Editorial Workflow

With the announcement out seeking applicants to be the next Editor in Chief of JGR Space Physics, I wanted to keep going with the theme of my last post and briefly describe the manuscript editorial workflow.  Note that there is a really nice editorial written by my predecessor, Bob Lysak, on How JGR Works, that also goes over the modern workflow in detail; I highly recommend reading through that article. I wrote a recap of it a few months ago.


A quick overview of what I, as an editor, do with a newly assigned manuscript:

  • Read through the descriptive metadata on GEMS. Not only the title and abstract, to make sure it’s appropriate for JGR Space Physics, but also the author list, to make sure you are not conflicted.  Basically, double check what I did as an EiC in assigning it to myself. I also check the other metadata, like the paper type, keywords, key points, and the plain language summary at this point.
  • Open up and look through the similarity report. We will send it back if there is too much verbatim overlap with previously published papers that do not have exactly the same author list.  Note that overlap with theses and dissertations is allowed, as is overlap with a version of the manuscript at a preprint server like arXiv or ESSOAr. For more on this, I’ve written many times about similarity reports and plagiarism, including selfplagiarism, in the past.
  • Read through a few random paragraphs for English usage. It is a subjective criterion, but if I find several mistakes per paragraph, then I will send the manuscript back to get the English usage improved before sending it out for review.  English usage, along with high cross check or being out of scope, are the main reasons for rejection with review.
  • Check the data availability statement. AGU HQ staff also check this and will flag it for editorial scrutiny, but I always read through it anyway.  The data policy has shifted during my term, but the latest is that AGU no longer allows “available upon request” and the digital values behind figures and tables in papers, including model results, must be available independent of the author, i.e., at a repository.
  • Select potential reviewers. I like to pick 6 names. Perhaps one or two will be from the author’s suggested reviewer list.  Other reviewers might come from the Areas of Expertise that people have selected for themselves in GEMS, from citations in the paper, from those that cite papers in the reference list, or from similar papers we find with scholarly article searches.  For more on this, we wrote an Editorial a few years ago on our method of reviewer selection.
  • Send the initial batch of review request emails. I like to send the initial letters myself, sometimes modifying the form letter text to include a special note to the person.  I’ll often send these requests to the first 3 or 4 names on my list.

At this point, the editor is done with the paper. AGU HQ staff follow up with chaser emails to the potential reviewers, hopefully securing two people from the list I generated. The paper reappears in my workflow if I need to assign more potential reviewers, but for most manuscripts, I don’t see it in GEMS for a few weeks.  When it comes back, then I have work to do again:

  • Read through the reviews. I read through every word you write, whether it is in the online text box, in an attached file, or an annotation of the manuscript with the online hypthes.is tool.  I also read through any other information you provide, like your answers to the radio button questions, your notes for the editor, and any comments you have about highlighting the paper.  I sometimes have to go back and read through a bit of the manuscript itself, too, to understand a comment or concern raised by a reviewer.
  • Decide on the fate of the manuscript. We often follow what the reviewers recommend but the decision is with the editor. Especially if the reviewers have diverging recommendations, the quality of the review weighs heavily in my decision. Longer reviews are more helpful than really short reviews, but even a short review can make a strong point that swings my opinion. Sometimes I send it to a third reviewer at this point, but not too often at this stage. I have written a few posts about this decision process, especially about rejecting papers.
  • Decide on any highlighting of this paper. Even if the decision is not yet for publication, if I think the paper is in the top ~10% or so, then I will click one of the levels of highlighting that a paper in an AGU journal might receive.  The simplest is a post on social media, up through various write-ups in Eos all the way to an AGU press release.

If the decision is to accept, then I am done.  If the decision is to reject, then perhaps I am done, but, like a revision decision, the authors might resubmit some time later.  If the decision is a revision, then yes, I will see it again, and the workflow continues:

  • Read through the responses. Again, I carefully read through every word you write.
  • Decide how to proceed with the manuscript. Sometimes, I think that all of the concerns were adequately addressed and move on to acceptance.  Other times, I send it back out for review.  Sometimes, I send it to a third reviewer, but again, often not at this stage.

If I sent it back out for review, then again I have several weeks without seeing this paper in GEMS, as AGU staff send any chaser emails to the potential reviewers.  It could come back if someone refuses to review the manuscript a second time. When the reviews are done, it rejoins my workflow:

  • Repeat the “decision” workflow steps. This is the time where I might involve a third reviewer.  Or perhaps after second revision or after third review.  If there is a deadlock without resolution, then either I make a decision in favor of one side or I ask a trusted expert in the field to provide a fresh assessment of the situation.

The revision iteration can continue several times.  Each time it comes back in, it is “With Editor for Decision,” and I get a “red arrow” in GEMS, like the one in the graphic above. You might see this in your manuscript status table. The paper will keep coming back until either of the “final decisions” of accept or reject is made about it.

Okay, at this point, I am done with the paper.  That is, unless I noted that it should be written up with an Editors’ Highlight, in which case I am asked to fill out a highlight form about the paper.  That’s one last step that usually occurs within a month of decision, about the time the paper has completed its production cycle and is ready for its final publication at the journal website.

This turned into a long post.  Yeah, we do a lot with each manuscript that is assigned to us.  Early in my term as EiC, I kept track of my time and determined that I was spending ~7 hours per week on editorial duties.  That’s probably gone down a bit but only a little; I still spend ~5 hours a week on JGR Space Physics, and some weeks it goes up to double digits.

7 thoughts on “Editorial Workflow

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