The time seems right for an update on progress with my role as Honorary Editor for the Archaeological Journal. My first volume, 169 for 2012 was out in September and 170 for 2013 was out this month. I am currently trawling my way through the first proofs of vol. 171 for 2014, which contains 12 original research articles spanning from the Neolithic to the early 20th century. Above is a photograph of the big chunky proofs sitting on my desk at home…
I have issued a call for papers for vol. 172 for 2015. We have now decided that vol. 172 will be published online in two parts: in January 2015 and July 2015, ahead of an autumn print distribution. The deadline for part I, out in January 2015 is tomorrow. The deadline for part II, out in July 2015 will be in November 2014.
Dealing with Submissions
With two journals out and four to go during my editorship, it is perhaps a useful moment to reflect in a self-critical way on the many, many challenges of this role. There are too many to mention, other than to say that it is a serious and important responsibility to take on this mantle and serve authors in trying to negotiate their work successfully through to publication and maintain the highest quality. To assist with the transition to the new Editor from 2018, I am already copying in emails where necessary and important areas of friction occur.
Manuscripts are declined for a number of reasons beyond simply poor-quality work. Good examples include:
- Speculators. There are very few speculative submissions coming into the Journal. Most of these come from Indian architectural firms who think the Journal is a magazine to show-case new buildings they have designed.
- Unprepared manuscripts. Others are clearly not prepared for publication: I have been very sympathetic and happy to send out to review papers that are not formatted to the precise guidelines for authors of the Journal. I will even send out papers will footnotes and endnotes, although these are not acceptable in the Journal‘s format and must be replaced by Harvard-style in-text citations upon re-submission. I even entertain sending for review papers where there are a few illustrations missing or only rough versions are ready. This flexibility aside (more than most journals), a number of manuscripts have come my way in recent years that are nowhere near ready for publication because of (a) length, (b) language, (c) argumentation, (d) lack of adequate illustrations and tables etc etc (and of course, simply poor-quality work). Professional work but still grey literature still gets sent to me without tailoring for a journal article. In these cases, I try to offer guidance and suggestions where I can (particularly if it is a student or the archaeological results are fascinating even if the format is wrong).
- Off-spec. submissions. Then there are some articles that come in that are not related to the disciplinary and geographical remit of the Journal (these are quite broad: archaeology and interdisciplinary work involving archaeology relating to the British Isles and neighbouring regions, from the Palaeolithic to the present) and so will be declined on these grounds
- Guidance requested. Then there are articles that look ready for submission but the authors themselves get in touch to check whether I think their article is appropriate for the Journal. On some occasions, I have recommended more revisions prior to formal submission to deal with key issues – not a formal decline but still a decline of the manuscript that was intended for submission.
However, these are few compared with the good-quality material that is submitted; the standards of the Journal are clearly advertised and most authors are aware of what is expected of them. Those submitted that are clearly prepared and appropriate articles, I send out to peer-review, even if I suspect there might be concerns.
I should also say that, when an article comes in that is on an area of my expertise, I never reject but send to others to appraise it. For my areas of expertise, I don’t give early medieval and burial archaeology submissions a different (harder or easier) deal than others.
Likewise, if there is a conflict of interest – in the case of one of my students submitting – the entire submission and review process is handled by another person – my Reviews Editor has done this for vol. 171.
Under my editorship, I try to make my judgement of submitted manuscripts based on at least two, and usually three, referees. Sometimes I need four, especially when a longer study contains numerous technical reports that are key to the interpretations presented.
Given the Journal‘s high reputation, I seek out a range of perspectives from across multiple generations of university, commercial, museum and governmental archaeologists and try, where appropriate, to draw on expertise from outside as well as inside the British Isles. I draw on guidance from the RAI’s Editorial Committee on occasions to help me.
At present, we have decided to retain anonymous refereeing since I am finding that, while referees’ views differ, I regard them as the clearest way to get honest, rigorous and fair guidance for me to take on board when appraising manuscripts. Not always, but in most cases, I share anonymously the views of referees, since they end up structuring my judgement. Authors deserve to know the detail of the reasons why their submission has received the judgement that it has. I don’t send out sickly sweet rejection letters with no indication as to why this is the case. I don’t expect to make friends in this position, but I do think that authors need to know what referees think, even if they have good reasons of their own for disagreeing with the judgement dished out to them.
However, it is important to note that the buck stops with me. Sometimes the consensus of referee is for minor revisions, but, when put together, these minor revisions constitute major revisions or even a need to decline the manuscript in its present form. Conversely, referees sometimes form a consensus that the manuscript should receive major revisions, but it is evident that these can be dealt with quite quickly and easily by the author. So it remains my judgement that decides how to deal with individual manuscripts and what is required of them before moving forward to publication can be agreed.
Assuming a paper is accepted, there will be inevitable revisions. Once these have been dealt with, a re-submission schedule is agreed with the author(s) and authors have to submit their refined manuscript together with a table or clear outline of how and where they have addressed referees’ and editorial issues. They also have to provide the text ready in the style of the Journal for which detailed guidelines are given. Also, they have to provide the illustrations to the specific resolution and requirements of the Journal. Even the most experienced of authors sometimes prove to be incredibly resistant to preparing their text and illustrations in the required format.
This is actually the biggest challenge of my role, dealing with points raised that have not been addressed at re-submission, dealing with style issues not addressed and, in particular, getting tables and illustrations submitted of sufficient quality for use. It is here that I feel the guidelines are already crystal clear but I need, as Editor, to be stricter and refusing to proceed to first proofs until fully satisfactory text, tables and illustrations have been supplied.
Reflecting on Progress
Looking back at vols 169 and 170, I am aware of a few minor errors that I aim not to repeat, but I remain proud of what I have achieved thus far as Honorary Editor. My challenge remains to ensure that the quality and character of the text, tables and illustrations of the contents of vols 171 for 2014, 172 for 2015, 173 for 2016 and 174 for 2017 are retained and enhanced. Then it becomes the responsibility of the next Honorary Editor…