Be brave, be clear and have fun

Three editors share their top tips

Do you agree with the advice outlined below? Perhaps you have some tips you would like to share? You can let us know your thoughts by posting a comment at the bottom of this article.


Dr. Brian M Lucey is Professor in Finance at the School of Business, Trinity College Dublin. He is Editor-in-Chief of two journals – one is a new entry to the space, Journal of Behavioral and Experimental Finance(JBEF), the other is a longer standing one, International Review of Financial Analysis (IRFA).

jbefBeing an editor is tremendous fun and also tremendous work. My thoughts below come from that experience as well as that of 20+ years in academia and nearly a decade of being an associate editor and special issue /guest editor on a number of journals.

  • Make time. Editing is a Chronovore*. IRFA is on target for 350-400 submissions this year, and I would imagine that JBEF will get in excess of 75. I make a point to read, at some level, each paper that gets submitted. You don't have to read it in forensic detail, but in sufficient detail that you can appoint a reviewer team that covers the issues, and that when they come back to you, you can be confident that you make an informed decision. Don’t just take the reviewer recommendation on face value – as an editor I think it’s my role to make the call, guided by the reviews. That means usually going back to the paper and seeing where the reviewers have picked up issues and then guiding the author to major and minor problems. That takes time.
  • Kronos the Chronovore from the Doctor Who episode ‘The Time Monster’.Have fun. Let’s face it, for most of us in academia we have a set of skills which are (or were before we devolved into tenure) marketable outside. And yet, we get to play with our brains all day. We get to read fresh ideas, challenging ones, to see the emergence of research paradigms and new approaches to old ones. We get invited to be keynotes (yes please…) and to sit on panels where we can provide and be provided with overviews of areas.
  • Be respectful of your position. Editing is not as important as raising your kids right, but in the academy, editors are the gatekeepers. New approaches to how ideas are sharpened are emerging, such as post publication review. But there will, I think, always be a role for the editor. We control the flow of ideas, and that makes us important and possibly even powerful. If you are editing a journal and don't like an approach, a method, a topic, you can do it serious harm by not giving it a voice. Equally, we can promote ideas and approaches we like or value. These suggest to me that we therefore need to be very open and judge a paper on its own merits, not by reference to a prejudged standard or, worse, to an (often unspoken or unknowing) ideological perspective.
  • Be brave. Editing is gatekeeping. If you really think some area needs to be promoted, or some topic is under researched, or some methodology is promising, you have the ability to make changes.
  • Be organized. Editing is a task. A very large part of the role is the simple (hah) management of the paper flow. Electronic systems can help, and a good publisher and journal manager are invaluable but in the end it’s down to the editor. Knowledge of the area is important but in my view, decent organizational skills, a bit of a work ethic and scheduling time for the editorial role makes the whole thing much easier. I typically set aside Friday AM for things editorial.
  • Make use of being an editor. The first thing you will notice after becoming an editor is that you become better known. Most of us are not academic stars – most editors are solid, mid to upper-mid level academics good at doing things on time and more or less on target. Even those of us who are known through, for example, conference organization are less well known than editors. So, people find you and give you opportunities that you wouldn't have otherwise. More important, they give your team opportunities, and for PhDs and Postdocs that's invaluable.
  • Become a hunter. You will be hunting reviewers, hunting papers that were promised, and hunting special issue editors to complete. This is inevitable, so you may as well enjoy it. In hunting you will come to know who is reliable, and that will save you and your team a lot later in your careers as you won’t waste time with those that waste your time.
  • irfaDon't overcommit. Editing is seductive. People will approach with lots of ideas for special issues and conferences and so forth. Be selective and don't overcommit the journal or yourself to 19 special issues and 12 conferences in the next 18 months. You won’t carry it off, and in trying to do so you will damage the journal reputation and your own.
  • Be prepared. Editors are lightning rods. People will complain; reviewers will complain about deadlines (that they won’t meet anyhow), rejected authors will complain about reviewers and want their submission fee back, authors will email you with papers and complain when you don't do a full scale pre-submission review to ensure that the paper is bullet proofed, and even publishing companies have been known to complain about cycle times. Be ready for this, and ensure that you have good processes and responses in place.
  • Be humble. When you make a mistake – and you will – admit it, remedy it if possible, and move on. You will drop the ball, and that's life. I have stressed the need to be organized, to have time to do the tasks, to be prepared. If you do this, the few things that slip through will be salvageable. People will not think badly of you if you admit a mistake and remedy it, so long as these don't become a habit.

