Elements of a Great Paper

            To continue the thread of why I took this job, another reason for me is to help shepherd the community to write great papers. This is mainly done by guiding referees to do a more thorough job at reviewing manuscripts, scrutinizing every aspect of it to make sure the study is conducted and presented as optimally as possible. This direction to the referees, however, can be treated as advice to authors.

            The introduction should weave a story of previous studies on the chosen topic to build to the climax of the thesis statement: the unresolved question that still needs to be addressed. It should include citations and discussion of all relevant papers, including those very recently published to show the continued need for another investigation in this area. However, it should not drift beyond the those absolutely necessary to make the point, and should not include an exhaustive listing of papers in tangential or indirectly related fields. The introduction should be focused and make the case that the question is worthy of attention.

            The methodology section needs to describe the experimental set up at a level so that others can repeat the analysis. By experiment, I mean the describing the observations and the sensors used to make those observations and/or the numerical model and the run configurations used for the simulations. It is perfectly acceptable to make this section very short, as long sufficient citations are included of previous papers that give the full details of the technique. Quotations of previous papers are also legitimate, especially in this section. If the set up is new or the analysis method has changed, then the section needs to be longer to fully describe what is new in this methodology. For observations, it should be demonstrated that the sensor is properly calibrated and the measurements are reliable. For simulations, it should be shown that the model has been verified against analytical solutions with grid convergence tests and conservation checks.

            The results section should objectively present the data and describe the main features of interest in the plots or tables. For this section in particular, it is vital to judge the manuscript against the criterion of “only what’s needed to make the point.” It is easy for authors to include far more information than is necessary to address the problem. On the other hand, enough content should be given to convincingly support the eventual findings of the study.

            Next comes the discussion section. Sometimes this is intermixed with the presentation of the results and other times it is intermixed with the conclusions and summary of the study; that’s the author’s choice in how they structure it. This section should bridge the gap from the objective presentation of the results to the conclusion addressing the question posed at the end of the introduction. It should make the case that the findings are an original and significant contribution to the field. It should mention and address any substantial caveats to the study and note any limitations to the applicability of the conclusions.

            Some papers will have a final conclusions or summary section. I personally like this as a stand-alone section to the manuscript so that readers can quickly skip to the main findings of the study. It should repeat what has already been stated earlier in the paper and not include any new analysis points.

            There are a few other considerations to ensure a great paper. One is that the title should be an appropriate distillation of the main focus of the study. It shouldn’t contain many, if any, acronyms, and should focus on the scientific discovery rather than the methodology used to make the advancement. The abstract should be a concise yet complete summary of the study that explains not only the finding but also the reasoning behind its significance. Tables and figures should be readable, understandable, and adequately and objectively described in the captions. The prose should be publication quality and not need extensive corrective proof-reading.

            In short, a great paper contains, in an easily readable and understandable presentation, all that is necessary to convey the significance of the findings…and nothing else.  I hope that referees heed this direction and write reviews with this in mind.


Why Do This Job?

            Most people are supportive of the position of journal editor, but occasionally I get asked the question, “Why did you take on this job?” It’s a very good question, because the job takes a lot of time away from doing other things in my life. In addition, I am “the obstacle,” the roadblock to the smooth and timely publication of your paper. Who wants that job?! It’s a universal assumption that authors think their manuscript is worthy of acceptance without revision, and I, with the help of the solicited referees, am the gatekeeper deciding that it needs more modifications. Or worse, deciding that the modifications are too great and therefore I reject that version of the manuscript.

            So, why did I agree? One big reason is that I know people who are/were getting frustrated with JGR-Space Physics and I thought up some ways to alleviate that angst. That is, I was (and still am) concerned about the prestige of the journal and wanted to do what I can to keep it a premiere publication. This concern is not really about the standing of JGR relative to other space physics journals; it is about the journal’s stature beyond our field and a perception about space physics as a discipline. I did not want to see its reputation slip and be a reflection on our entire field.

            To address this looming “stature gap” relative to other fields, I first had to understand the irritation with JGR. Some of it had to do with the immediate issue of production snafus with the transition to Wiley. For others, it was dissatisfaction with the editorial system and process. For some, it was a very specific affront and they refused to publish in JGR anymore. Many of these personal disappointments had taken place years ago, yet they still held it against the journal.

