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ICT: An editor's grumpy old person perspective

Roger Atkinson

To begin this musing about ICT and academic research journal submissions with an explanation about the phrase 'grumpy old person', the word 'person' signifies a conformance with contemporary correctness, 'old' is a code indicating many year's experience with the central topic, the editorial processing of academic research journal submissions, and 'grumpy' is a code for my dissatisfaction and unease about the most important of current trends. Whilst there could be much debate about identifying the 'most important' trends, for some or perhaps most journals these are rapid increases in numbers of submissions, and in the proportion originated from non-Western contexts by authors whose first language is not English ('ESL authors').

To go a little further with my broad generalisations, let's sketch two of the important perspectives upon how to deal with this 'swamping' of journals (to borrow a bad word from a contemporary discourse in Australian politics). One perspective centres upon ICT for journal management, such as OJS [1] and Scholastica [2], to help cope with large numbers. Another perspective centres upon maintaining a 'real person' presence for aspiring authors. To illustrate these perspectives, consider the following inquiry recorded during one of my months as 'duty editor' for IIER (Issues in Educational Research,[3]. IIER is developing a routine whereby the associate editors take one month turns at being duty editor, the person who responds to inquiries, acknowledges submissions, and composes an 'editorial reject', or a recommendation to proceed with an external review and potentially an acceptance. The following emails record a real though unusually extreme case:

I have been writing this message from [country]. I'm a Ph.D. student. I would like to publish article in your journal. I dont know exactly what to do. If you help me, I'm delighted
So, I want to ask a few questions..
Firstly, is it free to publish articles on yours journal?
And, if it is published paid, how much will I paid?
Thank you,

Hello [first name],
Please see, where you will find that IIER does not require any payment by authors. That is, "no page charges". As to "I dont know exactly what to do", I suggest that reading a large number of English language articles in educational research journals such as IIER will be very important. Write notes in English after reading articles that relate to your PhD topic.
Roger [IIER duty editor signature file appended]

thank u for answer.. I want to publish the article on you. ....I understand that I will not paid ? how long will it take to evaluate?
can you help?

[uh oh, follow up needed, IIER duty editor Roger for [month] realises his misunderstanding of one part of the request from [name]
Hello [first name],

IIER does not pay any money to the authors of articles. I do not know any case of an academic research journal paying authors for articles. You could discuss academic publishing and how it works with your PhD supervisor.
Roger [IIER duty editor signature file appended]

This exchange illustrates a number of dilemmas and the unavoidable compromises. Should the duty editor ignore the query (to save precious time) or respond (incurring a risk of more time being consumed)? To what extent should journal editorial staff journal become involved in mentoring or coaching potential authors?[4] Going further into related dilemmas, to what extent should copy editing by a journal's editorial staff be relied upon to minimise deficiencies in the quality of an author's academic English? Do we allow our review and selection processes to be influenced by a knowledge of the authors' context and language backgrounds?

Not surprisingly, the unavoidable compromise is often 'It depends...'. As time is the largest of the 'it depends', inquiries of the kind illustrated above can be given only brief, even terse replies. However, any reply is better than none, as sometimes prospective authors seem to use inquiries to ascertain whether anyone is 'listening'. The time factor is especially significant for the largest part of the duty editor's role, that is composing 'editorial rejects', as ideally these should provide good mentoring or coaching for potential authors of a future submission to IIER or another journal. Looking back through about 54 editorial rejects and review rejects that I composed for IIER's January-June 2017 submissions, I found a word count average of 486 words and a range from 98 to 1434 words. Is that sustainable? Again, 'it depends...'. With numbers of submissions currently increasing by about 30% per year, coping requires a combination of inducting new associate editors to share the load, becoming briefer and more 'formulaic' with increased reliance upon template-style composition of advice, and gradually increasing the proportion of editorial rejects from the current level, 60%. The last of these three responses increases the load for associate editors, but reduces the load upon external reviewers, and the editor and associate editors who conduct the external review queue. Even successful authors often require considerable advice on how to improve their accepted articles!

