Editing TS journals
Helle V. Dam
When I was invited to speak at the EST symposium on publishing in TS, the organizers asked me to address the topic of Editing TS journals based on the following questions:
In this written version of my presentation, I shall focus on the latter four questions, in particular on 4, 5 and 7, as these seem to be of most direct interest and relevance to readers, especially to those readers who are young scholars with little or no publication experience. Each of these four questions will therefore be treated in a separate section (sections 2, 3, 4 and 5). The first three questions, which may be of interest to a broader section of the TS community, including fellow editors and referees, will be addressed together in one section (section 1), which also contains an introduction with some background information.
1. Background: About the journal Hermes
The journal that my main editorial experience – and consequently this paper – is based on is Hermes – Journal of Language and Communication Studies (see, however, footnote 1). As a “journal of language and communication studies”, it covers a wide variety of topics, including discourse and genre analysis, lexicography, business communication, intercultural communication, general linguistics – and translation studies. Thus, Hermes is not only dedicated to TS, but is a broad-ranging journal. We usually refer to it as an omnibus journal. However, I do think that the issues involved in editing an omnibus journal are basically the same as those involved in editing a more focused journal dedicated exclusively to TS.
Hermes was founded in 1988 at Aarhus School of Business (ASB), very much as a local journal which was meant to give exposure to and increase the prestige of the research done at ASB and, more specifically, to offer local researchers, including our young scholars, a possibility of publishing.
Since Hermes was founded in 1988, the ambitions of its editors have increased, and the journal has changed on a number of points. The present profile of Hermes can be summed up as follows:
One (positive) consequence of the omnibus profile of the journal is that we receive a relatively large number of manuscripts, so that we are able to be selective and still publish two issues a year.
1.1 Main objectives and editorial policies
The editorial board of Hermes currently has three main ambitions:
Some of these ambitions may seem contradictory at a first glance: how to ensure high-quality papers while at the same time offering publication space to young and inexperienced scholars, for example? To us, the answer lies in a careful and thorough refereeing procedure. Thus, rather than simply rejecting manuscripts if they are not fully up to international standards in the first go, we usually give authors a chance to improve – provided that their manuscripts have potentials, of course. We may label this policy thorough reviews rather than immediate rejection.
This policy is time-consuming both for editors, referees and contributors, as the reviews sometimes need to be very detailed, and the refereeing procedure usually involves several rounds of readings and revisions. For young scholars’ contributions, three rounds of revisions are often required, whereas for experienced scholars one or two rounds are standard.
Time-consuming as it is, the policy of thorough-reviews-rather-than-immediate-rejection is clearly difficult to combine with the third objective: fast publication. Admittedly, the two are not always compatible. Although we are usually able to publish a manuscript within six months upon submission, it may take up to a year if a lot of revisions are required. However, we do give high priority to fast publication to ensure that ideas and findings can be published while they are still new. Slow publication not only hampers the dynamics of science; it is also very inconvenient for the individual scholar to have to wait for publication for perhaps three or even four years, in particular when later publications build on a paper which remains unpublished for several years.
One of the reasons we are able to ensure fast publication in Hermes is that the editors are local and that we use local referees whenever we have the necessary expertise in-house. In our experience, local people, for whom running the journal is a con amore project, tend to able – and, more importantly, willing – to work fast. Also, the journal is typeset and printed locally at ASB – another factor which speeds up the process. The fact that Hermes is locally rooted no doubt means less prestige for the journal, but it does facilitate fast publication. And makes the journal much less expensive, we may add.
Perhaps our policy change from using mainly referees from ASB to always using external referees, which is mentioned above and in footnote 2, deserves some elaboration. The reason for the change is that we wish to boost objective number 1: to publish high-quality papers. It is quite clear that, in the scientific community, blind reviews performed by scholars with no involvement in the journal are considered a sine qua non for a high-quality journal. Still, highly qualified and dedicated internal referees may in principle do their job at least as well as external, independent referees would. Our policy change is therefore admittedly just as much a question of achieving more prestige as it is a question of ensuring higher quality as such.
2. Quality criteria
In this section, I shall address question number 4: what are the main strengths we seek from manuscripts? When the editors of Hermes send out manuscripts to be refereed, referees are asked to make a review in which they specifically comment on i.a. the themes listed below. These themes are basically equivalent to the strengths that we seek from manuscripts.
I would like to stress that the criteria listed above are probably very general quality norms, rather than specific Hermes criteria. Exactly how they are described and interpreted and how much weight each of them is given by individual journals, editors and scholars may of course vary. For example, there are probably different perceptions of the style in which academic articles should be written (should they be easy to read, or is complex style a necessary and perhaps even desirable feature in scientific texts?). However, there is general agreement that, basically, science – and scientific papers – should be explicit, logical and innovative (see also Gile and Hansen 2004:304, and the research textbooks they refer to). What may be specific to Hermes is that we usually give contributors a chance to improve their manuscripts in order to meet the quality criteria, rather than use the criteria to reject papers that do not meet standard scientific norms from the very beginning.
