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June 17, 2021

It’s so funny, how we don’t talk anymore…

Writing about web page https://warwick.ac.uk/fac/cross_fac/ias/postdocs/accolade/calendar/summer/#story8

I was speaking today as part of the IAS’ Accolade programme in an AMA (ask me anything) segment about the journal and the podcast. There was an excellent question from the audience about the different formats we accept for publication, and I waxed lyrical for a while about interviews. Hence, I thought it was perhaps worth capturing some of the points of interest for future authors.

Interviews, or conversations as they’re termed in the journal, were very much Exchanges’ stock-in trade in the early years. If you look at those nascent years, you’ll see time and again interviews with significant figures and scholars cropping up in the pages. This was, in part, an artefact of the close association the journal enjoyed (and continues to) with the IAS’ fellows programme. Many of the participants would, as part of their research programme, arrange for a significant scholar to visit Warwick for a period, to engage with the local community and potentially spark an ongoing collaboration. During such visits, keen fellows would stage a recorded and transcribed interview with these visitors, which would then be submitted to Exchanges as a partial record of the engagement success.

In recent years, as the journal has consciously decoupled from Warwick somewhat as part of our move towards a greater internationalisation, these interview submissions have dropped away. It is not that they solely come from Warwick, but with our close organisational and operational links, I suspect we spurred more of our local scholars to produce them than the wider author community. I am racking my brain currently to think about the last time I actually had a conversation piece which we saw through to publication.[1]

Nevertheless, what I wrote in an earlier blog post about the value of these interviews/conversations stands. They are always highly read, often downloaded and very warmly received by the readership. They provide an accessible gateway into a subject area for scholars old and new alike, and do wonders for the authors in associating their names with that of their interview subject in print! They are also, relatively speaking, an easy format to create an article around and as such I remain surprised we don’t continue to get more of them. Compared to the weeks and months you’ll labour over a peer-reviewed article, a conversation piece [2] is a relatively easy ‘win’ to add to your publication record: while also making a valuable addition to the wider disciplinary discourse!

Which brings me to today and my discussions about formats for the journal. In the past we’ve generally had conversation articles which are comprises of a singular subject along with one or two interlocutors providing much-needed context, asking questions and steering the debate. It is a talking head format which works well, so well in fact that I’ll confess it forms the basis of The Exchanges Discourse’s configuration when we have guest speakers on the podcast. What we haven’t had though on the podcast or as interview papers in the journal are true discourses: that is, debates between a small coterie of speaking-heads in discussion. I’m know such discussions are frequent occurrences in formal and informal settings aplenty, not just at our home institution of Warwick, but within the various interdisciplinary-led early career researcher communities around the globe.

While part of me thinks such a format would be ideally suited to appear on our the podcast [3], I think such a discussion transcribed would also create an engaging, entertaining and informative article. If I’m being honest, I can almost see one now with three scholars: one drawn from within the STEM social science and arts and humanities disciplines apiece; debating what they envisage or perceive impactful and fruitful interdisciplinary research and practice to comprise.

Such a discussion represents a titular topic for the journal, but oddly not one with which we’ve ever had an interview specifically dealing. There are undoubtedly many other topics which might be debated in this collegiate manner as a conversation article for the journal. Certainly, I would strongly encourage anyone who is inspired by this idea to consider proposing or submitting it. Naturally, I stand ready, as always, to provide guidance and advice on the format, and to act as a sounding board for any potential authors considering such a submission.

Of course, we could take one step beyond this and actually have the discussions appear in both print AND as an episode of the podcast simultaneously. Now, this would not only enable readers and listeners alike to access the debate in whatever media format they preferred, but serve to link together these two key arms of the Exchanges operation. It seems, the more I think of it, as an idea whose time has come.

So, there’s my challenge to our readership and any budding authors out there: start thinking about a discussion topic or interview subject that could form a readable and valuable article for Exchanges next issue. They don’t take long and you’ve a few months ahead of our next scheduled October publication date to go through our editorial processes.

I look forward to hearing more about your thoughts, and even more so, reading any submissions.

