Now that my role as Editor for the TCD Journal of Postgraduate Research (Volume 11) is practically finished, I want to reflect back on the experience, share the negatives and positives, but more importantly, touch on the wealth of knowledge I accumulated throughout the arduous process of putting together an academic journal. I’ve broken this down into key areas rather than making these points in essay format. I hope this piece can be helpful for anyone embarking on an editorship role.
Be careful with who you choose (if you do indeed choose) for your peer-review team. I met with every single member of my team, and though all confessed their wholehearted dedication to me during the ‘interview’, some weren’t able to live up to their claims. It was clear to me that some people wanted to partake for the sole reason that ‘peer reviewer’ looks good on the CV. In retrospect, I would choose the enthusiastic people, those who’re excited to learn about the process, over the ‘experienced’ type who’re trying to do a bit of resume building. It’s never easy to decipher who is really ‘all about it’, but my point is, make sure you’ve interviewed potential peer-reviewers in-depth. Ask them questions like ‘What do you plan on getting out of this?’ and ‘What made you apply for this role?’ Also, trust your instinct. If you feel that someone really isn’t ‘all about it’, you should think twice before asking them to be part of your team.
Before the peer-review process began, I outlined in a three-page document exactly what the peer-reviewers needed to look out for. I broke the document up into several sections: style/syntax, argument, clarity, research question, bibliography/endnote format, etc. However, what I didn’t include in the guide was proper citation style in terms of whether they should be applying single or double quotes in the text itself. Also, I never outlined whether the quotes should be inside or outside periods and commas. These little types of things really came to bite me in the behind during my very last editing haul. My point is to make sure you’ve many, many details in terms of the exact format you want so all peer-reviewers know exactly what to look for. After all, the last thing you want as Editor is for all of your final articles to have a different appearance. Then you’re forced to read through every single page, like I did, in order to make sure every article looked exactly the same in terms of quotations and endnotes, etc.
In following the last point, one of the biggest issues for me was getting all the contributors and peer-reviewers on the same page as to which format (Word, PDF, etc) their work should be in. At the beginning of the process, make sure to state to all those involved which format, preferably Word, you want to use. My team and I came across serious issues when it was time to hand over our final version to our typesetter, who had difficulty transferring the data from the different formats into our very last, coherent copy. You want to avoid this at all costs not only for the sake of time, but also for the sake of your budget, as the typesetter may charge you extra for doing extra work (which happened to us).
It’s easier to communicate with your peer-review team in-person rather than via e-mail. I held several meetings over the course of three months, but in retrospect, I would’ve held more. Obviously, people are busy and often can’t make the commitment, but it’s better to have at least a few people on board for them. Some of the peer-reviewers won’t make the effort to attend the meetings, which was the case with very few on my team, but as I insinuated, several members of your peer-review team will likely be enthusiastic helpers, and it’s important to receive their insight when possible. Moreover, make sure you don’t ‘hog’ the process as Editor. Ask your peer-reviewers for their thoughts and concerns on the articles before making the final call as Editor.
This one is a no-brainer. As Editor, you’ll receive hundreds of e-mails and attachments not only from your peer-reviewers, but also from your contributing authors. Make sure to have neat folders on your computer to stash everything away. As Editor, you’re the person in charge, and if you’re unorganized, it’s likely that your entire process will be, too. In addition, I also recommend building a website or blog in order to anchor your entire process around one ‘control centre’. The blog I created helped me keep everyone on the same page.
Stick to deadlines
Another no-brainer. Before the peer-review process starts, make sure to map out your calendar for key dates and deadlines for both the peer-reviewers and contributing authors. You need to have a clear direction of where and when you’re going. It’s also important to be tough with these deadlines. As Editor, you’re the boss, and people have to abide by your rules and not vice-versa. Obviously, sometimes a bit of leeway is necessary for various circumstances, but sometimes you need to be inflexible. Make sure to also remind your peer-reviewers and contributing authors about the deadlines at least a few days in advance.
Surely, there were more lessons that I learned, but without a doubt, these were the key factors in my learning process as Editor. I went into this journey without any prior experience as Editor and, certainly, I had some growing pains along the way. However, I think this is the only way to really learn: by living it out and learning on the fly. It was an unforgettable few months with ups and downs, but in the end, the process was rewarding not only in terms of learning about academia, but also for leadership purposes. It’s something I would certainly engage in again.