All entries for October 2018

October 31, 2018

Ghosting & Peer Review

Writing about web page

This summer if you happened to be listening to one of my talks about the importance of peer review, and the associated challenges around it, you’ll have probably heard me mention the biggest issue for me as a journal editor-in-chief: ghosting peer reviewers. A suitable topic for a Halloween post, I thought.

When we initially locate and approach prospective peer reviewers for Exchanges, part of the subsequent discussion is making them aware of the timescale within which we’d expect them to be able to complete the review. We’ve a nominal month set as standard for a review turnaround, as we’ve found that seems to have suited most of our reviewers and authors over the years. However, peer reviewing is not a time trivial task for anyone to take on, for example with have a a guestimate that it will take at least 5 hours to peer review a single Exchanges article. Other titles can put the anticipated commitment even higher still. This is one of the reasons why the COPE ethical guidelines for peer reviewers state, individuals should ‘only agree to review manuscripts for which they have the subject expertise required to carry out a proper assessment and which they can assess in a timely manner’ [1]. Unsurprisingly, this time commitment is why some reviewers we approach, decline to participate.

Nevertheless, from the outset there’s an expectation on reviewers once they’ve agreed to conduct a review that they’ll carry it out. Naturally, as an editor it is important to understand how real life can get in the way, with peoples’ circumstances liable to change without prior warning. That’s why you have to ensure there’s an accommodation for individuals who suddenly need a little more time to conduct the review or who might need to drop out altogether. This is quite understandable, and as a journal we have our share of reviewers who have to drop out.

For us though, a problem arises when reviewers run silent, deep and dark. Typically, we spot this when they pass the review deadline without producing their review, and yet also stop responding to messages from the Editorial Board. There’s a tricky balancing act here for my team, we don’t want to bombard tardy reviewers with too many communications least we risk wreaking our relationship with them. Yet, reviewers have made a commitment to contribute to our quality assurance processes that we’d ideally like to see honoured. To borrow a term from the dating sphere, being ghosted, ‘The act of suddenly ceasing all communication with someone’ [2] has never represented a favourable turn of events, in either life or journal communications. Certainly, being ghosted as an editor can be a deeply frustrating experience. Even more so, the delays it creates in the editorial workflow present a bugbear for our authors, who end up waiting far longer than they’d reasonably expect to receive feedback or a decision on their work.

You might think being ghosted by reviewers was a rare occurrence, and yet over my 6 months as editor I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve spotted one or more of my editors having to deal with it. On some submissions it’s been known to happen multiple times. While, as I said, I can appreciate life is rarely straight forward, I retain an optimistic view that scholars would have the requisite professionalism to let me know if suddenly being a reviewer is no longer a task they can satisfy. I’m never offended by a big, bold and honest ‘No, I can’t do this anymore’, as it is far better to know for certain than be left in the dark. Yet, sadly, I have no easy solution to reviewers who choose to start ghosting the editorial team. Beyond that is, taking reviewers who fail to respond off our call sheets for future assignments, albeit a move I’m loathed to take, given the diversity and spread of our reviewers’ pool importance to myself and the title.

With this in mind, I was interested to read today about technological solutions for ghosting [3]. OJS, the platform we run Exchanges on, does have the ability to send automatic and manual prompts to reviewers [4], but perhaps we’ve not been using these as systematically as we could. Perhaps too, we could think again about how and when we send out reminders to reviewers. I’m not sure I have any immediate solutions to the issue, but it is one that’s going to occupy me for some time to come, long after the last pumpkin has been consigned to the compost heap!

[1] Hames, I., 2013. COPE Ethical Guidelines for Peer Reviewers. Committee on Publication Ethics.

[2]: Illa, G., 2013. Ghosting. Urban Dictionary.

[3] Hern, A., 2018. Ghosting Busters: why tech companies are trying to stop us blanking each other. Guardian, 31 October.