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[1] It wasn’t that long ago – Vol 7(3). But safe to say they have been submitted exceptionally rarely in the past two years.

[2] Or a critical reflection, if I’m being honest about the work involved.

[3] If you agree, and have or two like minded scholars, get in touch and let’s see if we can feature your discussions in an episode.


October 06, 2020

The Agony and the Ecstasy of Declining Manuscripts

As I’ve written and talked about previously, one of the least pleasurable tasks within the editor-in-chief’s bailiwick is that of declining author submissions at any point in the editorial cycle. This is foremost within my mind this morning as writing to inform an author their work was not being progressed for publication consideration was essentially the first task I deal with today. One thing I find invaluable to keep at the forefront of my mind when dealing with this unpleasant, but essential, editorial task is the ‘human factor’. That is to say, on the end of my dreaded missive lies another genuine human being, resplendent in all the highs and lows of professional and personal life which creates the lived human experience.

Consequently, what I always find myself thinking as I write to them is that no matter how polite my phrasing and encouraging my words of explanation, there will always be a sting of rejection for someone elsewhere on the planet. No one likes to feel they’ve not made the grade whether it be after an unsuccessful job interview, disastrous date or hearing from a ‘heartless’ academic editor that your work’s not going to appear in their journal. Learning how to cope and handle with being rebuffed in academia is a skill we all have to develop, and from which we can learn, adapt and grow in our professional practice. Believe me when I say I’m speaking from personal experience here!

When considering the person I’m writing to, it’s worth remember while we continue to have many submissions from my own host university [1], a rapidly increasing proportion of the work Exchanges considers is by individuals I may never meet. This means I’m likely unaware of their individual circumstances and can never be entirely sure if our decline will be a crushing blow or merely just another Tuesday in their academic trajectory. Perhaps editors with more years more experience than myself have learned to harden themselves to a greater degree when scripting these terminatory communications. I’m not sure, and I’m equally hesitant to will myself towards achieving such a lapidarian exterior.

Incidentally, writing to an author I know personally strangely makes the task simultaneously harder and easier at the same time. Harder, because I know exactly who I’ll be disappointed and likely have a clearer idea of the personal circumstances and challenges they’re embroiled within. Easier, because I can write more as a critical friend than a dispassionate if concerned editorial worker.

Part of the reason why I agonise somewhat over the impact of the ‘declined’ email is due to the nature of Exchanges. We are a journal which champions and encourages contributions from first time authors. This means we have authors who might not themselves be used to on the receiving end of a rejection before, and I strongly believe it is our role as a journal to cushion the blow to a moderate degree. I would rather we were perceived as a title which encourages new authors, than dismays them with an offhand or discourteous dismissal.

Additionally, working with first time authors also means at times the submissions we receive may lack sophistication of voice, style and structure. Naturally, not all first-time authors submit weaker work, far from it, as we have been privileged to consider, accept and publish many well-written articles by new academic authors. However, we do continue to have a steady stream of submitted manuscripts where the author has demonstrably yet to make the transition from a ‘student essay’ to ‘scholarly academic’ voice. For some authors, we can explore ways to achieve this transformation during the review and revision cycle. For others though, the weaknesses are sadly so endemic that it is kinder and perhaps more expedient for all concerned to remove them from publication consideration.

In these latter cases, and indeed whenever we decline work, I take it upon myself to not only inform the author of our decision, but to explore with them the steps they could take towards authorial redemption. In this respect I have been delighted over the last couple of years that a handful of authors have taken onboard our comments and feedback, overcome the sting of rejection, and later resubmitted a reworked manuscript. Not all of these resubmissions have been successful in achieving publication, such is the nature of our quality assurance regime.

Nevertheless, that some authors try, reinforces my belief in the importance of how and what we say to authors at the point of decline matters beyond any emotional considerations. It hopefully contributes as well in some small way to enhancing their reflective professional practice and self-critique as they progress towards become accomplished, and hopefully successful, publishing authors.

