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Publishing holds increasing importance in academia, yet, navigating the process can be daunting for early career researchers. At the Political Studies Association’s (PSA) 2024 conference at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, the PSA’s Early Career Network organised a roundtable discussion with prominent figures in academic publishing. The panel included Elizabeth Evans (Editor of Politics), Justin Fisher (Editor of Political Studies Review), Nick Allen (Publications Lead for the PSA), Peter Geoghegan (Editor of Political Insight), Sarah Shair-Rosenfield (Editor of Political Studies), Sophie Donnelly (Senior Publishing Editor at Sage), and Richard Hayton (Editor of the British Journal of Politics and International Relations (BJPIR)).  This article aims to distil the key insights and advice shared by the panellists and make them accessible to a wider audience of early career academics.

  1. Finding the right journal

Given the number of political science journals, it can be difficult to decide which one is best to submit to. The panellists emphasised that they ‘desk reject’ papers that do not fit the aims and scope of their journal. One panellist suggested that one way of deciding which journal to submit to is to look at which journals are cited in your article. It was recognised that early career researchers conducting interdisciplinary research face particular difficulties in deciding which journal is the right fit, but that they should ensure that their work ‘contributes to the discipline of politics’ when submitting it to a politics journal. One editor added: ‘If you haven’t cited any journals of political science, don’t send it to a political science journal’.

  1. Accompanying cover letter

An early career researcher asked about the importance that editors attach to the cover letter. All the editors agreed that they prioritise the abstract over the cover letter, and advised authors not to spend too much time writing it. Regarding the abstract, the editors stressed its role in highlighting how the article challenges or relates to existing approaches, its originality, relevance and methodological rigour, and warned against presenting it as merely a condensed summary of the article. Although the cover letter is not the most important part of the submission, it should include a statement that the manuscript is not under review at any other journal (this assertion must be accurate!).

  1. The review process

Early career academics at the event recounted instances of receiving reviewer comments that were deemed unacceptable by the panel (there was no suggestion that PSA journals were involved in these incidents). The editors confirmed that reviewer comments are reviewed and encouraged researchers to contact the journal editor in case comments are deemed offensive or unprofessional. However, the editors also emphasised the distinction between comments that are considered offensive and those that researchers simply disagree with.

Finding reviewers

The editors discussed the challenges associated with finding reviewers, noting that this often extends the review period. They attributed part of this difficulty in finding reviewers to the systemic pressure on academics to publish, resulting in a significant volume of material to be reviewed. One proposed solution could be a collective effort to prioritise quality over quantity in academic writing. The editors aim to process desk rejections within two weeks and complete reviews within three months. They also encouraged authors to contact the editors if they had not received a response after three months.

Responding to reviewers

The panel suggested that when authors receive reviewers’ comments, especially the more critical ones, they should refrain from responding immediately and instead ‘let the review sit in the drawer for a while.’ Authors are, of course, not obliged to accept all of the reviewers’ suggestions and can challenge their comments. However, authors should be mindful that if their paper is eventually published, the reviewers will be aware of their identity. The editors recommend that authors outline the changes made in response to reviewers’ comments in a document, ensuring that this is done respectfully and expressing gratitude for the reviewers’ time and effort.

Being the reviewer

Some members of the audience expressed concern that they did not have the necessary training to properly review scholarly articles. Several editors reassured them by pointing out that early career researchers often make excellent reviewers. They advised the audience that if they feel uncomfortable being asked to review an article, they should contact the editor in question and ask why they were considered a good fit. Sage also has a range of online resources to help reviewers (which the PSA Early Career Network is working with Sage to help publicise).

  1. Representing the underrepresented in journals

An early career academic drew attention to the under-representation of scholars from the Global South in publications. In response, the panellists noted that journals are taking steps to improve representation. Politics, for example, has recently issued calls for papers for scholars from the Global South and has introduced a pre-submission process that allows the journal editors to work with authors before they formally submit articles. Furthermore, Political Studies has introduced a ‘reject and resubmit’ policy, whereby scholars receive feedback on rejections and are given a year to resubmit. It was pointed out that for a generalist journal, a narrow empirical study centred on a single case must somehow contribute to broader debates, whether by addressing theoretical issues or adopting a comparative perspective, in order to be considered for publication.

  1. Beware predators

The panellists warned early career researchers to be wary of offers from ‘predatory journals,’ which may include invitations to edit a special issue, only to discover later that significant open access publishing fees are required, affecting both the authors and their colleagues. Such offers should be discussed with the early career researchers’ supervisors as one panellist emphasised that if an offer seems too good to be true, it  probably is.

  1. An audience beyond academia

The editors emphasised the importance of reaching an audience beyond academia and the need to extend outreach beyond academia. They mentioned the use of social media as a means of promoting articles. They also reassured early career researchers that it is acceptable to submit theoretically oriented articles aimed primarily at academics. Peter Geoghegan highlighted Political Insight’s efforts to engage with a diverse audience. The editors also highlighted the potential of blogs to increase the visibility and citation rates of articles.

Note: This article reflects the views of the author and not the position of the DPIR or the University of Oxford.



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