Behind the Scenes with ASQ Managing Editor Linda Johanson

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[We’re pleased to welcome Cassandra Aceves of the University of Michigan Ross School of Business and Linda Johanson, Managing Editor of Administrative Science Quarterly. Cassandra recently sat down with Linda to discuss the peer review process and what it’s like to serve in the role of Managing Editor for Administrative Science Quarterly.]

Republished with permission. The original post was published on the ASQ Blog.

ASQ_v60n1_Mar2015_cover.inddQuestion 1. Many of our readers are beginning Ph.D. students who have yet to submit a paper or participate in the review process. Could you provide a brief introduction to the publication process and your role at ASQ?

I’m usually the first one to see a submitted manuscript. I manage the ASQ editorial and administrative office at the Johnson School at Cornell, which is the owner of the journal. I oversee the budget and finances, contracts, the submission and review system, and copy editing and issue production. For the past year, Joan Friedman, our new Associate Managing Editor, has been working with me on these and other tasks.

When ScholarOne notifies me of a new submission, I open the file, read the author’s cover letter and suggested reviewer and handling editor fields. Then I open the pdf file and read the abstract and first few pages to see if the paper’s appropriate for review and who might best handle it. Paging through the pdf file, I check for anonymity and make sure everything is legible. I assign a handing editor, based on the editor’s expertise, schedule, and current workload. We try to provide authors with the most helpful feedback we can leading to a publishable paper. If I can send the paper to the author’s preferred handling editor, I will. But sometimes the author doesn’t know that a different editor knows the methods or literature better—or is doing heavy teaching or traveling or has the flu.

It helps us all if the cover letter lists the people who’ve already given the authors comments or were on their dissertation committee, especially if any of them are likely to be asked to review for ASQ. Most of them won’t review a paper if they know the author, so it slows down the process if we ask them. It’s a good idea, too, to use the cover letter to explain any “non-preferred reviewers” listed on the submission: Are they people who really do hate the authors’ work or do they know the authors’ work and have already provided useful feedback? “Non-preferred” is an ambiguous term, so it’s good to be clear.

An informative abstract also helps me assign the right editor. Sometimes I have to read through half or even most of the manuscript before I figure out what it’s about and who could handle it. Authors can use published abstracts as guides to how to summarize a paper for readers so they want to read it. A useful abstract includes the theory, context, method, and main findings—but especially the context. A reader shouldn’t have to read 20 pages before learning that the study was conducted in an Indian call center, a Chinese factory, or a Brazilian company. The context can be a real asset—and could determine who should handle or review the paper.

The handling editor who gets the paper either assigns and invites reviewers or writes a “decline to review” letter saying why the paper won’t be going out for formal review. About a third of our submissions are “declines to review,” sometimes because they’re based on literature from another field and aren’t connected to or aimed at contributing to the organization studies literature or speaking to that audience. Sometimes it’s because they’re written for practitioners or policy makers rather than organization theorists. Authors whose papers are sent out for review have made it in the door and will get back a decision letter and set of reviews that should be helpful in continuing to develop the work, either for ASQ for for submission to another journal.

Question 2. In this article you present 8 tips to increase the likelihood that an article will be published: 1) clarify the research question and intended contributions early on in the paper, 2) guide the readers’ understanding of relevant literature, 3) understand readers’ perspectives and anticipate their questions, 4) be aware of and explain how terms and figures are used, 5) obtain collegial feedback on a paper before submitting, 6) carefully proofread the article, 7) use editors’ and reviewers’ feedback to understand how readers make sense of the paper, and 8) space out submissions of papers from the same project to incorporate sensemaking feedback. It has been seven years since you penned these tips. Do you have any additional tips to add?

I’ve always thought that Ph.D. students have a real advantage in that they’re immersed in foundational and current literature and know what’s already been done, what’s hot and what’s not, and have a pretty good mental map of the field. If they’re paying attention to the writing as they read, they can also find templates in published literature for how to structure different kinds of papers, establish a contribution, write up a method section or lay out a data table.

At the same time, I know how hard it is to divide and conquer a topic in the literature review for a paper and not just list everything written on a topic. One strategy is to use a smaller core set of very relevant studies and in reporting findings from those, take a piece of evidence from each one to use in building the argument for the important gap in the literature that really needs to be filled. As one of our editors used to say, “What’s the burning question to which this paper is an answer?” Each relevant piece of literature can become a building block for constructing the motivation and the theory underlying the study. Seeing how others did this in published work can be very helpful. This is where the hints in my 2007 article about sensemaking can be helpful.

