In this (occasional) series, we ask Taylor & Francis journal editors to contribute some thoughts on what they wish they’d known when they first started editing a journal. These posts may be funny, reflective, ironic, instructional, or inspiring, but will explore some of the mysteries of editing a journal. So whether you’re considering editing a journal for the first time or someone who has spent many years as part of journal editorial boards, we hope you find something here that interests you, sets you thinking, or strikes a chord.
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The role of reviewers
Mike J. Smith, Editor-in-Chief, Journal of Maps
After authors, reviewers are the lifeblood of any journal. Peer review requires independent scrutiny by suitable experts and it is this, in particular, that academic journals offer in terms of “value added.” And reviewers do this without reward. The review process is generally the slowest part of the publication process and can leave an editor particularly frustrated for the following reasons:
- Finding an appropriate reviewer.
- Reviewers who have problems interacting with ScholarOne Manuscripts.
- Receiving a response from a reviewer (to review).
- Reviewers who have problems in meeting the deadline.
- Reviewers who have no intention of providing a review, but don't let you know.
- Reviewers who provide a review of one sentence or paragraph.
(Note that for 3, 4, and 5 ScholarOne Manuscripts can help by setting automated deadlines and reminder emails.)
Many of these issues occur frequently. (1) goes with the territory as it can be difficult to find reviewers for some subject areas/specialisms (potential delay: editor’s workload). (2) is much less of an issue as academics are much more computer-literate. For (3) the deadline is one week, but can be extended if people are away (potential delay: 1–2 weeks). With (4), a four-week deadline can be a little tight (although shorter timescales are common in some subjects) and I don't mind too much if it runs over a little (better to get a good-quality review!). I also know that, outside teaching time, academics’ commitments can be much more “fluid” (potential delay: 2–4 weeks). Point (5) causes significant delay to the review of a paper (potential delay: 4–8 weeks). If a reviewer accepts to review a manuscript I do believe they probably have every good intention of doing so. However, if they are unable to review a manuscript, it helps considerably to let the editor know as soon as possible. Finally (6), the only thing worse than providing no review is a review that is unhelpful to either the author or the editor. It surprises me how many reviews are comprised of a single sentence or paragraph. I don't believe any paper is perfect, either in writing style or content, and my own reviews tend to be two to three pages in length, sometimes longer.
As editors, being aware of these potential delays can help us mitigate the effects of slowing down the review process. I am not in favor of requesting more reviews than required – whilst this may decrease review times, it is at the cost of overburdening the finite pool of (good) reviewers. We should therefore focus our efforts upon good time management and the supply of high-quality reviews. ScholarOne Manuscripts can help with the former; for the latter the Journal of Maps allows reviewers to see all the reviews in order to allow reviewers to evaluate their contributions.