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[1] Thank you to each and every one of you who has submitted to us, it’s great to keep that ‘Warwick Wow Factor’ appearing in our pages.


June 06, 2019

What are the Best Journal Indexing Services for Scholar–Led Journals?

What are the best indexes and article databases for a relatively small scholar led journal to be in? This is the question I’m currently pondering, following a conversation with a prospective author who was surprised we weren’t appearing in more locations. It’s no secret that Exchanges hasn’t traditionally been indexed in many places, more’s the pity. It’s one of the reasons why I wrote the index article in the latest issue was to try and enhance the visibility, and hence esteem, of articles published with us over the years.

Since we added DOIs to articles last year, I’ve been reasonably happy we’ve been working towards making the journal and its contents more discoverable, not to mention more readily and reliably citable. That said, at the back of my mind I’ve been thinking I really need to bite the bullet at some point and start increasing the locations where our articles are currently indexed. Hence, the author who asked some, I’ll be honest rather pointed, questions about why we weren’t indexed more widely brought the matter up my priority list to tackle. However, it’s not something that’s easy to resolve, as there are various challenges around getting indexed, and there are three which I find are especially vexatious.

The Art of Hegemonic Dominance

The first relates to one of my favourite topics: the domination of the academic publishing field by a limited number of commercial actors [1]. In this ‘market place’ [2], there’s a commercial driver for publishers to ensure that their own hegemonic dominance and profitability continues. One way this can be achieved is by denying non-commercial journals entrance into the organs of esteem metrics, e.g. databases like the Web of Science or Scopus. Coincidentally these particular indexes are owned by Clarivate Analytics [3] and Elsevier [4], who between them are responsible for a not-inconsiderable volume of scholarly publication as well.

Here there’s a bit of a futile cycle, where any new journal needs to gain in significance (what I’d call ‘reputational esteem capital’) which it builds through attracting higher quality/impactful papers. Higher esteem papers themselves are drawn to be published in titles which already have the highest esteem capital possible [5]. To increase this ranking a publisher needs to have their articles more readily discovered, and hence exposed through appearance in the most regularly used indexes. However, entrance to most of these big indexes is restricted to those journals who are already ‘significant’ in terms of their content. Hence, there’s no competitive advantage for the corporate owners of journals and indexes to let small scholar-led titles enter their indexes and grow in esteem; indeed there’s every argument this would essentially act as a counter to their continued dominance. It’s the ‘No Homer’s’ Club effect all over again.

Okay, some indecent, smaller scale journals have made their way past these gatekeepers and entered the ‘hallowed’ indexes, partly because of their longevity or contents. Unlike many short-term scholar-led publications [6], Exchanges has the advantage that we’ve been published for some years now, and have a body of work which slowly but surely is gaining citations. Citations are, for the most part, the sine qua non within publishing, the basic element from which esteem capital is constructed. So, to a degree we’re slowly but surely aggregating esteem every time we publish a new volume. However, given our focus on championing early career publications, strategically this means we’re unlikely to (typically) have 4* world-class research published with us. Why? Well, it’s a tragic fact that the current configuration of academic career esteem structures compels scholars to seek publication for their most ‘impactful’ works in titles already resplendent with high-esteem. Which means even if an ECR scholar might be tempted to consider publishing their finest work with us, for the good of their own career that’s normally an unlikely occurrence.

It doesn’t mean Exchanges isn’t publishing good, quality assured pieces of research literature. However, it’s likely papers within our journal will only become significant over time as they become more commonly cited, although where the author themselves becomes far more recognised as preeminent in their field there’s a notable upswing in interest in their earlier works. Given the thousands of downloads of our most popular papers, I might conclude that many of our authors may already be well on their way to achieving this sort of status within the Academy. It’s to our benefit certainly in terms of getting over that ‘significance’ hurdle to enter some indexes, but it’s one that takes a long, long time to achieve.