3. Typical weaknesses
In this section I shall address question number 5: what are the weaknesses we see most often in manuscripts? The weaknesses could of course be described as the opposite of the strengths presented as quality criteria above, i.e. as irrelevance, inappropriate methodology, incoherent argumentation, etc. However, although some overlap is inevitable, I shall try to avoid too many repetitions by describing some frequent flaws at a more specific level.
Below is a list of the weaknesses that the members of the editorial board of Hermes find we encounter most often:
The last weakness I shall mention is peculiar to reviews:
Some of the weaknesses described above are evidently more serious than others and require different degrees of revision. For example, lack of a clear focus is more serious than lack of compliance with the style sheet, and it clearly takes much more time and work to referee and revise a paper with focus problems than a paper with minor style flaws.
Still, unless they are very serious, all the listed flaws can in fact be remedied, as long as the paper generally meets the quality criteria stated in section 2 above: relevance and innovation, coherence, logic and appropriateness of literature base, approach, theory, methodology, analyses and documentation. What clearly cannot be accepted for publication are manuscripts of an anecdotal and non-scientific nature, which are based on personal experience and/or impressions rather than the newest literature, systematic empirical studies, etc. However, it is my impression that in the field of translation and interpreting manuscripts of this kind are not nearly as frequent as they used to be.
4. Other problems
In this section, I shall briefly address question number 6: what other problems do we have as editors? Apart from flawed manuscripts which require detailed reviews and extensive revision, I should like to mention two other factors which complicate the editorial process. One is about observation of deadlines; another has to do with proof-reading:
Hermes has two annual deadlines for submission of papers: March 1st and September 1st. If these deadlines are observed – and the manuscript is not too problematic – the article can be published in the next issue, six months later. This means that we run a very tight schedule if the journal is to be published on time, considering the many phases in the process: reviewing, revising (often several times), typesetting, proof-reading (twice), correcting, and printing. As explained, we give high priority to fast publication, and we also emphasize punctuality. As one of the founding editors says: “a journal should be as punctual and reliable as a clockwork”. However, academics are busy people who have real problems observing not only the initial deadline, but also the subsequent deadlines for submission of revised versions of the manuscript and proofs. Authors therefore often ask for, and expect, flexibility and extension of deadlines. This is understandable, but it does complicate the process and conflicts with our objective of fast publication.
The second problem I wish to mention has to do with proof-reading. As is probably well-known, in the proof-reading phase, corrections should be limited to minor changes related to layout, hyphenation, updating of references and the like. However, rather often authors suggest major changes also in the proof-reading phase, and may for example wish to rewrite, add or delete entire paragraphs. This is another factor which complicates the process.
5. Advice to contributors
In this last section, I shall address question number 7: what advice would we give to contributors?
First, there is one very obvious piece of advice:
This should take any author’s manuscript a long way towards publication. However, it is not always easy to assess one’s own work. We are often blind to our own errors, and especially when we have worked with a text for a long time, we become unable to read it clearly, let alone assess it. My second piece of advice therefore is:
A third piece of general advice would be:
As editors we sometimes experience that authors perceive the peer review not as constructive criticism and a welcome opportunity to improve their work, but rather as offensive and sometimes even personal criticism. It happens that an author whose manuscript receives a critical review becomes so offended that s/he withdraws the paper. This is regrettable, not least considering that the referees have devoted a considerable amount of time and energy trying to help the author improve his/her manuscript.
At a more specific level, especially beginners are well advised to:
Make clear right from the very beginning what research question or problem is addressed in the paper, and stick to answering that question all the way through the article. A clear definition of the purpose is the only way to ensure a clear, focused and coherent paper, which does not wander about attempting to answer all sorts of different questions.
Finally, I have a plea for everybody – young as well as experienced: when your manuscript has been accepted for publication, please adapt it meticulously to the journal’s guidelines for manuscripts. In particular, make sure that the references follow the style sheet. The references are probably the one thing we spend most time checking – time we could spend doing interesting research and reviewing interesting papers.
V., Jan Engberg & Heidrun Gerzymisch-Arbogast (eds). 2005. Knowledge Systems and Translation.
Gile, Daniel, Helle V. Dam, Friedel Dubslaff, Bodil Martinsen & Anne Schjoldager (eds). 2001. Getting Started in Interpreting Research. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins.
Gile, Daniel & Gyde Hansen. 2004. “The editorial process through the looking glass”. In Claims, Changes and Challenges in Translation Studies, G. Hansen, K. Malmkjær & D. Gile (eds), 297-306. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins.
 Helle V. Dam is from the Department of Language and Business Communication at Aarhus School of Business, Denmark. Apart from being a member of the editorial board of the journal Hermes, she has co-edited the collective volumes Getting Started in Interpreting Research (Gile et al. 2001) and Knowledge Systems and Translation (Dam et al. 2005), and has experience as a referee from a number of other contexts. Her own research focuses on interpreting.
 As explained above, we have recently decided to change our referee policy, so that we always use at least one external referee. It remains to be seen to what extent this change will increase publication time.