* Note from Ed: Derived from the Greek "chronos" (time) and the Latin "vorare" (to devour), in the television series Doctor Who, Chronovores are greatly feared transcendental beings who feed on time.


Dr. William C Eckelman is Editor-in-Chief of Nuclear Medicine and Biology, the official journal of the Society of Radiopharmaceutical Sciences. The journal publishes original research addressing all aspects of radiopharmaceutical science and Dr. Eckelman has held his current role for 16 years. A former Adjunct Professor, Radiology, at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD), Dr. Eckelman also held positions at national laboratories and pharmaceutical companies in the US. He is now CSO at Molecular Tracer LLC in Bethesda, Maryland, USA.

  • Focus the Aims and Scope and further define the journal’s goals with supplemental editorials. This makes it clear to potential authors the types of manuscripts you expect to receive and helps to filter out unsuitable papers.
  • Review all submissions for compliance with the Aims and Scope of the journal and, for marginal cases, have an editorial board member confirm your decision before rejecting/accepting for review. This helps to ensure you aren’t wasting reviewers’ valuable time by sending them papers that never had a chance of being published in your journal.
  • Now that accepted manuscripts are immediately published as PDFs, the need for the Editor-in-Chief to promptly forward accepted manuscripts to the publication team is more important than ever.
  • If there are problems with an author's submission or reviewer's access in EES, these problems should immediately be referred to Elsevier’s EES helpdesk. The helpdesk has always been quick to respond when authors approach them. It is best if the editor is not in the loop.
  • nmbFor a small journal, it is advisable to keep the organization as flat as reasonable. If you have them, associate editors are often the best people to ask to review an article and you then avoid the need to seek other reviewers.

    ForNuclear Medicine and Biology, using one editorial board member and one new reviewer with experience in the topic to peer review a paper has proved the most effective way to increase the reviewer pool, yet keep the focus on the Aims and Scope of the journal.
  • I would recommend that all revisions should be accompanied by a point by point response, including how and where in the text the manuscript was altered. Since the revisions are returned to the original reviewers, this makes the re-review more efficient (and more rapid).
  • Include a clear policy for resubmission of declined manuscripts in the letter to the author. Failure to do this can lead to a constant flow of emails from authors querying the journal’s policy.


Dr. Jean-Claude Kader is co-Editor-in-Chief, alongside Dr. Kari Taulavuori, of Environmental and Experimental Botany (EEB), a role he has held for seven years. The journal publishes research and review papers, mainly devoted to the mechanisms involved in the responses of plants to the environment. This year will see the publication of Volume 100 of the journal. Dr. Kader is Honorary Research Director of the Laboratory of Plant Cellular and Molecular Physiology at University of Pierre and Marie Curie (Paris 6).

