This is a guest post by Krista Wiegand, Director of the Global Security Program at the Howard Baker Center for Public Policy and Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Tennessee. She is co-Editor-in-Chief of International Studies Quarterly.
I was once asked on a job interview by a non-IR political scientist why I hadn’t published in the “big 3” journals – American Political Science Review (APSR), American Journal of Political Science (AJPS), and Journal of Politics (JOP). My response was that I had published in top IR journals where my IR colleagues read my work. I also mentioned how I had received a couple desk rejections from these journals suggesting that my research fit better in a specialized IR conflict journal. I’ve increasingly heard this comment from several of my IR colleagues about the big 3 journals over the past few years. I know a very well-known, highly published IR colleague who has submitted more than 20 manuscripts to APSR and never received an acceptance. It seems like it’s increasingly difficult for IR scholars to place articles in the top 3 general political science journals.
Editors write a lot of decision letters. At high-volume journals, editors write so many decision letters that it can become a tedious grind. For authors, though, the information communicated in decision letters matters enormously. It can affect their job prospects, salaries, and chances of advancement. Of course, authors, especially in the moment, overestimate the significance of any single journal decision. But receiving a rejection, revise-and-resubmit invitation, or an acceptance can certainly feel like a defining event. This is especially the case for graduate students and junior academics, who are less experienced in, and more vulnerable to, the vagaries of the review process.
This makes decision letters the single most consequential way that editors communicate with authors. The same is true for referees. We don’t spend a lot of time teaching academics how to craft referees reports. There is, at best, limited consensus about what makes for a good review. So decision letters also become an important way to send cues to referees about the quality of their reports.
If you think about it, all of this places a heavy burden on editors. That burden only seems heavier when we consider how arbitrary and capricious the peer-review process can be
Yeah. Okay. I’m being a bit melodramatic. Editors don’t perform literal surgery. They don’t design airplanes. The stakes are what they are. But I stand by the underlying sentiment: editors have a responsibility to take decision letters very seriously.
In this post, I’ll focus on general issues. In Part II, I’ll elaborate on them in the context of the specific kinds of decision letters.