From the Editor’s Desk: What skills does a journal editor use the most?

This week, as part of our continuing series on academic journal publishing, we are featuring five Q&A’s with journal editors. In today’s edition, we asked the contributors to offer their insight into what skills a journal editor uses the most. Read their responses to this question below and follow along with our Journal Publishing Series for additional resources on journal publishing. To learn about how they became journal editors, read yesterday’s post.

What skills does a journal editor use the most?

An editor has to be experienced in writing and publishing in order to be a good editor. One has to be able to recognize a good argument grounded in sound evidence. The amount of editing I do depends on the piece under consideration. In some cases, one can have a good manuscript that needs attention to organization and structure; in other cases a good manuscript only needs some slight copy editing. In a few cases, a manuscript has a good argument and good evidence, but it is encased in poor writing and organization. In those cases, I tend to have a heavier hand. So, in sum, skills in writing, publishing, copy editing, and structuring an argument.” – Robbie Ethridge, co-editor of Ethnohistory and Professor of Anthropology at University of Mississippi


“It is a very challenging and rewarding job because it requires me to think and act in many different capacities. I have to think like a journalist, a scholar, a manager (coordinating a staff, a calendar, a procedure, and a budget), a curator (rallying artists and writers behind a shared purpose), a dramaturg (advising our artistic contributors), and a marketer. Each requires me to deploy a skill set, but I would say that overall it’s about coordinating people, launching and refining ideas, keeping track of details, and managing a flow of projects. Forming a narrative around each project—say, a special themed edition we’re commissioning—and then sharing that with collaborators, administrators, and potential readers is another essential one.” – Tom Sellar, editor of Theater, Professor of Dramaturgy and Dramatic Criticism at Yale University, and Chief Theater Critic for the Village Voice


“Discernment and intellectual curiosity. Like Walter Benjamin (who dreamed a journal but never founded one), for me a journal is an intellectual project. All the basic work (e.g., reading all submitted manuscripts, assigning readers, working with the managing editor in the Editorial Manager program, “englishing” manuscripts accepted from scholars for whom English may be a second, third or fourth language, cutting and revising manuscripts, writing introductions, drawing out latent themes to pull a general issue together, negotiating conflicts with authors) I do in the interest of creating new scholarship. We are a critique, which means there needs to be a critical edge to our scholarship. It helps a lot (other scholar editors will agree) to be critically engaged and publishing myself. Engagement helps me to evaluate special issue proposals, for instance, and figure out if this is just an ordinary conference panel repackaged for publication or if the proposal asks a general question that has not yet been addressed. There is a difference between a proposal that describes female transnational labor conditions in East Asia and a special issue, “Intimate Industries,” which theorizes what the transnational care industry is and how it works. We know, as with an idea like “colonial modernity,” that we are not a stranger to this concept of emotions in the work, but no one until Rhacel Parreñas thought to create a path breaking special journal issue on it. Because I have to recognize innovation, my work as editor requires me to consult and to know where new debates are emerging, in which disciplines or cross disciplines. I follow my curiosity and always ask questions.” – Tani Barlow, founding editor of positions and T.T. and W.F. Chao Professor of Asian History and founding director of the Chao Center for Asian Studies at Rice University


I recently chatted on this topic with one of our guest editors on a special issue. And she said that she was amazed at how much patience the job required, and how patient I was. That’s not a skill I would have thought I had (I hate waiting in lines!). But I guess the job does require that, and to have done it for many years I must have some patience after all.” – Matthew Restall, co-editor of Ethnohistory and Edwin Erle Sparks Professor of Colonial  Latin American History, Anthropology, and Women’s Studies at Pennsylvania State University


“An academic journal requires a great deal of juggling. At any moment, manuscripts are being submitted and needing to be processed, are being evaluated and needing reviewers, are being reviewed and needing to be kept track of to keep things timely, are being decided upon and needing letters of decision. Issues are also being prepared for press—with all the editing and permissions and contracts and whatnot that that entails. At the same time, special issue ideas are being considered or are in development or are being edited. And that’s just a short list—running a journal is like having a second full-time job. So being organized and able to handle many simultaneous projects is critical to success. Second, and this may seem obvious, but I think that courtesy and kindness are essential for editors. Reviewers are volunteers, taking time out of very busy schedules to ensure that the quality of the journal’s scholarship remains high. We simply couldn’t operate without them—so we hope that we at least express our gratitude fully. Writers—even the ones whose work isn’t suitable for the journal—have entrusted us with something into which they have put much time and labor. It’s important to us that they feel that they were treated with respect and good care. In fact, we have resisted automating our submission process in large part because we want each writer and reviewer to feel how much Pedagogy values our relationship with them.” – Jennifer Holberg, founding co-editor of Pedagogy and Professor of English at Calvin College

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