[4] And authors too – authors ghosting us is also a problem

October 16, 2018

The Challenges of Enhancing Scholar–Led Journal Visibility to Disparate Audiences

While we move towards the publication of the next issue of Exchanges, today I’ve been doing some background work with my Editorial Board looking towards the future. At its core is something dear to my heart as the Senior (EIC) Editor, which is considering ways to better market and promote the journal. I know for some the idea that we have to market academic scholarship leaves a rather nasty ideological taste in the learned mouth; it does in mine certainly. Nevertheless, academic publishing, even scholarly-led initiatives, operates in a domain of realpolitik; although you’ll excuse me if I’ll continue to cleave to my zeal and vision for a greater agency over publishing for the academy as a result.

The issue we face though for a currently, small and not especially well-known title like Exchanges, is we need to raise the visibility of the title, its mission and the scholarship it publishes. This is not an uncommon challenge for scholar-led titles and is exacerbated by the protectionist policies of the commercially owned key research publication indexes. I’m grateful at the very least that we appear in the DOAJ. Addressing this visibility challenge, means we need to work out ways of reaching out to hitherto unaware members of our various target audiences. In this respect, prospective authors without a doubt are a key demographic, but so too are potential members of our peer reviewer and reader communities. Alongside these there are certainly other audiences we could and should be also marketing to, although currently I’m most concerned with engaging these three most pressingly. Why? Well, without authors we have no content, without reviewers we have no quality assurance and without readers…well, there’s the existential threat writ large. Hence, this is why these are the groups I’m most concerned about making more aware of us.

So, one thing I’ve been doing recently is working out where Exchanges stands in terms of outreach: a term I’m perhaps more ideologically comfortable with than ‘marketing’, as it smacks more of activism than it does or corporatism. What I’ve isolated in my exercise is there’s a surprising range of things which myself, and members of the Editorial Board, have been doing over the past six months [1] to raise the journal’s visibility. Personal appearances at conferences and training events, developing a social media presence [2], redeveloping the website materials, considering approaches to developing ancillary and complementary media content, alongside producing the more traditional posters and flyers. Interestingly, I think my audit of marketing efforts has also revealed a tendency in the tenancy of prior Senior Editors towards unstructured, serendipitous and arguably ad-hoc promotional approaches. I may be incorrect in the assumption, but I’ve not uncovered evidence since the early years of any sustained coordinated activity. Former Senior Editors feel free to enlighten me here!

Yet, while what we have in development is all well and good it suggests two problematics need addressing with respect to audience outreach. Firstly, within the marketing mix we’ve adopted, are there other lucrative activities, opportunities or avenues which have yet to be explored? Secondly there is the question of how effective any of this marketing has been? The former question is one I’ve put to my Editorial Board, but naturally it's also something I’d more than welcome comments on here too.

In terms of the latter issue, this is something I’ve been working on establishing pretty much since I came on board, and certainly I’ve managed to make a handful of personal appearances at events and conferences to talk about the title. However, while these have been quite engaging and effective, they have been a touch Warwick centric. Given our global agenda for Exchanges, short of embarking on a 'Grand World Tour' to promote the title, they’re perhaps not the most cost or time effective promotional approach [3].

Hence, I’m hopeful that through myself and the Board adopting a more systematic approach through reviewing what we’re doing to promote Exchanges, that we’ll be able to answer these two questions more clearly. Naturally, with the added advantage of increasing the title’s visibility among our core audiences further, to everyone’s benefit! Watch this blog for more news as we move into the next phase of bringing the world to Exchange’s door.

[1] And doubtlessly before, but my journey with Exchanges started back in April, so please excuse the slight temporal myopia.

[2] Yes, of which this blog is a facet. So too is our twitter account (@ExchangesIAS), which you really should be following.

[3] Although I stand by my maxims of ‘ABM’ (always be marketing) and ‘Anywhere, any place, any time’, if people do want to hear about Exchanges from me in person. I'll keep the IAS VOTL on standby.

