As I have been arguing that it is possible for multilingual students and scholars to use their own varieties of English in academic writing, critics have been asking me an embarrassing question. They want to know if I will permit an essay that uses a localized/nativized variety of English in any of the journals I edit. That used to be a frequent question when I was editing TESOL Quarterly.
I always point to my critics that TQ has already published an article with a variety of English that varies from Standard Written English (SWE). This is a brief contribution by Geneva Smitherman long before I became the editor (volume 32, Spring, 1998). Unlike other essays where Smitherman uses African American Vernacular English more extensively, she is sparing in her use in this article. She uses AAVE in only two contexts: in the title, '"Dat teacher be hollin at us"--What is Ebonics?;' and once inside the essay when she refers to "many of my homiez back in the day." She has a footnote for homiez, which glosses the word as "Friends from one's neighborhood." She probably assumed that she has to be more conservative in her usage in this journal, as TQ has the reputation of being a more data-driven and quantitative journal, where the discourse is considerably formal compared to other journals in the humanities. In making the decision to use AAVE sparingly, Smitherman has taken into serious consideration her audience and context.
The editor of TQ at that time (who is not a World Englishes scholar) probably let the deviations go because Smitherman's usage was suitable for that context. In that essay, Smithermas was responding to the implications of the Ebonics debate for TESOL. As a scholar who believes that students' languages can be used in the classroom to build bridges to academic discourse, she is "performing" her own identity and position through her usage. Furthermore, she is very thoughtful and cautious about where she is using AAVE items. She goes further to help the reader comprehend her usage by providing a gloss.
The lesson behind this example is that whether to use nativized English or not is a rhetorical decision. It may or may not work for rhetorical reasons. What will help me decide if those choices can be permitted in a published article is whether they are appropriate in that text and context. Did the author think through the use of this choice? Does the usage enhance communication and voice? Is the choice rhetorically well motivated? Does he/she take into consideration the dominant discourse and readership of the journal to choose the extent to which he/she can introduce variant language and discourse?
How do I distinguish mistakes from conscious uses of World English (WE) items? I look for consistency of usage. If a writer is inconsistent in the usage of vocabulary or grammatical items, I can assume that the usage was a mistake. Also, I look at the context carefully to see if the author is using the variant consciously for an important rhetorical reason.
Unfortunately, I didn't receive such experimental and creative essays when I edited TQ. Many second language authors are certainly conservative in their usage. Therefore, I didn't have an opportunity to publish an article that used WE during my editorship. However, I have myself published an article where I use some Sri Lankan English. I published this article in the journal College Composition and Communication (see Canagarajah, A. Suresh. "The Place of World Englishes in Composition: Pluralization Continued." College Composition and Communication, 57/4 (2006): 586-619.) I tried to practice what I outline above as careful and motivated use of WE. Interestingly, in that article I do a close analysis of the way Smitherman uses AAVE in her academic writing for voice. I assumed that the readers will expect me to practice what I preach and use some of Smitherman's own strategies. And that's what I did.
Recently, I have heard of a couple of examples where editors of collected articles in books have edited for intelligibility rather than accuracy. The WE scholar Jennifer Jenkins mentioned in a conversation recently that she and her co-editor looked for intelligibility and overlooked issues of idiomatic peculiarities in the articles they published in a book featuring multilingual authors. The reference of the book is: Murata, Kumiko, Jenkins, Jennifer (Eds.) 2009. Global Englishes in Asian Contexts. Palgrave, Houndmills, Basingstoke.
Another WE scholar from Finland, Anna Mauranen, has also adopted this practice. Mauranen explains the justification for her editing practice as follows in a recent book she co-edited:
"Some of the papers in this book have been written by native speakers
of English, others not, but all have been written by expert users of
English. No policy of having the L2 authors' texts checked by native
speakers for linguistic correctness has been applied, because this was
regarded as an irrelevant practice in a book presenting international
scholarship. Whether English has been the first or an additional
language to the writers, they have been addressing an international
audience, not primarily ENL (English Native Language) communities.
Their contributions thus reflect the kind of language use they discuss:
effective English as an international lingua franca."
Readers can check how successful this strategy is. The reference to the book is:
Mauranen, Anna, Ranta, Elina (Eds.) 2009. English as a Lingua Franca: Studies
and Findings. Cambridge Scholars Publishing, Newcastle. Mauranen has adopted this editing strategy also for a special issue of a journal she edited. The reference to that work is: Mauranen, Anna, Metsä-Ketelä, Maria (Eds.) 2006. Nordic Journal of English Studies 5 (2). Special Issue: English as a Lingua Franca.