  • eebThe homepage of a journal should be clear and well presented. In its Aims and Scope, EEB indicates the main scientific areas covered by the journal. We also include a list of themes that are not covered; this helps to avoid the submission of unsuitable papers and thus saves time for authors and editors.
  • You should be familiar with EES, which is a remarkable tool and sends alert messages at all editorial steps. Speak to your publisher to find out if you are making the best use of it. In case of any problem, you should contact the EES engineers through your journal manager.
  • Check your Empower traffic light email (sent each week) as it allows you to monitor your editorial workload. The email is particularly useful for tracking papers that have been sent back to authors for revision.
  • Check the cover letters of all submitted papers. Sometimes authors submit to the wrong journal by mistake – this is easily seen either in the title of the paper or in the cover letter and you can quickly alert the author in question. Cover letters also inform you of the author’s reasons for choosing your journal.
  • Read carefully the PDF in order to check if the paper fits with the journal’s Aims and Scope. If not, you can reject the paper without sending it to referees. There are multiple examples of desk rejects: papers might be desk rejected because the work is out of scope; not suitable for the journal; too descriptive; or weakly presented. You might decide by yourself or contact a member of the editorial board to confirm your decision.
  • You should be fast when you desk reject a paper and kindly inform the authors that your decision is not mainly based on the quality of their science. You should suggest alternative Elsevier journals that appear more suitable. At EEB, we use the article transfer protocol that allows authors to resubmit their papers to a journal close to EEB, without the need to reformat those papers.
  • Once you have decided which papers should be sent for review you can:
    a. Use Scopus to find referees
    b. Invite referees listed in your database
    c. Contact members of the editorial board of your journal
    However, before following any of these routes, you might use iThenticate to check for plagiarism.*
  • Take into account the advice of at least two referees when making a decision about a paper. Any notice of rejection you send to an author should be kind and constructive and you should clearly indicate if resubmission is allowed. When the decision is taken that a paper requires revision, you should give the authors a maximum of six weeks for major revisions and less for minor/moderate revisions. At EEB, this reduces the overall publication time of our papers.
  • Send the revised papers, accompanied by a detailed list of changes made by the authors, to the referees who examined the first version – they will then be able to recommend whether the paper should finally be accepted. You should ask the authors to proceed to additional revisions if they are needed.
  • As editor, your role is not only to evaluate submitted papers, but to improve your journal. This includes expanding the remit of the journal, if needed, to take into account any emerging, novel scientific areas. After discussion with members of the editorial board and the publisher, you might invite guest editors to build Special Issues that take into account the main scientific goals of your journal. You should therefore make sure those goals are specific and that you attract the best authors in your field.

* Note from Ed: For many journals, new submissions to EES are now automatically run through CrossCheck/iThenticate, with the results available in the editor's 'Action' menu. Your publisher will let you know as soon as this feature is extended to your journal.

Archived comments

Karl-Heinz Schwalbe says: March 6, 2014 at 6:05 pm
I can support almost everything I see in the Editors' statements. However, my main problem is finding suitable reviewers. And even when I have found an expert, he/she does not respond in too many cases. This has become a major problem, leading to substantial delay in the publication process. A severe side effect is that this problem causes an increasing amount of work..

David Mitchell says: March 10, 2014 at 8:18 pm
The question of "being ethical" as a reviewer was not mentioned above – maybe it is simply too obvious that it is important to be ethical! However, I know of a case in which the editor rejected a paper as not fitting into the scope of the journal – even though the paper fell perfectly into the topic covered by an earlier special issue of that same journal!

Jean-Claude Kader says: March 17, 2014 at 11:32 pm
Thanks for these interesting comments!
I fully agree with Karl-Heinz that finding suitable experts and convincing them to act as referees needs an increasing amount of work. I am using Scopus to find the best experts who are working in a domain close to the area covered by the paper.The reference list is a source of potential referees who might be convinced to respond positively if they are cited in the paper. In my journal automated reminders are efficient ways to contact colleagues who have not answered to my request. In some cases, the invitations did not reach the colleagues if wrong e-mail addresses were registered in EES. I thus check my messages carefully because EES does not indicate failures in message delivery.
I also send personal messages to potential referees to try to convince them. Finally, the Editorial Board might also be used as a source of efficient referees and/or experts able to suggest referees.
About the ethical question by David, I might say that an editor should decide if referees' comments about a paper or recommendations to publish or reject an article are sound and fair.
Kind wishes

Philip Hills says: March 25, 2014 at 9:54 am
These three sets of comments are extremely useful. I think most of these scenarios have happened to me and it is valuable and reassuring to know that other editors experience the same problems.

Philip Hills says: March 25, 2014 at 10:00 am
I ought to add that I try to send personal messages to both reviewers and authors as it makes for closer contact and often promotes acceptance by a reviewer where the ees system automated email may not, although the ees system is very good..

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