October 03, 2018

Expanding Internationalism & Representation

In recent months there have been a fair few changes with Exchanges’ Editorial Board membership, with some of my seasoned editors departing for pastures new. This has been largely due to exciting new developments arising within their professional careers reducing the time they had available to work with us. While I’m always sad to part with a member of my team, I can’t help but applaud as they move forward to new, exciting and intriguing roles. I can but hope they carry the positive experiences of involvement with our scholarly-led publishing endeavour with them.

Consequently, I’ve been working in the background to recruit and expand on our team of editors. Welcome aboard everyone, I’m looking forward to a long and productive working relationship with you all! Interestingly, my Editorial Board doesn’t just conduct editorial, review and copy editing work. They have an integral role promoting Exchanges as a resource for readers, reviewers and, crucially, potential authors. It’s this latter role which saw me meeting with the delightful Mike Haymes of Warwick’s European Engagement team this morning.

One of Exchanges underlying aims since I took over as Senior Editor, has been to expand our Board to include more members from Warwick’s international partners. For myself and Mike then, this was the crux of our discussions: how we could practically work towards expanding the Board in this manner. The timing of our conversation couldn’t have been more apposite, as Mike’s about to head overseas for various conversations with our partner organisations. Hence, I’m really hopeful that part of these discussions will help open up some dialogues at some of the institutions that don’t yet have representation on our Board between key institutional influencers and myself.

For the journal, this will potentially benefit us in terms of new authors and reviewers, but it will also help us promote the journal to readers who might not as of yet been aware of us. For the new editors, there’s a plethora of benefits, not least of which being the advantage of having an editorial board involvement appearing on their professional CV. This is alongside the experience gained through editing a scholar-led title and the opportunity to expand their professional networks, working alongside the editorial team. On top of this for our partners and Warwick, there’s benefits from establishing further networks of communication, collaboration and collegiality. Who knows what spin-offs, projects or endeavours might emerge from these? I’d argue it’s a win-win-win scenario for everyone!

I look forward to talking more about our expanding Board then, in the coming weeks. Once again, it seems exciting times lie ahead for Exchanges, and the IAS’ scholar-led publication activities.

Peer Review Finalé

The final day of the PLOINA Peer Review Summer School saw me spend most of the day working with the delegates. In the morning I was contributing to a session alongside some other esteemed journal editors, where we each contributed our thoughts on the process of being a reviewer from an editorial standpoint. My session was a development of a talk I’d given earlier this year to some of Warwick’s STEM post-graduate researchers, but it was still fascinating listening to the other talks (from Professor Cath Lambert and Dr Joan Marsh) and hearing their different points of view. Even as an editor, I feel there is still so much to learn about the art and application of peer reviewing, all of which is very much to the benefit to my continuing quest of quality assurance for Exchanges.

After lunch, myself and the hard working event host, Dr Charoula Tzanakou, facilitated a session wherein documents from delegates underwent a live peer review by other attendees. The idea behind this was not only offering a direct benefit to those brave souls willing to contribute their work in progress, but also to cultivate an attitude of constructive but empowering critique from the delegates. Interestingly, one of the lessons which emerged from this session was very much the amount of time and effort that goes into making a constructive peer review critique. It certainly isn’t a trivial exercise, and I hope the delegates were all able to take on board that while it can be a challenging exercise it is also a deeply satisfying one. Satisfying, especially in terms of being exposed to new thought, but also in helping to shape scholarship and assist fellow scholars in the development of their authorial voice.

Over the three days I was in attendance, I was deeply honoured to have been involved in what was clearly a much needed, well-received and valuable summer school. My thanks to Charoula, and Polina Mesinioti, for the invite to participate and their extensive hard-work in organising and hosting this excellent event. That is, if the conversations I had with delegates were anything to base feedback on! I also feel I’ve learned a great deal about peer review myself, and will be spending more than a few minutes looking to apply this increased expertise with Exchanges and our practices. I also hope some of the delegates will consider registering with Exchanges as part of our peer reviewers’ network: it only takes a few moments, and there are so many benefits in terms of enriching your personal scholarship and contributing to developing the scholarly literature.

October 2018

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