Interestingly, in all these cases, it appears as if World Englishes scholars feel increasingly under pressure to practice what they preach!
So, your submission has gone through a thorough review in a journal and you address the queries and suggestions of the referees well. But when you receive the comments from the second round of review, you find that there is a new referee who is making a completely different set of suggestions. You bite your lips and address the new suggestions, thinking that the article will now be accepted. You get the decision: while the previous reviewers feel that your article is ready for publication, there is yet another new reviewer who asks a new set of questions.
That has happened to me for at least two submissions in different journals. In one case, the process went on for about ten rounds of review. First, my co-author and I addressed the comments of the reviewers effectively. After the revision, the guest editors of the journal asked us to shape the article in ways they preferred. After we satisfied the two of them, the actual editors of the journal joined the fun. We satisfied one of them quite effectively in two rounds of review. But when the co-editor entered at a late stage, he made us take back everything that the guest editors had asked us to do, in addition to making many nitpicking comments. My co-author was in tears. She was ready to give up. But I encouraged her to stay the course, especially because she was on the tenure-track, and needed the publication badly for her record. We managed to see the article in print before our hair turned too gray.
I can now understand how others may have felt about this turn of events when I was an editor. I have had one author complain very early in the review process when she found that a reviewer who was not in the first round read her revised submission. I have always justified the need to have the new referee. There is an important reason why this might happen: Of the two or three referees who read the submission initially, one may not be available. Rather than wait indefinitely for this referee to become free, the editor may send it to a new person. However, I have sometimes made a virtue out of necessity and given additional reasons to justify the role of the new referee: 1. It's good for a fresh pair of eyes to take a look at the revised version. Some authors address the suggestions with local changes in the manuscript, not focusing on the overall coherence of the new version. 2. Wouldn't more referees make the article even better? Isn't it better to catch all the mistakes and limitations in the submission with the help of as many referees as possible, and shape the article into a better finished product before it gets published? Isn't it better for referees to catch the problems rather than readers find them after the article is published?
However, when I experience this for my submission, from the other end of the publishing process, I can see how strenuous this experience of revision can be. I don't think there is any way out of this. You sound like a loser when you complain about more queries from new referees. The argument is: if you are so sure of your study and interpretation, why should you fear addressing any amount of questions from any amount of referees?
Once I did have an author who angrily wrote back that all the suggestions should have been given right away in the first round of review, and withdrew his publication. Another author adopted an interesting strategy: before he revised his article, he wrote an email to summarize his understanding of the referees' comments, outlined his planned changes, and asked if the editor would be satisfied with this approach. I guess he was guarding against new demands and queries after he sent his version. I thought it was an interesting strategy. You can try that sometimes.
As I near the end of my tenure as editor of TQ for the past five years, people ask me if I succeeded in achieving the goals I set for my editorship. As some of them remember, I came to the editorship after publishing a critical book and many articles on the exclusivist nature of academic publishing (see for example Geopolitics of Academic Writing). The TESOL association and the selection committee knew about my biases when they chose me to be the editor of their flagship journal. Interviewed by TESOL when I assumed duties as the editor, I listed the following as my vision for the journal:
I intend to help TQ keep up with changes in scholarly research practices. In many disciplines, research has become more participatory, reflexive, critical, and local. The research approaches in TESOL still largely follow the controlled, impersonal, and positivistic mode of traditional modernist inquiry. TQ has to present a wider range of research approaches.
I intend to help the journal negotiate more boldly the diverse modes of representing research findings. In many journals, introspective or narrative writing sits side by side with the more impersonal articles reflecting the traditional introduction, methodology, results, discussion (IMRD) structure. I would like TQ to be more open to atypical forms of scholarly rhetoric.
I want especially to increase the representation of qualitative research. In its 2003 report, the TESOL Serial Publications Committee (SPC) makes the following observation:
There is an increasing shift in the TQ towards experimental research and away from other types of research. While we do not take a stand on what type of research is "better," the field as a whole has experienced a shift towards more case studies, ethnographies, classroom observations and discourse analyses in recognition of the complex nature of language, language learning, and language teaching that may be difficult to capture through experimental research. (Goldstein & Jourdenais, 2003, p. 3)
I would like TQ to cover research in more diverse teaching contexts. The SPC also notes "how much more frequently higher education settings (including higher education and in-service teacher education) are represented in comparison to pre-K-12, pre-university, and adult settings" (Goldstein & Jourdenais, 2004, p. 3). In addition to teaching contexts outside higher education, I would also like to cover more geographically diverse locations (i.e., classrooms outside Europe and North America) and the educational concerns of marginalized social groups (i.e., relating to race, gender, and regional issues).
