will outline precisely how these and other elements of a paper should be designed and presented, and it is essential to follow the instructions with precision and consistency to avoid rejection at this point in the process. Some editors will also check for plagiarism and other forms of intellectual misconduct.

Only if the editor determines through these basic checks that the paper is significant and meets the journal’s requirements will it be sent on to peer reviewers. It often takes a considerable amount of time to choose the right experts to act as peer reviewers, contact those individuals and arrange for review reports to be completed by a set deadline. Academics and scientists are busy too: some may not reply at once, others may not be able to accept the invitation to peer review and still others may accept the invitation initially, but ultimately not be able to do the work. Journal editors must do everything in their power to solicit useful reviews that will be a valuable part of an efficient review and publication process.
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Once the review reports on a paper are sent to the editor, he or she must read and assess them with extreme care. As scholarly authors who have read peer reviews of their own writing know, these are not simple documents. An editor will rely on the opinions, commentary and recommendations of the experts he or she has chosen as peer reviewers, but the final decisions regarding whether a paper should be rejected, accepted or revised lie with the editor alone. Editors may need to request further information from peer reviewers, alter the wording in a review report to render it more effective before sending it on to the author, or reject a review altogether and solicit one from another expert instead. All this takes time, critical acumen and human sensitivity.
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If the peer reviewers have suggested revisions that will improve the paper and the editor agrees, he or she will then need to work with the author as those revisions are designed and completed. The paper is likely to go through another cycle of review at that point, and there may be several cycles necessary before some articles are ready for publication. In fact, the important work that journal editors do with peer reviewers and authors in producing a single successful article can at times come close to matching the work of writing the paper in the first place.

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If you are in the process of preparing an article for an academic or scientific journal, or planning one for the near future, you may well be interested in a new book, Guide to Journal Publication, which is available on our Tips and Advice on Publishing Research in Journals website.

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