Editor in the Spotlight - Richard Knowles

Reflecting on 20 years as an editor

Richard KnowlesThe Journal of Transport Geography was launched 20 years ago by its founding editor, Professor Richard Knowles of the University of Salford, on behalf of the Transport Geography Research Group of the Institute of British Geographers. Since then it has published almost 1,500 articles. Its Impact Factor of 2.538 ranks it second out of 24 journals in the Transportation category of SSCI, and seventh of 73 journals in the Geography category. Submissions to the journal are running at around 300 per year, with annual downloads of around 250,000 articles.

TransportGeographyThese figures are a tribute to Professor Knowles’ two decades of dedication to the journal. Having handed over the reins to his successor at the end of 2012, Professor Knowles reflects on his 20 years as an editor, and on how, while much has changed in that time, some fundamentals such as the importance of the peer-review process and the need to maintain high standards remain constant.

Q. What does being a journal editor mean to you and what do you find most rewarding about this role?
A. As an editor of an international research journal you have regular, close contact by email and at research conferences with your associate editors and other editorial board members who should be the leading researchers in your research sub-discipline. You also gain a unique international perspective of contemporary, cutting-edge research.

Q. What are your biggest challenges as Editor of Journal of Transport Geography? How do you overcome these challenges and what extra support can Elsevier provide?
A. The biggest challenges are:

  • To maintain high academic standards through the peer-review process to establish and maintain a comprehensive, global network of transport geography contacts who can support the journal.
  • To encourage researchers, and especially early years researchers, to submit their best research papers to the journal.

These challenges have been met by:

  • Expanding the pool of reviewers to include authors of new, cutting-edge research papers and discarding non-responding and uncritical reviewers.
  • Regularly refreshing the membership of the international editorial board. We invite new, high-quality researchers, retire under-performing members, maintain a good balance of age, gender and experience so the average age does not increase, and create a genuinely global, rather than just Anglo-American, team.
  • Regularly attending leading research conferences, contacting convenors in advance to encourage paper presenters to submit completed research to the journal and speaking directly to presenters of high-quality papers immediately after their presentations.

Elsevier can help by supporting annual editorial board meetings and the attendance of the editor and associate editors at leading research conferences.

Q. In many areas of research, the growth of paper submissions is outpacing the growth of qualified reviewers and resulting in pressure on the peer-review system. What do you think the solution to this problem is and how do you see the peer-review process changing in the future?
A. Double-blind peer reviewing is critical in maintaining journal paper quality. Peer-review payment needs to be considered. Editors need to screen out and reject more papers without sending them out to reviewers. EES needs to be made more user-friendly so that all editors and guest editors can see how many papers each reviewer has been asked to review in the last two years. This will help avoid over-stretched reviewers being asked too many times and should speed up reviewing turnaround times.

Q. We have observed that researchers are increasingly accessing journal content online at an article level, i.e. the researcher digests content more frequently on an article basis rather than a journal basis. How do you think this affects the visibility of your journal among authors?
A. Online access to papers is rapidly becoming the norm so that researchers are less likely to browse the contents of the journal. The visibility of the journal is maintained through the quality and relevance of the papers published but links are needed when viewing papers online to show at least the other contents of that journal issue and perhaps the annual Index of Contents.

Q. The move from print to electronic publishing has stimulated a broad discussion around alternative publishing models, often termed Open Access. These include:

  • Author pays journal
  • Sponsored articles
  • Free access to archives
  • Open archiving

What is your opinion about Open Access and how does it affect your journal?
A. The debate on Open Access is poorly informed. Most readers of research journal papers are employed by Universities which provide free to the user access to journals through electronic subscriptions. The costs of the peer-reviewing process and publication of accepted papers have to be met.  Top slicing research grants to pay for publication will reduce the quantum of research unless research budgets are increased. A mechanism needs to be found to provide researchers without institutional access with an affordable means of reading research papers.

Q. Researchers need to demonstrate their research impact, and they are increasingly under pressure to publish articles in journals with high Impact Factors. How important is a journal’s Impact Factor to you, and do you see any developments in your community regarding other research quality measurements?
A. Journal Impact Factors and citation scores for individual papers are very important when researchers choose which journal to send their research paper to. With the REF/RAE, in the UK (and Hong Kong) there is institutional pressure to only publish in high-ranking journals and similar pressure is growing in Europe, North America, Australia and New Zealand. Other research quality measures carry less weight.

Q. As online publishing techniques develop, the traditional format of the online scientific article will change. At Elsevier, we are experimenting with new online content features and functionality. Which improvements / changes would you, as an editor, find most important?
A. As Editor I have supported the inclusion of new online features and functionality. It is important to survey a wide range of researchers to understand the constraints on their use and what additional features should be included. Links to authors’ webpages could be useful for researchers wishing to quickly identify a wider context for the particular paper.

Q. Do you use social media or online professional networking in your role as an editor or researcher? Has it helped you and, if so, how?
A. To a limited extent. Time pressure and my age make this less relevant although LinkedIn can be useful.

Q. How do you see your journal developing over the next 10 years? Do you see major shifts in the use of journals in the future?
A. Frequency of publication should increase from six issues per year to eight, 10, or even 12. Usage will continue to grow if the journal maintains its current status as the journal of choice for publication of high-quality research of international significance.

Q. Do you have any tips or tricks to share with your fellow editors about being a journal editor?
A. Make the role of editor an important part of your professional life and devote sufficient time to it. Maximize the benefits of being at the center of your research sub-discipline.

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