Deficiencies in the quality of an author's academic English constitute another dilemma, perhaps with more complexity than the matter of providing good mentoring. Whilst mentoring is mainly a 'it depends upon time...' question, copy editing and sometimes more substantive editing by journal staff is more complex, as the attainment of a high standard of academic English tends to become a responsibility shared between authors and editorial staff. As copy editing can be a very demanding and time consuming task, especially for submissions from ESL authors, most journals are backing away from the task, often advising authors to find their own copy editing services[5], whilst also increasing the importance of poor academic English as a rejection trigger, or in the cases of some 'predatory' journals, simply abandoning copy editing and failing to reject for poor English.

There is another aspect of the dilemma over academic English. It is not unusual for the IIER duty editor to recommend external review, knowing that the problem of poor academic English in the submission can be overcome by IIER's copy editing, without imposing an excessive number of hours per copy edit. However, an external reviewer may not be full aware of such subjective judgments, and may place too much weight upon poor academic English as a rejection trigger, thereby risking the journal's reputation for absence of bias against ESL authors.

The dilemma over academic English links in to even more complex dilemma, namely do we allow our review and selection processes to be influenced by a knowledge of the authors' context and language backgrounds? For example, should we make 'allowances' for poor academic English, knowing that an author has not used a copy editing service, or software such as Grammarly[6], or a translation service? Going further, is it appropriate, as part of the duty editor role, to search for further information about the authors' context and publication record? This question has become important because one of the key considerations faced by the duty editors is whether a particular topic and context has been 'under-represented' or 'over-represented' in IIER, a key consideration linked to the need for a generalist journal such as IIER to maintain its diversity of topics and contexts. The underlying rationale is that being 'over-represented' reduces the prospects for attaining the status of an 'important issue in educational research'. With numbers of submissions currently increasing by about 30% per year, introducing a new trigger for rejection is a necessary compromise.

The outlining of some dilemmas and compromises above has almost no references to the role of ICT. That is one reason for my grumpiness. The information and communication technologies provide no direct support for the 'real person' who has to attend to inquiries such as the one illustrated above, or write editorial rejects and reviews. Though I hasten to add that ICT provides truly invaluable indirect support, in my case mainly through MS Word, Internet access for a large amount of background reading of educational research articles, and Google and Google Scholar searching. To cite just one example, in editorial rejects and reviews I often suggest several specific references, but the main method is giving URLs for Google or Google Scholar searches[7]. Probably quite effective, and a great time-saver!

The other reason for grumpiness is a feeling that the world wide academic publishing industry could be much more inclusive towards non-Western contexts and ESL authors. Sometimes I have thought, 'If other journals did more...', though I'm not complaining about the time expended. Aspiring academic researchers in developing and newly emerging economies are deserving of encouragement, however modest it may be, towards becoming represented in the crowded world of international journal articles.


  1. PKP (Public Knowledge Project) (2008). OJS in an hour: An introduction to Open Journal Systems Version
  2. Scholastica.
  3. Issues in Educational Research,
  4. See, for one example of discussion of this topic, Joshi, Y. (2013). Copy-editing of research papers: who and why and why not. Current Science, 104 (2), 171.
  5. Some examples of publishers recommending copy editing services:
    Elsevier Webshop. English Language Editing.
    Taylor & Francis Editing Services: English Language Editing.
    Wiley. Improve the chances of having your paper accepted with Wiley's English Language Editing service.
    SAGE Language Services: Leave the editing to the experts.
  6. Grammarly.
  7. Example of a Google Scholar search string that may be given to authors:
Author: Roger Atkinson retired from Murdoch University in June 2001. His current activities include honorary work on the TL Forum conference series, Issues in Educational Research, and other academic conference support and publishing activities. Website (including this article in html format):

Note: The version presented here is longer than the print published version, as it includes references that were omitted for space constraint reasons.

Please cite as: Atkinson, R. J. (2017). ICT: An editor's grumpy old person perspective. HERDSA News, 39(3).

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