Question 3. You note that the target journal determines the conversation that an author will enter and that this could be highly consequential for the success of an article in the review process. Do you have any insights into how students can best identify, follow, and signal that they are a part of that conversation?

Linda M. Johanson

Linda M. Johanson

Authors can identify their potential receptive journal audience by looking at their own reference list. Which articles have you used to ground the arguments? Which journals do you cite most often? Those probably represent the best audiences. Authors who follow and read a journal regularly are more likely to know what constitutes a contribution and to get a paper published there. Prospective authors are joining the conversation of authors who published on their topic. One way to signal that they should be part of that conversation is to make it clear that they know what that conversation is about and have something worthwhile to contribute. It’s a bit like joining an ongoing conversation at a party. To join in, you have to understand what people are talking about.

Question 4. You often host workshops for graduate students who are at the beginning stages of the research process. Do you have any tips for students who are submitting to a journal or going through the review process for the first time?

First, write sincerely. Communicate your ideas to your readers as clearly as you can, rather than impressing them with how many articles you’ve read—especially early in the paper. It’s frustrating to run into dense clumps of 6 to 10 references when we’re trying to figure out what a paper is about. Some authors have told me that they keep a copy of my 2007 article and read it again before they start writing.

You don’t need to write a long cover letter, especially if it repeats the abstract. Do let us know if you have related studies from the same data set published or under review elsewhere that aren’t cited in the paper. If you have a preference for a handling editor, tell us, but don’t insist that your suggestion be honored. We know the editors and their current situations better than most of the authors do. And we’re in the journal business, so we’re all doing everything we can to find and develop the best articles.

And once you’ve submitted, please be patient. Manuscript Central gives you information on what’s happening to your manuscript, but it doesn’t give all the information. For instance, you may see that your manuscript is waiting for reviewers to be assigned. Pretty alarming, right? But in truth that message comes up if even one reviewer is missing—which can happen when a reviewer agreed to review the paper but then had a family emergency. Sometimes we already have other completed reviews, so the problem isn’t as bad as it seems. It’s probably better not to check on your manuscript too obsessively. If it is taking a long time and you get worried about it, though, it’s OK to email me or Joan. We’re happy to check on it and move it along if we can.

When you get the reviews and a decision on the paper—whatever it is—take a deep breath. Then read through it, keeping in mind that the editor and reviewers gave you the best feedback they could with the hope that it will help you move this work forward. Honest and helpful feedback from those who know your topic is a true gift, even if it’s sometimes hard to accept. Use it to improve your scholarship and your writing. If you get an opportunity to revise and resubmit, that’s fabulous. Do your best to take care of the issues and any misunderstandings that came up in the review process and get some colleagues you trust to look at the revision before you send it back. Ask them to tell you if you did what was asked. If your paper was rejected and you need to rewrite it to submit to another journal, be sure to use the feedback you got from the first review process. Your reputation will take a hit if one of the same reviewers gets the paper at a different journal and sees that you didn’t pay attention to his or her review.

Question 5. You have been with ASQ for over 30 years. What is your favorite aspect of working at Administrative Science Quarterly?

That’s a hard question. It’s been such a rich experience. I guess what I’ve enjoyed most is being part of the vibrant ASQ intellectual community. I couldn’t have imagined when I started that I’d have a chance to edit papers on Niagara Falls hotels competing to control tourists’ view of the falls, scandals in Parliament, narcissistic CEOs, wildland firefighters, emotional intelligence, group diversity and performance, contract workers, scads of papers on social networks—an area that was just beginning to attract scholars then—and now sustainability and emerging markets. But it’s also the people in this community that I’ve had a chance to work with and get to know who have so enriched my life. Authors, editors, board members, reviewers, graduate students, faculty members across the globe. And finally, I’ve witnessed enormous growth in the field of organizational behavior and theory as well as dramatic changes in journal publishing and the number and kind of outlets for scholarly work. One of these changes is the growth of the ASQ student blog, and I’m so honored to be asked to contribute. Thank you.

For more about the peer review process from Linda Johanson, click here to read her article “Sitting in Your Reader’s Chair: Attending to Your Academic Sensemakers” from Journal of Management Inquiry.

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