I also want to facilitate a more inclusive international conversation on mutual disciplinary interests. Linguists and teachers in places such as India, Singapore, South Africa, and the Middle East are developing interesting new orientations that fall outside the current paradigms in the profession. Their work gets published locally, if it gets published at all. I intend to be more proactive in accommodating the work of nontraditional researchers. I want to explore ways to mentor new authors, encourage referees to provide more constructive commentary to help these authors in the revision process, and increase TQ's readership outside elite research and academic institutions.
Most people who ask for an update assume that the editor can ram through these changes as he wills. However, peer-reviewed journals work differently. Since articles are not solicited, I cannot request my preferred authors to send me articles on subjects and methods I like. We publish articles that are submitted to us. Also, the decision to publish articles is collaborative and negotiated. The articles go through a double-blind review and they are published based on peer assessment of their value. For these reasons, the changes outlined above cannot be implemented in a direct or quick way.
However, the editor can create the enabling conditions that can make these changes happen. In other words, the editor can establish the infrastructure, policies, and procedures that are conducive to change. With that realization in mind, I have made the following changes during my editorship:
· inviting editorial board members from a wider range of international professional communities: While the editorial board in the past has been dominated by scholars from North America, I have managed to create a better balance. We have had scholars from Mexico, Kenya, Tenerife, South Korea, China, Taiwan, South Africa, and Malaysia, for example, in recent years. These editorial board members make sure that we assess the quality of the submissions from these regions fairly. They also give more publicity to the journal in their countries, create a wider readership, and help attract more submissions from there.
· providing electronic access to the journal through JSTOR: if we are to receive submissions from a wider range of scholarly communities, the journal should be available to all of them freely. Part of the reason why the journal failed to publish articles from a wider range of communities was because it didn't receive submissions from them. It didn't receive such submissions because many teachers and scholars outside North America, Europe and other privileged communities didn't have the opportunity to read the journal. Even when TQ did receive articles from non-traditional communities, the articles didn't have a chance of getting published because they were not written in a manner that was suitable to our readers and publishing conventions. This happened because these authors had not had a chance to read the journal. The relatively more open access given to the journal through JSTOR (I say "relatively" because currently there is a five year moving wall, which means that the issues become available only on the fifth year after being published) has increased our readership and encouraged our new readers around the world to send us more submissions. We have seen a significant increase in the number of submissions from countries outside the northern hemisphere.
· providing qualified mentorship to promising articles from nontraditional settings: This was something I indicated in my vision statement at the beginning. However, it has been difficult to formally establish a system of mentoring. We have faced some tough dilemmas: how do we decide whom to mentor without making the decision unfair to non-mentored authors? How do we mentor all the authors we would like to, while juggling our other responsibilities to the journal (i.e., reviewing other articles), to our institutions (i.e., teaching, research, service), and our families! Finally we decided that we will give this option to only the most promising articles. If the study is already flawed or the author needs to read more to develop a suitable theoretical framework, there is very little we can do to help them shape the final product for publication. Moreover, we can provide only advice on the article, not on how to conduct the study or how to understand the scholarly literature they read. We also decided that we should give this opportunity to not only authors from periphery communities, but also those from the center who lack mentoring help (i.e., novice authors, those from non-research institutions, from under-resourced backgrounds etc.). After the mentoring help is provided, we made sure to send the article for a fresh double-blind review before we made a publishing decision. We set up a small group of scholars from within the editorial board to judge the suitability of mentoring and then take over the role of mentoring after the editor forwarded to them promising articles from nontraditional contexts. So far, we have published two articles that benefitted from such mentoring help. The biggest challenge was that most novice authors treated publishing as a one shot deal, and didn't want to go through the protracted process of mentoring to see their articles in print.
· establishing new sections such as Research Digest and Symposium to disseminate knowledge on emergent topics of interest to practitioners: Symposium enables the editor to draw attention to topics that require attention in the profession. It enables the editor to be more proactive in publishing articles that meet the vision he has set up for the journal. However, since the articles are not peer-reviewed, the authors don't earn the same credit or cachet as the authors of articles in the main section. Similarly, the Research Digest helps keep our readers aware of the wider conversations taking place in our sister disciplines. It increases the multidisciplinary and scholarly ethos of the journal. In some of the other sections in the journal, such as the Teaching Issues section and Research Issues section, the section editors enjoy the advantage of soliciting articles from any author and on any topic they like. These sections too help diversify the themes addressed and authors published in TQ.