            For a portion of these issues and concerns, the answer was already in place but the community didn’t know about it yet. I wanted to increase communication from the editorial board to the space physicists we serve, removing the opaque barrier of secrecy to our work and helping the community understand what we do. I think that people are reasonable and if they become familiar with the editorial process, then they will better comprehend our decisions.

            For other problems that people have with the journal, I wanted to open up a conversation with the community so that these issues can be identified and addressed. Again, this blog is helping with that, but I would also like people to feel comfortable directly emailing me with a question or comment about how JGR works. The more information you have about the process, the better. Ignorance is a huge driver of fear and frustration, and so the more that I can communicate with you to let you know what we do as editors, what AGU staff do to process manuscripts, and what Wiley staff do to convert the accepted manuscript into a published paper, the better.

            Note that being open about the process does not mean being easy on the manuscripts. I and the other editors will still demand revisions and occasionally reject papers. The bar for publication is still high and papers must make a significant original contribution to our knowledge of space physics in order to be published in the journal. That said, if you have any questions about why, then please just ask.

New Space Weather EiC

            As it was just announced in the SPA newsletter, please join me in congratulating Delores Knipp to the editorial helm at Space Weather! It’s been a six-month process, but the decision has been made that she will be the new Editor-in-Chief of this journal and its print version counterpart, Space Weather Quarterly.

            Dr. Knipp, a Research Professor in Aerospace Engineering at the University of Colorado in Boulder, is in the midst of transitioning into this new role and will officially take over from the outgoing EiC, Lou Lanzerotti, in October. I look forward to working with Delores as part of the AGU journal EiC crew as well as through our inter-journal communication between JGR Space Physics and Space Weather.

            I would also like to take this opportunity to thank Lou for his decade-plus history of service to the space physics community as the inaugural editor of this journal. I agree with Jim Klimchuk in his newsletter post, “It is largely because of Lou’s incredible dedication, energy, and wisdom that Space Weather and the Quarterly are the premier publications that they are today.” Congratulations, Lou, on a successful and prosperous tenure as EiC!

            Finally, I’d like to add a manuscript submission comment to this post. JGR Space Physics and Space Weather are closely-related journals and authors sometimes have a difficult time determining to which of these journals a particular manuscript should be submitted. Overlap between these journals can be minimized by clarifying the scope of the two journals: JGR Space Physics is the place for advancements in our knowledge of space science, i.e., of the processes controlling how rarefied neutral and charged particles move and their relationship with electric and magnetic fields throughout the solar system. Space Weather focuses on the application of this understanding toward an advancement of knowledge on the issue of space environment effects on technological or biological systems. It connects the space research community with engineering and operations groups working in fields that are affected by those rarified neutral and charged particle populations and/or electric and magnetic fields in outer space. We occasionally reject manuscripts based on this delineation of scope, encouraging the authors to resubmit the paper to the other journal. On this note, an upgrade in the works for the GEMS system will allow us to shift such submissions directly to another AGU journal (with the permission of the author), rather than requiring the author to resubmit from the beginning at the GEMS site for that other journal.

Most Used Index Terms

            Here are some factoids for the day about AGU Index Terms selected for manuscripts submitted JGR-Space Physics.

            The most-used AGU index term for JGR-Space Physics papers among those submitted between January 1 and mid-July: 2784, Solar wind/magnetosphere interactions. This is not surprising to me. It is such a general term that many papers across the space physics subfields fit into this category, and a quick scan of papers using this term reveals this to be the case. Because solar activity drives disturbances in planetary space environments, just about any paper from any subfield of space physics can include this index term in its list.

            The next two most commonly selected AGU Index Terms are both magnetospheric topics: 2774, Radiation belts; and 2730, Magnetosphere: inner. This is probably a result of the Van Allen Probes being in its prime mission phase right now. In addition, we just opened a special collection for Van Allen Probes data analysis studies (see the JGR Space Physics Call for Papers).

            Next on the list are three ionospheric physics terms, right in a row: 2437, Ionospheric dynamics; 2439, Ionospheric irregularities; and 2415, Equatorial ionosphere. It looks like, so far, the ionosphere is outpacing the thermosphere as a topic of newly submitted manuscripts to JGR-Space Physics.

