Parsing the journal decision letter

Since we've had a lot of good discussions in the past at PEA Soup about journals' editorial practices, I thought I'd draw everyone's attention to this very useful article on how to parse the various publication verdicts (accept, revise and resubmit, etc.) that journals provide to authors.  I have to admit I've sometimes had trouble reading the enthusiasm thermometer in such letters, so this is welcome counsel. Perhaps it's worth considering adding a clause about the need for exactitude in this area to our earlier statement concerning journals' ethical obligations to authors?

2 Replies to “Parsing the journal decision letter

  1. I actually didn’t think the article was very useful. Maybe in this respect I’ve gotten lucky with my referee reports. They’ve always been very clear about what the verdict is, and usually the verdict has been in the first few sentences. Moreover, I think I’ve been able to gauge the enthusiasm level of the editor sufficiently to not be misled.
    The other reason I didn’t find the article particularly helpful is that it seems to me that what the author says does not jive with what goes on with philosophy.
    Some examples:
    “Pure accept. This almost never happens. In my 11 years as a managing editor of a peer-reviewed journal, we never once accepted an article “as is.””
    I’ve had some articles purely accepted. I know I’m not alone. It seems to happen reasonably frequently in philosophy.
    “Revise major problems and resubmit. Articles in this category have been conditionally accepted”
    If you see “revise and resubmit”, I don’t think you should think your article has been conditionally accepted — it hasn’t. Not even close. If you see ‘conditionally accepted’ then you should think that. Editors of philosophy journals frequently write ‘conditionally accepted’ when they mean ‘conditionally accepted’ rather than something that doesn’t mean that.
    I doubt my experiences are in any way atypical, but maybe I am wrong about this. Have other people had trouble figuring out what the verdict is? (As opposed to having trouble figuring out why the verdict is? I’ve gotten rejections without comment many times. But that problem is different than the problem the author is addressing.)
    Maybe this is unduly snarky, but it doesn’t surprise me that editors of philosophy journals communicate decisions more clearly than editors of comparative literature journals.

  2. Kris,
    I agree that it’s not usually the case that I have trouble parsing the verdict. But I’d also say that there is a sort of lingo and a kind of tone to these letters that you have to learn over time, and I’ve certainly noticed that I’ve gotten better over the years at figuring that out (that is, my ratio of successful revise and resubmits has gone up). But at the same time, I don’t think authors should have to puzzle over these letters. I’ve definitely had some uncertainties about the degree of enthusiasm in a R+R letter, for one.
    Another issue here is that the level of enthusiasm might shape how you respond: I’ve opted not to respond to very tepid R+R opportunities and found better luck just sending my papers to another journal. But in order to do that, you’ve got to feel fairly clear as to just how interested the journal would be in receiving a revised version.

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