· and transitioning to a web-based system to facilitate submissions from diverse international settings and to make the review process more efficient: we find that the web makes submission easier for many periphery professionals. Much against the notion of the digital divide, the web appears to be a great equalizer at least for the purpose of article submission. Mailing three copies of the article for publication requires some additional resources: good printing facilities; good copying machines; money for postage; a reliable postal system that ensures smooth and fast delivery. However, these cannot be taken for granted in the case of periphery scholars. They find the web submission more convenient. Hearing good testimonies from other journals that their web based system has enabled them to receive more diverse submissions, TQ has recently adopted this system.
In addition to all this, the editor can quietly nudge articles from nontraditional settings and on significant new themes. The editor wields some soft power to encourage certain authors and submissions for publication. Through all these efforts, we are beginning to see some interesting changes in TQ. We are managing to see authors from more diverse settings entering the conversation. We see educational and social developments from more diverse contexts represented in the journal. We have had some bold genres of research entering the conversation (narratives, critical research, ethnographies, etc.). There was a time when potential authors used to write to me and ask if they can send qualitative studies to TQ. They were under the impression that TQ publishes only quantitative studies. But I have received less of these inquiries now, suggesting that the ethos of the journal is changing.
All this is not to say that my mission has been accomplished or that things are perfect. We have only initiated a set of changes (admittedly minor) that can pave the way for more radical changes in the future. We have changed the tenor of the conversation in the journal and the ethos of the publication that augurs well for future submissions and publications. In the final analysis, an editor can say only this: that he or she has initiated a set of policies and procedures that change the direction of the journal. Whether these changes can serve to democratize publishing in the journal and pluralize the academic conversation, only time will tell.
PS: Though I am no longer the editor of TQ from January 2010, I hope to continue this blog as the ex-editor of TQ. The politics of publishing will continue to interest me as long as I remain in academia. I hope to post an entry on the blog by the 15th of each month (and that's a New Year resolution).
In a recent special issue on academic publishing in the Chronicle Review (June 12th, 2009), Ellen Baurle (a senior editor with University of Michigan Press) has an interesting article titled "Women as Authors: Get Aggressive." She considers the differences between women and men in academic publishing. Her argument is that women's disadvantage relates to their participation in the practices, processes, and social relationships of publishing. In other words, the practices that surround publishing are as important as the texts we submit for publication. Though her observations relate to monograph publishing, I think there are implications for journal articles as well. These are some of the points she observes from her experience in the publishing field:
Women are reluctant to sound off editors on the publishing prospect of their work. Baurle says that women are usually apologetic when they discuss publishing prospects with editors. They feel they are being too pushy or are wasting the editor's time. They don't realize that discussing prospects with editors is very much expected in the field and appreciated by editors.
Women are diffident to show incomplete manuscripts or works in progress in order to gain contracts. They feel that they have to wait till they have a more complete and polished draft for submission. However, Baurle argues "those who wait will probably receive their contracts later than those who were willing and able to send partial manuscripts for refereeing, and that tends to delay promotion at many colleges."
Women are less likely to serve in roles such as reviewers or consultants. They might find it difficult to manage such service with their other commitments, including those to their families. They may also consider such service as too low stakes for institutional credit. However, serving in such roles helps one get an insider perspective on the publishing process. More importantly, it helps one network with others in the field and in publishing circles. These contacts help one considerably in leveraging one's work into print. Baurle also reminds us: "Many editors would suggest that refereeing is a way of adding one's views and experience to the scholarly conversation --a way of getting one's voice heard, even if indirectly."
Related to the above problem, women are more focused on their own field and don't seem to develop a broader perspective on their work and related fields. Because of this narrow outlook, they have a localized network of scholars and professionals. Baurle feels that men have a broader network of connections. The implication is that if one enjoys a broad network, the scholar will be introduced to editors and senior scholars making decisions on publishing. They will also introduce more of their friends and collaborators to the powers that be. Baurle observes: "Those introductions are often the start of fruitful long-term relationships: Some contacts become authors, but just as important, others become referees, series editors, or disciplinary experts. They also have somewhat improved odds of being published, in that closer contact with presses means they will be likelier to know about new publishing opportunities (like new subject areas or series) or closed opportunities (discontinued series, departing editors) no longer worth chasing."