Disciplinarily and Suitability

The second big challenge is more prosaic and concerns the disciplinary fit of journals to particular indexes. The author who promoted my thinking asked specifically about one index which was valued within their particular field. I went away to have a look at this and discovered it only indexed around 160 titles, all of which were clearly a close disciplinary fit. I suspect, unlike the major commercial indexes, that these indexes which are often run by learned societies and other smaller sectoral bodies, would be far less concerned with our esteem credentials. However, Given Exchanges is explicitly interdisciplinary in terms of our content my strong suspicion is they’d be less happy to incorporate us because we’re not seen as a core, niche title for any discipline [7]. It tends (although not exclusively) to be the bigger, corporate indexes which are multidisciplinary. Hence, frustratingly our core mission to champion and promote research from all disciplinary traditions counts against us and our inclusion here.

Mechanistic Challenges

The third and final challenge is simply one of practicality and limited time resource. There are a LOT of indexes out there. It would, practically speaking, be a full time job to approach all of these and jump through their various hoops to try and garner entrance. Having glanced at a few of them, even finding a page which explains HOW you can propose your journal for consideration is somewhat obfuscated. I suspect, as discussed in the previous paragraphs, many of these indexes would decline to include us for reasons of esteem or disciplinarity.

Consequently, this could mean a whole lot of work for very little progress or achievement. It might seem like a more minor challenge, but given my role as Editor-in-Chief of Exchanges has a myriad of other responsibilities associated with it, I’m not sure how much time I could devote to this quest. As the only employed member of staff for dedicated to Exchanges, it’s not a task I could easily hand off to another member of the Editorial Board. I suspect they’d not be too keen to take it on either, and they do a whole lot of work for me already without a great deal of recompense.

Carry on Indexing

All of which makes me happy that I took the opportunity this week to discuss indexing Exchanges with our Warwick Library Scholarly Communications team. This team provides our back-office and tech support for Exchanges platform, but I’ve increasingly been hoping we can work more closely together on topics of mutual interest. Not simply those for the library and Exchanges, but also for matters of concern for the other journals variously published within the ‘Warwick Journals Family’ [8].

They’ve agreed to help with the practical approaches (hurray) and myself and the Board have been tasked with coming up with a wish list of indexes for them to target on our behalf. Which is what I’ll be drawing together over the next few weeks. Naturally, given the challenges above I’m not expecting overnight success, but I’m hopeful that with a few more indexes tracking our contents that Exchanges can continue to build on its previous successfully published content and increase our esteem in capital. In this way, maybe just maybe, one day we might even get one of the major indexes to take another look at us.

If any of our readers have thoughts, suggestions or advice to share on the subtle art of getting your journal index, as always, I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.

Further Reading

Scholastica, 2017. Scholastica Blog, 21 June. https://blog.scholasticahq.com/post/index-types-for-academic-journal/

Endnotes

[1] Cf. my professional publications and thesis, which modesty prevents me linking to here.

[2] Ideologically I reject the idea of academic publishing being configured or perceived as a market. Sadly this commodification based ideal represents the common argot when one starts considering the competitive aspect the academic domain has acquired.

[3] Owner of (among other concerns) Thompson Reuters media empire

[4] One of the ‘Big Four’ academic publishers and owners of a sizable chunk of scholarly publishing and research management real-estate

[5] I’m talking here of the Journal Impact Factor (JIF), created by Garfield as a metric of ‘significance’ for a journal. Not all journals are graced with a JIF, as they need to be ‘significant’ enough to appear in the Journal Citation Reports. Once again, the futile cycle and exclusionary practices of the academic publishing field are maintained.

[6] Many scholar-led journals which arise, often from a particular cohort of scholars and PGR students, which publish one or two issues before disappearing into obscurity once the reality of sustainable publication practices arise. Quality contents sure, but they’re not around long enough to start building esteem over time.

[7] Unproven, but anecdotally from past editors, I’ve heard that we’ve had limited to zero success previously with other indexers.

[8] It’s a side topic, but I think the Warwick Journals Family are a group of people locally who could work together and share experience a far more systematic and regular way. One more of those tasks I’ve got on the back burner at the moment, as I’ve yet to establish the best way to configure a meeting.


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