            Not much farther down the list are the top three most-used terms related to solar-heliospheric physics: 2164, Solar wind plasma; 2114, Energetic particles; and 2101, Coronal mass ejections. The breakdown of SH manuscripts submitted so far this year is slightly in favor of heliospheric propagation over solar and coronal origins of these phenomena, but not by much.

            In the new AGU-Wiley website and format for journal articles, the Index Terms now appear in pop-out window for the “Information” button on the left. These are clickable links that launch an EASI database search for similar papers. Sometimes this can be a little overwhelming, finding hundreds or thousands of papers, but you can sort the search results by “Best Match” or “Date” and hopefully find some additional papers of relevance to you.

            It’s interesting to note that we’ve had over 600 new manuscript submissions so far this year. Even though authors can select up to five AGU Index Terms for a paper (and most select 3 to 5), none of the terms had been used more than 100 times. This is lower than I thought the max would be, but it can be explained by the fact that we have used 296 distinct index terms so far (well, as of mid-July, when we had our editorial board meeting), with nearly 100 being used only once. We are a diverse group!

Fast Turnaround at Wiley

            I wasn’t editor during the conversion to Wiley as the publisher of AGU journals, but I am told that there was some roughness in the transition. Specifically, the stories I have heard could be summed up with the assessment that the project to port all of AGU’s journal content to Wiley’s servers and format took more resources than expected. I have heard four main complaints about this transition: some things took a while to become available at the Wiley site, there were issues and concerns about format and ease of use, and, of particular grievance to authors, errors in the conversion to production format and delays in getting papers through the publication process from acceptance to “print.”

            AGU and Wiley have been working closely together on the first two points, with regular releases of new websites for AGU journals (the latest just a couple weeks ago). I hope that you like the website format. They will keep tweaking it and, in fact, plan yet another website upgrade in the fall. If you have comments and suggestions, then please send them on and your ideas will be considered for subsequent releases.

            As for the third point, I hope that it is better. I will have another post on this process in the near future.

            This post is really about the fourth point: the timeliness of acceptance-to-publication. Look at this chart, which was shown to us at our recent editorial board meeting:

Acceptance-to-publish 2014 Q2

The x axis is the time it takes for a paper to go through the publication process from acceptance to early view “print” online at the Wiley site (binned by week), and the y axis is a histogram of paper counts (normalized to the peak value). The six rows of plots are for each month in the first half of 2014. All AGU journals are included in this chart. As you can see, the median time it takes to process a paper and get it moved from “in press” to “in print” was about a month at the beginning of the year and is now shifted to something under 3 weeks. I am told that the median time from acceptance to print actually exceeded 8 weeks for a while in 2013. Therefore, these are amazing histograms showing an outstanding improvement in workflow at Wiley.

            Both with AGU and with other journals and publishers, I have had papers sit at the “in press” stage for months. Wiley is working very hard to get this turnaround time as short as possible, and their efforts are paying off. Yes, there is a long tail, as there will always be a few papers that need extra processing and extra time at this stage. Overall, though, papers are processed rather quickly now. Wiley has been very responsive in listening to our complaints and making the process and product acceptable to the AGU research community.



New Web Pages for AGU Journals at Wiley

Brooks Hanson wrote a piece in Eos recently about the new web pages for all AGU journals, which are now up and running at Wiley. The Eos article can be found here:


The general layout is very similar to what has been there since early this year (discussed here). There are new mouseover popups and automatic resizing features that didn’t exist before, and more content as well, including a longer archive of past issues and electronic access to AGU book content (new “Books” tab at the top).

Note that the site address changed. The new address for JGR-Space Physics is here:


If you had the recent site bookmarked, that link is now broken. Please update it to this new URL.

We heard a lot at our recent editorial board meeting about how AGU and Wiley continue to work on developing the website. Like this new version just a few months after the last one, there will be new website releases every few months for the near future. I think one of the next big things is to update the paper search part of the site. If you have suggestions about how to improve the site, then please voice it, directly to Brooks Hanson (his email is at the end of the Eos article) or through me and I’ll pass it on.