In general, men are more confident, outgoing, and pushy, thus gaining valuable connections and experiences relevant for negotiating their work into print. The moral is obvious: "Both women and men would be well advised to consider knowledge of publishing venues, editors, and series as a standard part of their professional tool kits."
As I read this insightful article, I couldn't help but wonder how other disadvantaged groups in publishing also suffer from similar limitations and attitudes. I am thinking especially of multilingual scholars from the geopolitical periphery. I could see myself as a young scholar from unknown Sri Lanka struggling to publish. I did feel diffident to approach editors or senior scholars to talk about my work. My feeling was that I was too junior and lacked credentials to warrant face time with an editor. I also often thought it was unprofessional to talk to someone about my work. I thought publishing operates in an impersonal fashion, based purely on merit, that talking to an editor about my work will be construed as unethical lobbying.
Periphery authors also suffer from a lack of productive scholarly networks. How can one build friendships and connections when traveling to conferences in North America or Europe is not easy? Air fare, hotel accommodation, and conference registration involve expenses that are simply too high for scholars in many countries. As they are not known widely in the field, they don't get consulted on areas that they are experts on. As a junior scholar, I have seen some senior scholars with connections being invited to contribute articles on language teaching or policy relating to periphery communities. I have seen this happen even in refereed journals which should base publishing decisions on blind review. I particularly remember a call for articles on a special topic issue on language planning in a leading international journal. My article based on painstaking fieldwork in Sri Lanka was rejected. When the issue was eventually published, I found that the authors who made it into print were senior scholars who didn't have anything new to say or didn't have new research to present. I doubt they went through the tedious process of submitting an abstract, making the short list, and then writing multiple drafts for peer review. As a senior scholar now, I see how some journals invite me to send a piece to a special issue, outside the peer review process. Networking has even greater bearing on collected editions or handbooks. Though these collections claim to be definitive of the knowledge in the field, contributions are based on friendships and connections.
As for taking up invitations to serve as referees or peer reviewers, periphery scholars have other constraints. In many countries, the remuneration from their work is not enough to support their families. Therefore, they have to do extra work to earn more money. Periphery universities also expect a lot in terms of teaching and service. In some cases, publishing doesn't matter for promotion or tenure, and no allowance is made for such pursuits. Such conditions prevent periphery scholars from giving time for other areas of service in the publishing process.
More importantly, like others in the academy, periphery scholars focus on writing and ignore networking. We have to educate everyone on the importance of participating in the other practices and processes of publishing. Even in graduate schools and apprenticeship programs, we see what Bruce Horner once called a "textual bias." These programs treat the research article as the focus of publishing and ignore the social practices that surround the scholarly text. Novice authors and minority scholars have to learn how to navigate the social processes and relationships involved in the publishing game. They have to realize the important implications networking and insider knowledge of publishing practices have in gaining a forum for their research and scholarship.
I once worked as an Assistant Editor for a regional weekly in Sri Lanka. I was impressed with the way the seasoned editor of the newspaper worked painstakingly on the layout of each issue. And this was before the digital age. The articles had to be cut and paste manually, using scissors, on large which sheets of paper, to be sent to the press. The editor did this with an eye for aesthetics, ease of reading, and juxtaposition of news stories to ironically comment on each other. The font type and size were also chosen with care to reflect the importance of the story.
I guess it is this background that influenced me to work hard on packaging each issue of TQ carefully when I took over as Editor. I chose articles that spoke to each other--articles that revolved around certain common themes. I even tried to get the section editors to consider choosing articles that commented on the chosen theme for the issue. Research Digest has been most successful in choosing entries related to the full length articles published in each issue. Since I had the luxury of choosing book reviews from an accepted pool of reviews, I also managed to choose reviews that were related to the theme of the issue.
I also worked hard toward writing a good editorial ("In this Issue," as it is called in TQ) that situated all the articles in the broader disciplinary discourse. I tried to point to the ways in which the articles in the issue continued certain strands of important conversation in the field. Whereas the tradition in TQ had been to present a few bulleted items that listed the main issues of each article in the editorial, I tried to write a coherent essay that led the readers gradually into the featured article.
I also chose the lead article carefully. I chose a think piece (or something resembling that if I had to choose only from matter-of-fact reports of empirical findings) so that readers had something a thought provoking essay to start with. I looked for an article that engaged with ideas, challenged our assumptions, and pushed the conversation in new directions. This was the closest I could get to in order to simulate the lead story in the news world.
