This is a guest blog by Elif Naz Kayran based on her experiences of Social Policy and Society’s Insight into Publishing scheme. Elif is a doctoral candidate in the Department for International Relations and Political Science at the Graduate Institute in Geneva.
The process of academic publishing can be daunting – particularly for graduate students and junior researchers. Though how to prepare a publication-worthy manuscript is a topic for another discussion, in my time as part of the Insight into Publishing scheme offered by Social Policy and Society, I was able to get a first-hand look at what happens once the manuscript is submitted to the time it is ready for publication. I had the opportunity take part in the (sometimes challenging) process of making decisions about the manuscripts and how to handle the reviewer reports. After spending just over a year with the scheme and successfully following one article to publication, I am excited to discuss three of my main take away points.
Does the manuscript follow the guidelines?
Though it may be obvious to most, my first task was to look at the manuscript that I was going to work with in terms of its fit with Social Policy and Society. Here, the most challenging task was to avoid making any substantive reading of the paper but to focus on simply whether the author followed the style guideline and whether it fits the fields of research and areas of interest of the journal. As an editor, my main struggle was to take off my ‘critical hat’ for a moment to review the article and leave the peer review to the reviewers. From an author’s perspective, this is perhaps the easiest step to pass in the review process, yet it is the most crucial. The value of submitting a polished article with an obvious fit to the journal should never be underestimated and it maximises the chances of avoiding deck rejection.
Handling time depends heavily on the reviewers
After we decided to send the manuscript out to review, my second task was to find three reviewers. This was challenging to strike a balance between whether to select reviewers that fit the broader subfields of social policy or to go as narrow a fit as possible. Then there was also the question of methodological differences across scholars. This may be no secret to most seasoned authors, but those you cite in your paper have a big chance of becoming the reviewer of your paper. After scoping out the cited authors and the published scholars in the subfield of the manuscript, we prepared a short list of potential reviewers with either a narrow substantive fit or experts in the methodological approach. However, timing is everything. Some reviewers that were perfect matches were busy or had long response times. I learnt that even after a manuscript is accepted for review and before the review process can even begin, there is an important gap of finding reviewers, which can prolong the publication process. For me, this was a time period that I often overlooked.
Striking the balance
Once the reviewers all sent back their reports, my task was to assist in the evaluation of the decision for the paper. This was certainly the most challenging task for me. The first challenge was to pool a decision from three different opinions. A second, perhaps more difficult, issue was then to evaluate whether the reviewers’ concerns were adequately met before sending it out for a second-round revision. It is clear to me now more than before my time with the scheme that it is crucial to provide a detailed letter for the revised manuscript explicitly responding how the reviews were addressed – and perhaps even more importantly why some were not. This significantly facilitates the decision-making for the editor team. No reviewer would be happy to receive the same manuscript without any acknowledgment of why their previous comments were not addressed. Therefore, I learnt that the more transparent and open the authors are in responding to reviews, the more accurately (and rapidly) the editors can move the article.