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Flourish: An Electronic Newsletter for Scholarly Writers August 2009

vol. 5, no. 7

A Flourish reader sent in the following story about her graduate student. The student received a revise and resubmit notice from a prestigious peer-reviewed journal. He followed all the suggestions and significantly revised the piece. When the editor received the revision, however, the editor felt it was a brand new piece and sent it out to new reviewers. Those second reviewers then rejected the article!

What’s the lesson here? On the one hand, if the student did exactly what he felt needed to be done to the article, then he did the right thing and should chalk up this experience to the subjectivity of peer reviewing. He should move on to another journal and try again. On the other hand, if the student did everything the peer reviewers suggested even though he felt they were sometimes wrong or if he made radical changes not recommended by the peer reviewers, he did the wrong thing. As his professor writes, “tell your readers, ‘Do not overdo it! Do exactly what they tell you to do and no more!’” Any article can be improved in dozens of ways—at this late stage your job is to improve it as the journal sees fit.

As I’ve written before, editors do not expect you to do everything the reviewers tell you to do and even the reviewers do not expect you to overhaul the piece. If they did, they would have rejected it. So, if they tell you to do a more thorough literature review and you expand that section of your article from two pages to six, you are probably doing too much. If they disagree with how you articulated part of your argument, you may solve it by making one of the reviewers’ recommended changes to the argument, not all of them. That is, peer reviewers can fire away at a target from several angles, saying you should change x, y, and z, but once you’ve changed x, then y and z are fine.

I don’t want to recommend that scholars avoid revising their work thoroughly. Revision is key to good work. But once you’ve got a revise and resubmit notice, stay focused. This is the stage for needlework, not hacking.

Tracking Journal Readership

In the past, it was difficult for a journal to identify just how many scholars were reading its pages and which articles garnered the most interest. In the sciences they developed a journal ranking system, based on the number of times an article had been cited, but this tool did not capture the real level of activity.

With the advent of online access to journals, more precise data is available on who reads what through tracking the number of page views and downloads. As a result, some scholars have produced very interesting maps of the flow of scholarship (see Clickstream Data Yields High-Resolution Maps of Science), especially in the humanities and the social sciences, which were not well tracked before. Using 1 billion user interactions in 2007 and 2008, the scholars chose the 2,307 journals with the highest number of user interactions and mapped their strongest relationships. In the article’s quite beautiful map, yellow represents the social science journals and white represent the humanities journals. Interestingly, they found that social science journals had the most connections, more than science journals. They also found that the following journals are the most well-connected non-science journals: Child Development, Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology, and American Anthropologist. Other well-connected journals are American Economic Review, American Historical Review, Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science. American Journal of International Law, and Journal of Educational Sociology.

This type of research is at an early stage, but in future it should be helpful for making decisions about which journals would make the best place for your work, especially if it is interdisciplinary.

Book Sales

Writing Your Journal Article in Twelve Weeks: A Guide to Academic Publishing Success is a best-seller in its category on the Sage and Amazon websites. As you may recall, the book sold 1,000 copies in the first month. The book continued to sell well and in May the publisher ran out of copies from the first print run (which is supposed to last a year). So, we are now on a second printing! Of course, it took a while for Amazon to catch up (they kept posting that it would be 3 to 5 weeks before customers got their book and they had a backlog of 250 orders to fill by the time they got organized), so, just a reminder that buying my book directly from Sage is better for you and me (Amazon takes a large percentage). Thanks to everyone who has been recommending and purchasing the book and for your kind words about how helpful it has been. Many good books sink without a trace, I owe it to all of you that my book has succeeded. Thank you.

News from the Editor

So far, the summer has been productive and fun. Kesis Melaku Terefe, a scholar of Ge’ez language and literature, was cataloging the Ethiopian manuscripts in the Princeton Library during July and I had the good luck to tag along. Princeton has an unusual collection of such manuscripts, the largest outside Europe and Ethiopia, and with many manuscripts dating to the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth century. These manuscripts were produced in Ethiopian scriptoriums and are handwritten in red and black ink on vellum (animal skin) in Ge’ez, a classical African language. Since Ethiopians converted to Christianity in the 300s, many of the manuscripts are religious— Psalters and gospels—but others are literary. We found several avenues for future research and two important discoveries. Very exciting!