Dear journals: please list some keywords for your editors

When submitting a paper to a journal, you ordinarily want to suggest one or two editors who would be well-qualified to handle the paper. Many journals require you to do this. This makes it much easier for the EiC to assign your paper to the most appropriate editor.

Journals can help authors do this by listing some keywords for their editors. Or even better, organizing the editors into broad subject areas. For instance, here’s BMC Ecology’s nicely-categorized list of editors. This is SO helpful! As someone who does not have a mental Rolodex of every single ecologist and evolutionary biologist in the world, I cannot always just glance at an alphabetical list of approximately eleventy-thousand editors and instantly recognize an appropriate name. I mean, yes, I always do know the names of some people whom I think would be good candidates to handle my paper. But in the fairly-likely event that none of those people happen to be on your board, I need a fallback. And it is not feasible to google all eleventy-thousand editors, or to click links to eleventy-thousand personal websites.

Less commonly, there’s such a thing as too much information. I’m looking at you, Journal of Ecology. Your editorial board is excellent. But the only reason the online list of editors exists is so authors can quickly skim it to identify promising candidates to handle their papers. So I’m sorry, but a whole paragraph on every editor’s research is too much information to easily skim. Well, except for the various J Ecol editors for whom there’s no information at all…

In the grand scheme of things, this isn’t a big deal. But it’s not a big deal to fix either. So Brian, remember when you asked what you can do as EiC to encourage authors to submit to your journal? Here’s a suggestion: add some keywords to your list of editors.🙂

10 thoughts on “Dear journals: please list some keywords for your editors

    • Hovertext keywords are better than nothing, and better than having to click through to an editor’s personal site. But personally, I’d suggest either keywords displayed on the page, or replacing the existing categories with narrower ones, or adding subcategories within each category (with the same editor possibly listed under multiple subcategories if necessary). The existing categories like “ecology” and “evolution” are a bit too broad to be useful. And it’s a pain to have to hover over a bunch of editors, one at a time.

      Anything you can do to allow authors to *quickly* narrow the field to a *few* candidate editors is going to be helpful!

    • Agree with Jeremy about the hover keywords not being a super useful way to present them. Maybe display editors in a single column and then list keywords in parentheses after each name…

      Disagree with Jeremy about links to webpages not being useful. Please keep them! As an ECR, I’m happy to take a little more time to know what various people in my field are doing.

  1. I have a hard time imagining how the categories of BMC Ecology would apply in many cases. In their case they get away with it because their remit is all of ecology and we have sorted ourselves into well defined subfields. But just to take an example close to home, Global Ecology and Biogeography, I have no idea how I could come up with categories that would be reasonably clear and non-overlapping. Within a subfield, people sort out by taxa, by biome, by method, by question. Its not just GEB either – I would think AmNat or Ecography or a lot of other journals would have this problem as well. Just journals whose remit is all of ecology like Ecology or Ecology Letters or Oikos can use this broad subfield approach.

    Internally, (to help EiC assign to AEs) we have about 5 keywords for each AE. Depending on how people identify themselves, these could be taxa, methods or questions. Those could conceivably be shared. But if they were going to be public I would have to be much more careful about making sure the AE bought into the labels, rather than just quickly using ones I may have made up.

  2. Nobody has mentioned, this but there is also the obvious approach that if none of the names on the editorial board jump out at you, there is no need to recommend an AE. A few journals require that you do so, but many don’t, and some don’t want you to* . In my experience there is limited reason to name AEs from the point of view of gaming the system – it doesn’t work. It can be mildly helpful to the EiC in picking an AE, but honestly, a) I know my AEs really well (much better than you do if you’re asking for keywords), and b) at least 50% of every assignment is based on AE workloads (who I just sent a paper to last week) rather than expertise, and c) unlike reviewers, there is only one AE and its vital there be not even an appearance of COI, so if I have any doubt, I will pick somebody orthogonal to the suggestions. Who the author requests in the cover letter is at most 10% of the decision of who is picked for the journal I know best (again for AEs – it probably plays a slightly higher role in reviewers but still not large, and of course non-preferred AEs/reviewers are a different story, but of course you presumably don’t need keywords to name those!). I don’t look askance at all at a submission that does not suggest AEs.

    * As always pay attention to the author instructions – it is almost certainly spelled out there whether this is required, desired, or allowed. GEB says “Authors may suggest (positively or negatively) a handling editor and/or possible reviewers at the time of submission.” And that is what we mean. It is not a coded message.

    Just for comparison, Ecology Letters requires reviewers (positive and negative) but only wants negative AEs (listing positive AEs is contrary to directions). “We ask authors to provide a list of recommended and opposed reviewers, and to list any editorial board members with whom they are in conflict. … [long but good explanation of why they might take somebody off your negative list anyway] … In identifying board members who might handle your manuscript we ask that you only name in-conflict individuals and the reason why they are in conflict.”

    • Except that part of the reason I need keywords for editors is to decide whether to submit to the journal at all. I just recently went through this with a paper of mine. It wasn’t an obvious perfect fit for any of the candidate journals. So one of the factors I considered was “which candidate journal has someone on their board who’d be a good fit to handle the ms?”

  3. Just wanted to thank Jeremy for this post, which reminded us (at The American Naturalist) of a project we’d been talking about in the past. There were some technical questions with the peer review system–but this post reminded us that part of the purpose happens before an author is logged into the submission process. So we’ve set it up on the ASN/AmNat page.

    The list of some topics of interest of the Associate Editors and links to their research pages is now up here:

    Thanks, Jeremy!

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