A player, an umpire and a manager describe their roles in the ever-expanding journals game

August 7, 1998

Citation circus ignites explosion

THE SUBMITTER'S TALE

Graham Barnfield, lecturer in American studies, Brunel.

"It's a waiting game: from sending an article to a journal to actually getting the published thing in your hand can take up to three years. I think it's seen as winning your spurs as an academic. I have submitted papers, and I edited an occasional papers series at Sheffield Hallam so I've been on both sides of the fence.

"Sheffield offers a career development day with a section on how to prepare articles for journals that use panels of expert referees to decide what to publish.

"A lot of the attendees thought it would help them shift their writer's block, whereas it was more technical, explaining why keeping referees anonymous is a big issue in some journals. The idea is that anonymity prevents the author lobbying for a better reading if they know the referee.

"Sometimes referees resurface later on in books as people who are credited for their helpful comments earlier, or their glowing reports will appear on the dust jacket. But usually you have a good idea who it is from the 20 or so people listed on the journal's editorial board.

"I was a bit surprised at the time scale because I'd written for the music press before, and within a week your article is in. With journals you often have to ring up. You get two waves, the first is where the big changes are demanded, the political disagreements with the referees come out, and you have to restructure the piece fairly substantially, and the second thing is often a more technical job and you'll get a draft copy just to do any last-minute checking. It's quite a bit of postage. I think email has made it a bit easier.

"The citation game? It certainly worked for Alan Sokal (the physicist whose spoof cultural studies article has been cited an enormous number of times). The main pressure seems to be to get four articles in a refereed journal in time for each RAE. I think citations are changing because of the web. If your article is on-line then if you reference, or 'meta-tag', the name of a key person you'll show up in other people's key-word searches."

THE REFEREE'S TALE

Alan Baddeley, professor of psychology, centre for the study of memory and learning, Bristol University

"I get roughly one article a week to review. I am on the masthead of quite a few journals, so I feel I have some obligations. If you are on the editorial board the assumption is that you do your share. I also tend to get papers in my own area and there's quite a lot going on at the moment.

"Journal editors usually expect them back within a month. If I get a backlog I say no. I refuse quite a lot because otherwise I would spend all my time reviewing papers. It's not what I'm paid for.

"When you submit a paper you don't get to choose the referees, unlike with research grants when they ask you to suggest someone suitable to assess your proposal. You can't very easily fix the refereeing process, but you can choose a journal you think might be sympathetic.

"Refereeing is not one of my favourite occupations. It's hard work and when I'm refereeing someone else's paper I'm not writing my own. Reviewing interesting, really good papers is a pleasure, but usually what you have to do is to try to explain why you don't think a paper is a good one in a constructive way. And you know that whoever is receiving that comment is not going to be pleased. You can choose whether you sign your comments or not. I usually do. Some journals insist that their refereeing should be anonymous, but I feel that I'm saying this and I should be prepared to stand by it. One time I had a review where the chap protested strongly that they had sent it to someone who disagreed with his viewpoint. I got in touch with him and we subsequently became quite good friends."

THE PUBLISHER'S TALE

Jane Makoff, head of journals marketing, Sage Publications.

"Journal publishing is becoming progressively harder. Twenty years ago there was more money chasing a small number of periodicals. The situation has now reversed and libraries are coming under increasing pressure to reduce the cost of their serials collections.

"Concepts for new journals come either from our editorial department targeting areas not covered by existing periodicals, or from proposals sent in to us by academic editors. Where the concept has been developed within Sage we will select the academic we believe would be the best editor for the journal and ask them to put together a proposal. All proposals are then sent out for peer review.

"Only a few go beyond this concept phase. In the current climate, when most libraries require a journal to be dropped for every new one taken, we know that only the best journals will be taken on.

"Ensuring thata new journal survives involves an enormous investment in marketing early in the journal's life.It takes a long while before the journal becomes financially viable. The vast majority of income generated fromsocial science journal publishing comes from subscriptionrevenue.

"There are two problems facing new journals: finding a good flow of quality papers and persuading libraries to subscribe. Coverage by secondary literature is extremely important for periodicals. It is often one of the main criteria used by librarians before subscribing."

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