I even fussed about the color and appearance of the cover. For my first issue in March 2005, we designed a new logo for the journal. We also changed the naming of the series from seasons to months (i.e., rather than Spring 2005, we called the issue March 2005) in order to accommodate countries that didn't follow the seasons in the Northern hemisphere. We chose the four colors for my first issues with care. I am not to be blamed for the color of the third issue, a teal, which didn't resemble the color we had chosen from viewing it on the computer screen. The latest color, yellow, was chosen by the TQ editorial assistant, Tracy Davies, as she felt that color had not been used in the past for the journal.
After all these efforts, I am now confronted with the possibility that packaging doesn't matter anymore for academic journals (and even for newspapers and popular journals). It appears that in the digital age, readers are simply downloading the article they want from diverse journals at will. They don't have a picture of the full issue of a journal from which they are downloading the article they need. Once they download the specific article they want from an issue, they move on to the next article from another journal. They don't have the time or the need to look at the other articles in that issue. And they don't care about the editorial. That is just a waste of time. In many cases, they won't even see the logo or color of each issue.
I wonder now if packaging matters anymore for academic journals? Connected to the technology and media format are other changes in attitudes and perception. Gone are the days when scholars appreciated the tactile feel of the cover and pages, the smell of freshly printed copies, the viewing pleasure of the color, font, and layout of the articles. Gone are the days when scholars read a full issue of a journal to grasp the different strands of conversation being carried out. We have become utilitarian as we ferret out the required information for an article we are writing or class we are teaching, and then move on with our business. Do we lose anything as we benefit from the novel technology and new reading practices?
The Board of Directors of TESOL has announced that TQ will have 8 less pages this year, and 16 less pages next year. There is more bad news in the publishing front for other journals and presses. CCC has also reduced its pages. It continues some of its discussions on previously published articles on the professional website of the Conference of College Composition and Communication. So, you might start a paragraph of a discussion on the printed journal, and will be asked to proceed to an internet address to access the rest of the article. Chronicle of Higher Education has combined its previously two separate sections into a single issue. Utah State University Press is completely folding.
What implications do these changes have for authors?
While the expectations of universities around the world are becoming more demanding, the outlets for academic publishing are shrinking. Even universities in China and Singapore want their young faculty members to publish in top-tier academic journals in the US to get their tenure or promotion these days. We see an increasing number of submissions from around the world in TQ. However, these authors have to compete for publishing space with senior and better-resourced authors in top western universities. Even before the page reduction hit us, TQ's acceptance rate had gone down from around 8 percent in 2005 to around 5 percent in 2007 and 2008.
We also have less space for creative new genres. Journal editors are sticking religiously to the word length they require or are reducing the length of accepted articles. Qualitative studies which employ a narrative approach to research reporting will be constrained by space limitations. An article on the challenges of negotiating a submission that a novice author and I (as editor) co-wrote in a dialogue format with embedded narratives is now longer than the preferred 8500 words in most journals. Even previously flexible journals are now refusing to countenance longer articles.
TQ has also started insisting on its own announced preference for 8500 words in recent times. In previous years, I was willing to go beyond the length if more data or an expanded literature review was important for the article. Now our poor authors have to omit some interesting sets of data, omit some fascinating pedagogical or research implications, or reduce the information on their research procedures. Already, research articles fail to include crucial information pertaining to the research blaming space limitations. At this rate, the authors may have to just give the raw data and highlight the main findings without providing important information required for other scholars to replicate the study or for younger scholars to understand the challenges in the process of conducting research.
At a time when all of us are exploring ways of pluralizing academic publishing by giving access to more non-traditional authors and representing non-traditional genres of writing, the space restrictions and closing of publishing outlets will dampen those efforts.
I was surprised to receive a message from a member of TQ's editorial board the other day, expressing disappointment that his desire to get published in TQ has once again been defeated. What was surprising was that our decision letter didn't exactly say that he didn't have an opportunity to revise and resubmit. He had inferred that he has to abandon efforts to try to publish the article in TQ.
Authors do take rejection hard. However, there are different kinds of rejection letters. We have to read the letters with more care and detachment if we are not to spoil our own publishing opportunities. This doesn't mean that misinterpreting rejection letters is to be blamed completely on the authors. Editors do word these letters in convoluted ways, in an effort to mitigate the bad news, that it becomes difficult to decipher their actual opinion on the publishability of the article.