New AGU Journal Launched

It’s official, Earth and Space Sciences is the newest AGU journal. The page at the AGU site describing it is here (click on the logo swoosh):


and my earlier posts about it are here and here.

John Orcutt is the inaugural editor of the journal, a well-respected physical oceanographer with a long history of scientific publishing. I wish him the best in this endeavor.

He has a challenging yet interesting job ahead of him. This journal covers the entire breadth of topics across the scope of AGU, much like GRL. Because it is just starting, though, he is the only editor for now. Once it gains traction and builds a robust submission rate, more editors in other specialties will be added to the team. It will include both research articles and papers detailing the availability of and methodology behind relevant data sets, field observations, numerical models, and laboratory techniques. That is, the scope of ESS is actually broader than just JGR or GRL.

While I think that JGR-Space Physics is still the place to go with your most significant contributions to the field, Earth and Space Science is another option for you to consider. This is especially true if you think that the work has implications or applications beyond space physics. In addition, it is an entirely Open Access publication. While the pub fee, set at $1800, is higher than the nominal fee of $1000 for JGR, it is half the cost for full Open Access in JGR. Even better, all fees are waived for submissions to ESS through 19 December 2014 (the end of week of the Fall AGU Meeting). So, this might also be factor in deciding to publish in ESS.

I didn’t see a place to sign up for table of content alerts, but perhaps that is premature, as they are just now accepting manuscript submissions. We should see the first issue in a few months.

In support of this new journal launch, I am tasking myself with submitting a manuscript to Earth and Space Science within the next 12 months. Hopefully I can make it by the free publication cutoff late this year.


Manuscript Status Tables Part 2

To continue on with my explanation of the Manuscript Status Table in the GEMS system for each paper, here are a few more example tables. I won’t cover every line like I did in the first post, but rather just those either not covered in that post or ones that might be confusing.

Here is an example of a table for a resubmission of a revised manuscript:


I like this table because it illustrates some key features that could be very confusing for authors. First of all, the third line up from the bottom, “Waiting for Reviewer Assignment,” really shouldn’t be there. It is just part of the way that resubmissions get routed through the GEMS system. You can see that it spends no time here before moving on to quality control. In addition, you can see that it was sent back to the author at the quality control phase. Something wasn’t quite right with the submission and the AGU staff asked for clarification from the authors.

Once the initial quality control was complete, then two more lines instantly appeared in the chart, “Waiting for Reviewer Assignment” and “With Editor for Decision.” Because it is a resubmission, it gets pushed into the editor’s “Waiting for Decision” inbox at GEMS. The editor then reads through the responses and the manuscript and decides whether to reject, accept, or send it back to one or both of the referees for an additional round of review.

Apparently, the editor decided to sent it back for review, and they did it very quickly because it only took half an hour to move on to “Contacting Potential Reviewers.” Four days later, however, a new line appeared, “Waiting for Reviewer Assignment.” This means that one of the two original reviewers declined to review this revised version of the manuscript, and so the editor had a choice: continue without this reviewer or find a replacement. It looks like the editor wanted another opinion about the paper, and the next morning new potential reviewers were selected and emails were sent off. The rest of the lines were already covered in the other post (link to previous post), like the strange double entry of “Decision Made.”

A second example table I’ll show you is one where the paper was eventually accepted:


Specifically, you can see that it did not go out for review but rather the editor decided on acceptance purely from reading the responses to the reviews. There are two new lines at the top of the table, as well. The first (chronologically, so the lower one), “Manuscript Ready for Publication,” means that a task has been forwarded to AGU staff to send the files on to Wiley for production. The other line, “Manuscript Accepted,” means that this task has been completed and the paper is now with Wiley staff. Sometimes this process is done in a few hours and other times it takes a few days. Very rarely, when a paper has a bad file in the system or there is some other issue to deal with, this last step can take a week or more.

If you have questions about status table entries that you’ve seen with your manuscripts, then please feel free to comment in the box below or send me an email about it. If I don’t know the answer then I can ping the AGU staff about it.

Manuscript Status Tables

One of the slightly confusing things that GEMS does to authors is show them the Manuscript Status Table at the bottom of the page regarding a submission. It shows all status changes throughout the life of the manuscript, from the initiation of the submission process through quality control, reviewer assignment, and decision. While this is, in general, useful information for authors to have that let’s you know where your paper is along the editorial path, it can sometimes be a point of frustration and concern.

