Editorial: Looking at the Publishing

Dan Marmion

I recently responded to some questions posed by Rachel Singer Gordon, who is gathering information for a book she will publish in 2004, and I thought they might be of interest to ITAL readers and potential authors.

Q. What should authors expect after submitting a manuscript to ITAL?

A. There are always exceptions, but in general here is what happens. I first give it a cursory examination to see whether there is an obvious reason to reject it, e.g., it is clearly out of the scope of ITAL. Then it goes into the peer-review process, which should only take three to four weeks but sometimes is longer, especially if I decide I want a second opinion (which doesn't happen very often). Depending upon the reviewer's recommendation (see next question), the manuscript could be accepted or rejected or, most likely, could require some rewriting, in which case there would be an additional time interval. Once we are ready to accept a manuscript, I ask the author to send me an electronic version of the final document.

The production process involves a period during which the manuscripts are copyedited. Then we contact authors with questions identified by the copyeditor in the first pass through. These could be any number of things, such as a reference that doesn't look correct, a sentence or paragraph is not clear as to what the author means, is a particular edit acceptable to the author, and so on. Our managing editor, Judith Carter, works with the authors to resolve these questions, then communicates the results back to ALA Production Services, where they are incorporated into the emerging issue. A second pass always generates a few more questions that also need to be resolved. Sometimes, although rarely, an article needs a third pass before we can declare the issue ready to go to the printer.

Q. Please explain how the review process works at ITAL, and what reviewers examine when looking at a manuscript. Do you employ a regular board of reviewers, or send manuscripts to subject experts as needed? Are all sections of the journal refereed?

A. We follow a typical double-blind review process, meaning that the author doesn't know who reviews the manuscript and the reviewer doesn't know who wrote it.

Reviewers are asked to consider several things as they assess a manuscript's potential for publication: Is the topic within the scope of ITAL? Is it meaningful and relevant to ITAL readers? Does it offer something to the literature? Is it timely? Is it organized well? Does it have a point? Are the citations complete and accurate? Does the manuscript accomplish whatever the author set out to do? Is there something more that needs to be done to make it a more solid contribution?

The reviewer makes a recommendation to me, which is one of the following: (1) accept it and publish as is, or with minor editorial changes; (2) it's almost there but requires some rewriting to make it a solid publishable contribution; (3) it shows some potential, but requires major rewriting and should be reviewed again after a revised draft has be submitted; or (4) it does not warrant further consideration for ITAL. In all but the first instance, the reviewer should provide specific feedback regarding the manuscript's shortcomings. I pass along to the author any feedback or criticism given to me by the reviewer, paraphrasing it as necessary to preserve the anonymity of the reviewer.

The ITAL Editorial Board does the majority of reviews; that is their primary duty, and I am fortunate to have a board made up of experienced persons with much expertise in many areas of information technology and libraries. It is not uncommon, however, for me to decide that an expert in the field would best review a particular manuscript.

The only sections of ITAL not refereed are the editorial page and the book review and software review columns.

Q. Approximately what percent of article submissions to ITAL are accepted? How often are works sent back to the author for further revision, and what is usually entailed in the revision process?

A. Of all the manuscripts submitted to ITAL, approximately 50 to 60 percent are ultimately accepted for publication, but probably at least 90 percent of those required further revision by the author. If the reviewer has indicated that the manuscript is pretty close to publishable, I'll just tell the author what more we request in the way of a rewrite and ask them to make those revisions and send me the revised manuscript with a cover letter indicating what they did to satisfy the request. I verify that they did so, and we're done.

In those cases where the reviewer has indicated a major rewrite is necessary and that the revised manuscript should be reviewed again, I convey that information and any other suggestions to the author. I ask them to indicate to me whether they plan to do that and submit a revised manuscript. Some I never hear from again; others respond in a negative tone. The majority thank me for the suggestions and promise to submit a revised piece based upon the criticism offered. Those persons almost always follow through with a much better manuscript that the one they originally submitted. It may still take one or two subsequent revisions to get it into top-notch shape, but the end result is a much better work.

   Dan Marmion ( dmarmion@nd.edu) is Associate Director for Information Systems and Digital Access at the University of Notre Dame Libraries, Notre Dame, Indiana.