I have myself gone through this tragic experience. I had a submitted an article to College English when I was a graduate student. Though both reviewers were enthusiastic, the editor started the letter by saying: "Congratulations on coming so close to getting published in such an early stage of your academic career." I inferred that to mean that he wasn't interested in seeing the article again and/or that I didn't have a chance of getting that article published in that journal. It was months later, when I showed the letter to my dissertation advisor, Lester Faigley, that I learnt that it was actually a revise and resubmit letter. I hadn't paid enough attention to the closing statements in the letter where (apparently) the editor had extended the possibility of seeing a revised version with the suggested changes of the referees.
There are many kinds of rejection letters. TQ has at least six rejection letters. The following are the in-house code words we use for those letters (these terms don't appear in the letter itself): "Reject Not Relevant" for articles that don't fall into the subjects covered by the journal (say, an article on teaching reading in French); "Reject Regional Relevance" for articles that are of more relevance to the local teaching context and don't offer connections or implications for other contexts; "Reject Refer to Another Journal" are genres that fit another journal in the field much better (say, an essay that reflects on an interesting teaching technique that is suitable for a practitioner-focused magazine). These letters are usually sent out before the article go through the review process.
The other three letters come after the review process. "Reject No Hope" is for articles that the referees feel don't have a chance of getting published even after revision (perhaps because the methodology is so flawed that revision won't help); "Reject No Encourage" is for articles whose chances of getting published are not great, but they are not beyond redemption. "Reject Encourage" is for articles we certainly like to see again as we consider them good candidates for publication after revision. There is a difference in the wording of each of these letters. "Reject No Hope" won't mention revision or resubmission. "Reject No Encourage" will say: "If you intend to revise, you have to [mention the types of revisions expected and how the revised mss should be submitted]." "Reject Encourage" will clearly say, "I would advise you to revise the manuscript and resubmit [by making the stated changes]."
It appears that the author mentioned in the opening got a "Reject no Encourage" letter. However, if he was motivated to revise, there was nothing to prevent him from doing so. The decision letter did keep open that possibility, although it didn't explicitly request him to do so.
As they say, it is good to sleep over a rejection letter. Reading it when we are more calm and collected will help us see the good points in the referee comments and detect the doors the editor has left open for resubmission.
Authors always wonder whether it is proper to consult the journal editor before sending an article submission. The requests I have received have always been prefaced by an apology. I too have liked to clarify some issues with editors before I submit an article. In cases where the length is slightly longer, a creative style or genre of writing is employed, or the subject is novel, it is always good to ask a journal editor if the submission is acceptable. After all, having a clear word about this will help the author save time by sending it to a more appropriate journal. However, even I have had a few cases where the editors failed to respond, presumably treating such inquiry as a violation of the impersonal review system.
I have always tried to respond to such queries sent to TQ. But there are different types of queries. Some are constructive, others are not. Here are four types of inquiries I get:
1. An author sends a complete manuscript of a possible submission and wants to know if the article is relevant before submitting it formally. I am able to make a better judgment when I have the whole manuscript in front of me. Of course it is time-consuming to read the whole manuscript, in the midst of evaluating articles that have been submitted formally. However, since only relevance is queried, this doesn't require a close read. Yet, I have to caution authors that they shouldn't take my affirmative reply on relevance as indicating an eventual acceptance of the submission. This is a mistake that is easy to happen. Decisions are made only after expert reviewers have made their recommendations.
2. An author sends the abstract of the article and wants to know the suitability for submission. This is more desirable as it takes less time to read. A good abstract will also make clear the argument and direction of the article. However, I have to always tell authors that only the complete submission will make clear if all our requirements are met. For example, TQ requires authors to spell out their pedagogical implications. An abstract may not always indicate the pedagogical recommendations deriving from the study.
3. An author gives an outline of the article in his/her letter and asks if it is suitable. This approach is even more preferable as the letter provides more space to articulate the argument, implications, significance, and even length and style of the submission, among other details. From the selfish point of view of a busy editor, this is also less time-consuming than reading a complete manuscript.
4. Occasionally, I have had a couple of authors send me their thesis, dissertation, or report for a funding agency or university and asked if they can produce an article out of it for TQ. Such requests are irritating. Apart from the assumption that the editor has the time to read the whole dissertation to advice, there are other problems with such requests. Many articles can be derived from a major project of such nature. Even though the subject may be relevant, it is difficult to say if it will be written with relevance to our guidelines. Moreover, there is a huge gap between a research report and a journal article. Many modifications have to be made before it can be suitable for a journal publication.
In one rare case, we even had an author send us a Masters thesis and give us permission to have it published in TQ. I wasn't sure if the author thought we'll turn it into a journal article outselves or publish it completely!
