Essentials of the Editor’s role in the review process
Let’s go over how this process works, from start to finish.
- You receive an assignment letter as Editor because the Editor-in-Chief has read the submission and thinks that it deserves to go out for external review. The Editor-in-Chief will have already ensured that the paper is blinded, line numbers added, turned it into a PDF, and assigned reviewers to the paper. You and these reviewers comprise the paper’s ad hoc review committee with you as the chair of that committee. Occasionally, a reviewer may contact you with a question. Your role includes managing the reviewers on your review committee.
- You read the paper and develop your thoughts on how to improve it. Your reviewers do the same, and they each submit a review with their thoughts and suggestions. You rate the quality of each review on our 5-point scale.
Almost all reviews earn a ‘3’, exceptionally good reviews earn a ‘4’ or ‘5’ and those found lacking earn a ‘2’ or ‘1’. This rating is used by the system to identify which reviewers can use more training and which to commend for their excellence and possibly promote. As you rate each review, you provide the reviewer with brief feedback on the quality of the review and possibly how future reviews can be improved.
- You make a recommendation to the Editor-in-Chief regarding acceptance and include a ‘Development Letter’ within the templated wording provided for the author. At first, the recommendation should be either to ‘reject’ or ‘accept subject to revisions.’ (The third choice, to ‘accept for publication,’ applies only for when the paper has already addressed all your suggestions, and the author has resubmitted it in near camera-ready format.) In all cases, you accompany your recommendation with comments for the author on how to improve the paper in the form of the Development Letter that you compose. Creating a Development Letter (how to improve the submission) for each paper is your most important duty as editor.
Your task in creating the Development Letter is to integrate the reviewers’ comments with your own views to create a coherent, mentoring response to the author’s submission. It is a synthesis, not a summary, of the various suggestions from your review board. We term this guidance to the author a Development Letter since it outlines concrete steps needed to improve the paper. You compose a development letter for all submissions, even those that you do not recommend for publication.
ISI journals never send authors raw reviews. Instead the Editor packages and synthesizes all suggestions into wording that speaks with a single voice, pointing out those improvements needed to make the paper publishable (if you accept pending revision) or at least improved (if you reject). (See the Appendices for more information about the Development Letter.)
- If you recommend ‘accepted subject to revisions,’ you work directly with authors to get the paper into a publishable format.
This revision process typically requires several rounds of revisions.
Here are the steps with some more details
Step 1: You receive an email notifying you that you have been assigned a paper to shepherd through as Editor
When a paper is submitted, the Editor-in-Chief (EiC) first ‘desk reviews’ it for suitability. The EiC rejects some at this point, some are sent back to the author to re-work, and some are advanced for peer review.
When the EiC selects you to be the Editor for a paper, the system sends you an assignment email that identifies which EiC or Associate Editor-in-Chief (AEiC) has assigned the new submission to you. That assignment letter contains important guidance for you. Your assignment email includes a direct link to that assigned paper, but you can always view all your assignments and copies of your assignment emails in your dashboard (Figure 1). To access your dashboard, log in at http://My.InformingScience.org . From your dashboard, you can even locate the authors’ names and email addresses
Figure 5. You can always find your assignments in your dashboard by logging in at http://My.InformingScience.org
Figure 6. How to obtain the authors’ names and email addresses
As the paper’s Editor, you chair the ad hoc paper review committee that also includes the paper’s reviewers. Typically, by the time you receive the assignment email, the EiC has already assigned reviewers to the paper. The EiC selects reviewers for your paper based on a large number of criteria which includes similarity of topical interest and current workload of the reviewer. Your role is to act as Chair of this paper’s ad hoc review committee. You will have a different ad hoc paper reviewer committee for each paper assigned to you.
Step 2: Read the paper and develop your own thoughts on how it might be improved
Since you will be synthesizing your first thoughts with the suggestions you obtain from your ad hoc committee of reviewers in about a month, read the paper yourself before you read the reviews.
Target dates for Reviewers and the Editor. Typically, the EiC sets the target date in the system for reviewers to complete their review for two weeks hence. We set a short target date on purpose. We don’t expect all reviewers to complete their review by this target date. We know from experience that some colleagues don’t respond until a review is well past due. We set the target date early to allow time for the system to send a reminder to reviewers. We understand human nature that some reviews will come in late, so we recommend that you start working on the development letter a couple of weeks after the reviewers’ target date; typically this is four-weeks after you received the assignment letter. This scheduling provides time for these late reviews to arrive. The EiC usually sets your target date at four weeks after the assignment for this reason.