Let me go through a few example tables to explain some of the entries. For full disclosure, these are all from my own papers on which I was either first author or coauthor. Really, though, it doesn’t matter, because you cannot tell the author or paper from this table. I will go through one in this post, and then more in subsequent posts (hopefully up in the next day or two).

For the first submission of a new manuscript, the table might look something like this:


Let’s go through it chronologically, which means starting from the bottom of the table and working our way up. The first 3 entries are all at the pace of the corresponding author. As you can see, for this paper, it took about an hour to work through the submission process. While that seems onerous, the metadata and supplemental information we as editors receive from you is extremely valuable, so we appreciate your extra time to make these entries. The file conversion and approval also takes some time.

When you click the final button to submit the manuscript, then the manuscript is passed off to AGU HQ staff for the quality control. Some of this is automatically processed (like the creation of a Similarity Report), but other parts, like the Data Policy compliance check, are done by hand. It looks like for this manuscript, all of the processing was completed the same day as the initial submission.

It then goes off to me, the Editor-in-Chief, for assignment to one of the five editors (including myself). My biggest concerns there are editor expertise in the field, load balance between the editors, and avoiding institutional conflicts between authors and editors. I pay attention to your preference requests and, more often than not, grant your request and assign that editor. Interestingly, there is no status line item for this step; my timing to assign the paper to a specific editor is not recorded in this table.

The next entry is “Contacting Potential Reviewers.” This line item is added once the editor has selected potential reviewers and clicked the “Done” button on that screen. The emails will go out within a day, either by the editor clicking a button in GEMS or one of the AGU staff clicking that button. It looks like, for this manuscript, the multi-step process of me assigning this paper to an editor, the editor assigning himself as Associate Editor, and the editor selecting 6 potential reviewers took just under a day.

The next line, “Under Review,” indicates that someone has clicked the button in GEMS to agree to be a referee for this paper. You notice, however, that at the same time the next line appeared in the table, “Contacting Potential Reviewers.” This is one of those confusing parts of the system. Because the editor requested 2 reviewers for this paper (the default for JGR-Space Physics), the status of the paper reverts back to “Contacting…” because the system still desires another reviewer. So, there is a second “Under Review” line item above this, indicating the time that a second person agreed to review the manuscript. It looks like, for this paper, this process took quite a while: 6 days to secure the first reviewer and another 18 days to secure the second.

The next line is “With Editor For Decision.” This means that both reviews are in and the editor has a “red arrow” in the GEMS system indicating that the paper is ready for a decision. The last review came in early one morning and the editor apparently saw the task in GEMS and made a decision just a few hours later, shown as another line, “Decision Made.” However, here is another confusing entry; the two lines are repeated. This is because the decision email is sent to AGU staff, who add the attachments and whatever other processing the decision letter might need, and then they officially send the email on to the corresponding author. The final line item at the top, “Waiting for Revision,” is when the decision email actually went out to the author.

I hope you find this helpful. There are a few confusing entries in resubmission manuscript status tables, as well, and I’ll cover those in the very near future.


New JGR Impact Factor

The Journal Citation Reports for 2013 have been released by Thomson-Reuters, which means the new Impact Factors are out. As I have posted before, this index is a commonly-used indicator of journal quality. It’s not the only one and perhaps not even the best for JGR, but it is arguably the best known and most widely quoted. For 2012, the Impact Factor of JGR was 3.17. Note that this index does not separate the various sections of JGR but rather calculates a single value for all of the sections combined. Remember that this is calculated by taking the citations in year x to papers published in years x-1 and x-2 and dividing by the number of papers in those two years. Four numbers…that’s it.

The new JGR Impact Factor for 2013 is 3.44, an 8% increase! Fantastic! The Five-year Impact Factor also rose by a similar amount to 3.71.

By the way, with the switch to Wiley, the separate sections of JGR were given distinct ISSN numbers. This means that in a couple of years, each section of JGR will have its own Impact Factor. It will be interesting to see what this reveals. Until then, however, JGR-Space Physics is lumped in with all other sections of JGR in these and most other metrics.