Now I understand why certain editors don't like to entertain such queries. You never know how far some authors might go!
Readers have asked me why they can't make an electronic submission to TQ. We have accepted it on special occasions when authors had difficulties in printing and mailing an article out to us--especially from remote locations. However, the editorial board preferred to continue the long-established practice of accepting only paper submissions. In our policy meetings, editorial board members mentioned many concerns--
1. There is greater investment in paper submissions. Authors tend to plan more carefully before going through the process of submitting a paper when they have to print their copy and mail it out to a journal. Getting together a finished product in the traditional way forces authors to attend to the publishing requirements more carefully. Electronic submissions tend to be shoddy as authors tend to hit the "send" button too hastily.
2. The ease of electronic submission gives the illusion that anything goes. Sometimes, an article rejected from another journal is sent to us without any revisions or even reformatting to suit our publishing conventions. Sometimes, we have received term papers emailed to us by graduate students.
3. Foreign authors may not have access to electronic resources and will feel disadvantaged if we accept only electronic submissions;
4. Our referees read more closely when they read off the printed version. They prefer to review printed copies only.
However, TQ will soon have three editors in three locations. Diane Belcher and Alan Hirvela will work as Associate Editors in 2009 before they take over the editorship in 2010. It therefore makes sense to adopt a web-based system so that we can collaborate more efficiently from Pennsylvania, Georgia, and Ohio. The new procedure will also help TQ to review the submissions faster and offer decisions sooner. Many authors have complained about the delay involved in the review process currently. Therefore, TESOL has agreed to establish a web-based system next year. From March 2009 we will accept electronic submissions. In order to establish this process in a fair and efficient way, it is good to have some suggestions from readers on potential glitches and problems:
1. Will authors from any particular background feel disadvantaged? Much against the stereotypical view, we have recently found that it is foreign authors who prefer to send manuscripts by email. There are many reasons for this: foreign authors find that they are unable to get quality printouts in their country; they are unable to mail out a bulky package with three copies conveniently; such a package and postage to US are expensive. Besides, email is faster and more reliable than regular mail in some countries.
2. Should we accept both print and electronic submission? What kind of authors will still prefer paper submission? Of course, maintaining both types of submission will be a logistical nightmare for the editorial office.
3. Which web-based interface is most efficient for editorial purposes? (Have our authors found any particular program more desirable in their experience with other journals?)
4. Are any authors concerned about issues of privacy or other ethical and procedural conflicts as we move into electronic submission and review process?
A few days ago, Rod Ellis sent me an article to be reviewed for his journal Language Teaching Research. Though the names of the authors had been taken off, I knew immediately from the title that the article had been submitted to TQ earlier. The referees had, however, recommended that the article be rejected. Though it is perfectly fine to resubmit the article elsewhere, I was concerned that I won't be impartial in my evaluation. Therefore, I wrote back to Rod to say that I had evaluated this manuscript before. I did tell him that the article was more suitable for the section in his journal "Regional Studies" for which it had been submitted.
However, Rod wrote back and asked: "If the author has decided not to resubmit to you but has received reviews I would really like some evidence that he/she has attempted revisions and not just sent the original article to another journal (LTR). Would you be able to check if some revisions have been made?"
I see that more and more editors consider this a fair request and not a violation of the editorial protocol. I did check and found that the manuscript hadn't gone through any changes. I informed Rod about this. I don't know how Rod is proceeding on this matter. If it was me, I would inform the authors about this discovery and yet offer them the possibility of a review if they can do the following: send the review comments of the previous journal, show how they took them on board to revise the article, and send a revised version.
Such a case did happen sometime earlier in TQ. When I asked Gabi Kasper to review an article on pragmatics, she said she had considered it for Applied Linguistics, which she was editing at that time. However, taking a look at the article, she found that it had indeed been revised based on the comments of her referees. We considered the article for publication, sent it out for a fresh review, and did publish it after substantial revision. And, yes, Gabi was one of the reviewers.
The moral of the story? Authors should realize that the publishing world is a small world after all. There's a good chance that their resubmitted article will go to the same reviewers in the new round of review. Though it is perfectly appropriate to have the article considered for publication elsewhere once the review of the original journal is complete, you must make sure that you do all the revisions suggested by the previous reviewers. In some of my own submissions, I have even started mentioning in my cover letter the name of the journal to which I had submitted my article before, the suggestions they had made for improvement, how I had changed the manuscript in response to those suggestions, and the reason I was considering a different journal for publication now. That information might in fact help the editors look for a different set of reviewers, if they wanted.