Step 3: Make your recommendation regarding acceptance, insert the appropriate Best Practices Template, and insert your Development Letter into it
The Board of Governors has devoted much time, thought, and discussion to create some ‘Best Practice’ templates using wording that best represents the ISI philosophy. Indeed, these templates are designed to ensure consistency, completeness, and coherence with ISI practice and philosophy. We want you to use these templates as the basis for your communication with authors.
You can find these templates in our Notepad on the 5. Decision tab. Select the appropriate template and Insert it into your dialogue box. Once the template’s wording is in the comments for author field, modify it as needed, including inserting your wording on how the author needs to improve the paper; that is, copy and paste the wording of your Development Letter. Note that the system will fill in for you the placeholders; for example, [ARTICLE-ID], [ARTICLE-TITLE]. When you click the PREVIEW button, you see the message formatted with the placeholders filled in.
Figure 7. Select and insert the Best Practice Wording, then paste your development letter into it; the system will fill in the placeholders automatically
The Board of Governors continually improves the Best Practices templates so use only these and do not create your own local copies of letters. Since the templates fill in the form for you, why make extra work for yourself?
The Development Letter you compose for the paper goes into the specifics of what you, as Editor, suggest to or require of the author to make the paper better. So first Insert the templated wording and then either copy the contents of your Development Letter into the proper place of this wording or attach the file with your comments where the template reads == Insert Development Letter Here ==.
You also tell the system the target date for the author to submit the revision. The system uses that date to know when to send reminders. You can change that date; for example, if the author asks for an extension (Figure 4).
Figure 8. If the author asks for an extension to submit the revision, click on the pencil icon to modify the due date; the system uses this date to send reminders
For quality assurance, the Editor-in-Chief reviews letters to the author before having the system send them.
Step 4: Work with the author on revisions
The system sends your letter to the corresponding author only. The system does not send it to co-authors to avoid confusion and contradiction when there are multiple authors.
The system gives the author the choice to revise the paper according to your requirements or to ‘choose not to revise.’ If the author chooses the revise, s/he needs to upload two documents: the revised paper, and the ‘revision document’ in which the author tells you how the revised document addresses the concerns posed in your development letter.
Formatting for publication. The ‘Accept subject to revision’ letter recommends to the author to save time by formatting the next draft for publication. Waiting until all the revisions are completed to format just delays publication. But not all authors follow this advice and sometimes a revised formatted paper loses its formatting when the author further revises the paper. In any case, the author needs to submit a fully formatted paper before you accept it. A template is available at http://www.informingscience.org/Uploads/JournalFormat.docx.
You accept a paper for publication when the revision meets all these conditions:
- The revision contains all the requirements specified in your development letter. All sentences and paragraphs make sense and are free of grammatical and spelling errors.
- The paper conforms to the formatting guidelines for the journal. If it doesn’t, use the best practice template: ‘Step 3 Acceptance Letter – BUT camera-ready formatted copy with author bios and photos still needed’ to fill in the wording and recommend ‘accept pending revisions.’
- The references are in APA format; while they may not be perfect, they should include all bibliographic information.
- The formatted paper contains a brief biography and a photo (head and shoulders) for each author at the end.
Step 5. Accepting a paper for publication
When the paper needs no further work, use the ‘Step 3 Final Acceptance Letter – ONLY for FINAL, camera-ready formatted copy with author bios and photos’ template. The wording in this template congratulates the author and provides information about the publishing process. Then select the ‘Accept’ button in the dialogue box as your recommendation.
NEVER accept a paper until you have read it and thoroughly checked it to ensure that it meets the four conditions above. Once you click the ‘accept for publication’ button, the system moves the paper, and the author can no longer make changes to it.
Once you accept a paper (and the Editor-in-Chief approves your recommendation), the paper moves on to the publisher’s queue. The publisher reviews the paper and checks if it is ready for publication. She may contact the authors directly to check on or ask for information, such as references. It is not her job to copy-edit the paper. Usually, the paper will be online within two weeks.