Should figures go at the end of a manuscript or appear in line? And where should figure legends go?

We’ve been thinking a lot about publishing lately here at Dynamic Ecology, including issues such as whether to sign reviews (I generally don’t), changes in authorship practices, whether all reviewers should be satisfied before a paper is accepted (Jeremy says reviewers advise, the editor decides), and whether reviewers are gate-keepers or editors (Brian thinks that, unfortunately, it’s increasingly the latter). But now I want to tackle two truly weighty topics related to the publication process: whether figures should go at the end of a manuscript and whether figure legends should appear on the same page as the figure. Two polls are below, along with some of my thoughts.

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Poll: have you ever contacted a reviewer about a review before responding to it? Or received such contact?

In a recent post, Stephen Heard noted that he signs most of his reviews because he wants authors to be able to contact him if they have any questions or want to discuss the review. Several commenters on Stephen’s post, and on Meg’s recent post on signing reviews, said they sign their reviews for the same reason (e.g.). And some of those commenters said that they have in fact been contacted by authors wanting to discuss the reviews.

All of which surprised me, because I’d never heard of this practice! The possibility of contacting a reviewer to discuss a review before responding to it had never even occurred to me, even though I’ve been an author and reviewer for 20 years now.

I’m still mulling over what I think about this practice. On the one hand, the reviewers who do it are trying to be helpful, and I’m sure the authors who contact them appreciate the help. On the other hand, that authors appreciate it is potentially a problem–I worry that the practice creates the opportunity for unethical quid pro quos. I’m not the only one who worries about this. So I dunno.

Anyway, I’m curious how common this practice is, and what ecologists as a group think of it. So below is a quick 3-question poll.

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Why I don’t sign (most of) my reviews

A few months ago, Stephen Heard wrote a blog post that prompted us to have a brief twitter discussion on whether we sign our reviews. Steve tends to sign his reviews, and I tend not to, but neither of us felt completely sure that our approach was the right one. So, we decided that it would be fun for us to both write posts about our views on signing (or not signing) reviews. In the interim, I accepted a review request where I decided, before opening the paper, that I would sign the review to see whether that changed how I did the review. So, in this post I will discuss why I have generally not signed my name to reviews, how it felt to do a review where I signed my name, and what I plan on doing in the future.

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Poll: What does the “Are you willing to review a revised manuscript” question mean to you?

A while back, there was a twitter discussion related to Associate Editors (AEs) sending manuscripts back out for review when the changes are pretty minor. One part of the discussion indicated that there’s some variation in interpretation of the “Would you be able to review a revised version of this manuscript?” question. This topic recently came up again in some emails between Brian, Jeremy, and me (and then again on twitter after I mentioned writing a post on it), so I figured it’s worth a quick poll:

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Changes in number of authors and position of corresponding author in Ecology papers

Based on my interest in authorship practices in ecology, I decided to look at papers published in Ecology in each of the past seven decades to see how corresponding authorship changed over that time.* I looked at the first (or second**) issue of Ecology in 1956 and every ten years thereafter.

tl:dr version of the results: Not surprisingly, the number of authors increased over time. For corresponding authorship, I found that, in 1996 and earlier, the corresponding author was almost never indicated. Looking every 5 years from 2001-2016, the first author*** was usually the corresponding author, though expanding the analysis to include AmNat and Evolution**** suggests that some of the changes might be due to some of the more mundane aspects of publication.

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Here’s the draft introduction to my book about ecology. Please tear it apart. (UPDATED)

If you’re a very avid reader of this blog, you need to get a life will know that I’m writing a book about ecology. It’s for University of Chicago Press. The working title is “Ecology At Work”, though that’s only one of several candidate titles. Other candidate titles include “Ecology Master Class”, “Re-engineering Ecology”, and the joke titles that I and others tweeted recently.

Anyway, I’m very excited by this new challenge I’ve set myself, and also very nervous that I can pull it off. Which is where you come in. Below the fold is a draft introduction to my book. Please tear it apart.

Ok, don’t just tear it apart; any and all feedback is most welcome. But critical feedback and suggestions for improvement are particularly welcome. If you think the style sucks, or that the book sounds boring, or whatever, you are not doing me any favors unless you tell me that!

Feel free as well to ask me questions about the book, suggest things I should read, etc.

I’ll of course be getting feedback from more traditional sources as well. But every little helps.

Since many readers prefer not to comment, at the end there’s a little poll for you to tell me what you thought.

UPDATE: The comments have already given me some good feedback: it’s not as clear as it should be up front what the book is about and who the target audience is. And for some readers it’s still not totally clear even by the end. So: the book will comprise comparative case studies of what works and what doesn’t in ecological research. It’s not an introductory ecology textbook, it’s not a methods handbook, and it’s not an “ecology grad student skills” manual like How To Do Ecology. If you think of it as “kind of like A Critique For Ecology, but with lots of positive bits to go along with the critical bits and without a single narrow prescription for how to do ecology properly”, you won’t be too far off. The target audience is ecologists and ecology grad students interested in fundamental research.

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Axios Review is working. And now it’s a non-profit. You should try it.

As regular readers will know, I’m on the board of Axios Review, an independent editorial board in ecology and evolution (see old posts here and here). It’s a service that authors can use to get their papers rigorously pre-reviewed by expert reviewers chosen an independent editor, before being referred to a journal of the author’s choice. Quoting from an old post of mine:

Authors get back peer reviews, just like with a journal, along with an editorial decision as to which journals (from an author-supplied list of “targets”) the editor would recommend the ms to (following appropriate revision, if needed). Axios then forwards the ms, reviews, and recommendation to the target journal, asking them if they’d like the paper to be revised and submitted…

Axios Review has benefits for both authors and journals. For authors, the reviews improve the ms, and the referral process prevents you from wasting time by targeting a journal that’s too selective or a bad fit, saving you from unnecessary rejection and resubmission. It also prevents you from losing audience and impact by aiming too low. Journals get pre-reviewed mss that are very likely to meet their standards.

I’m posting on Axios Review again for two reasons. First, Axios Review founder Tim Vines recently updated the board on how the service is working, and on some important changes to the service. I think that information will be of interest to many of you as potential users of Axios Review, so I wanted to pass it along. Second, I used the service myself recently and wanted to share my experience.

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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. 🙂

Fun ways of deciding authorship order

Last spring, I did a poll related to authorship order in ecology. I’ve written up a couple of posts presenting the results of that poll (part 1, part 2), and plan on writing more. But, for now, I want to focus on some . . . less standard ways of deciding authorship for ecology and evolutionary biology papers.*

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