Some thoughts on editing and reviewing

At the 2023 POMS conference in Florida I have been invited to be part of the “Editor’s Panel” session in the inventory and logistics management track. So I have given some thought (and asked a few friends for their thoughts and advice) to the editing and review process in scientific publishing. When we write a scientific paper, and we submit it to a journal to be evaluated for possible publication. The paper is then reviewed by a group of reviewers, those reports are interpreted by an associate or area editor (AE), who then makes a recommendation to the senior editor. Sometimes special issue editors make a recommendation to the senior editor having received the AE and reviewer’s reports. Quite a long process, but essential to ensure the integrity of scientific progress.

The first, and most important message I wish to say is, thank you to all the reviewers, AEs, and senior editors. Without busy people giving up their time, most often for free and without acknowledgement, there would be no scientific publications, no science.

However, I do find the process is somewhat frustrating. Please let me explain.

Editors. Good papers take a wide look at the literature, are precise about the contribution that they make, and draw out how the contribution can have be applied to different practical situations. Good papers draw the readers in with a hook, apply methodological tools correctly, and use simple well-written language. Editors should desk reject papers that do not meet these easy-to-identify characteristics and ask the authors to make improvements before entering the paper into the review process. The reviewer’s time is precious after all.

Authors. Put a proper amount of effort into the revision. Don’t just bat the reviewer comments away. Tackle their comments head on; don’t simply ignore them or add a sentence to the further work. Don’t use the review process to add another 10 pages to an already overlong and bloated paper. Don’t pad out your paper with self-citations. Keep working on the four Cs: clear, concise, compelling, creative.

If your paper is rejected, don’t take it to heart, just try again. Incorporate the reviewers comments into your paper before sending to another journal. It is likely that you will end up with the same reviewers. They will only be annoyed if they have to make the same comments.

As authors we should really value the double-blind review process. Anonymise obvious references that will reveal your identity. Be careful of posting pre-prints on working paper servers like Arxiv and SSRN. While showcasing your ideas at conferences is a great way to get developmental feedback, be aware it can sometimes work against you.

Reviewers. Many reviewers and AE reports are simply too negative. A good review should be critical, but it should also guide the authors to develop the paper into something publishable. It is very easy to give bland review comments (not interesting, poor language, challenge some assumptions, ask for impossible additions, for example). As a reviewer/AE, you never have to defend your comments, and if the paper is rejected in the first round you won’t have to spend time reading the revision. It is much harder to see the golden thread in a paper and provide useful and insightful comments that help the authors polish their paper into something that can be published. Furthermore, if the authors are successful in improving the paper, you may be asked to review the paper again. You get more work because you did the job well!

An overly negative review process hurts our profession. I know of junior faculty who have said “OM is just too hard, I am going to study marketing/strategic management/HR instead”. The talent in our field is being diverted into another. This cannot be good for the long-term future of our discipline.

It’s the creative part of the four Cs where the authors often need the most help, and where the reviewers are most likely to balk. Reviewers can help the authors articulate the novel aspects of their papers more effectively, situate it in relation to appropriate historical work and theory, and provide a fresh perspective on the importance of the work.

The key role for the reviewer is to help authors to strengthen their manuscripts so the contributions are clearer and more impactful. Even if the paper doesn’t meet the criteria for the journal, the job is not to pile on if there are critical weaknesses. If there are critical issues, note those, and then focus on what the authors can do to address the issues, realistically and productively, and move the manuscript forward. We need to move beyond finding what’s wrong with a paper, and help authors identify the strengths of their manuscript that can scaffold a more impactful contribution.

Final thoughts. I believe as OM researchers we should also embrace ideas from other fields, broaden the literature we draw inspiration from, and speak to wider audiences. This may open up the review process to reviewers from other fields, and greater collaboration across disciplines. This is a hurdle the OM field continues to struggle with. But new ideas are increasingly more the product of work that spans disciplinary boundaries.

Finally, I would like to finish by the way I started with by saying thank you to all the reviewers, AEs, and senior editors. I know I have not always got my papers published in my first choice journal, but I am very aware the review process has significantly improved my papers. The scientific process does work. Thank you.

Stephen Disney
Stephen Disney

My research interests involve the application of control theory and statistical techniques to operations management and supply chain scenarios to investigate their dynamic, stochastic, and economic performance.