December 02, 2016
9 min read
Today’s post is from Josh Piker, Editor of the William and Mary Quarterly.
There are certain little things about the Quarterly that I will never be able to change. Some of those—like the journal’s cover—I wouldn’t change if I could. Of course, Karin Wulf has made it very clear that, forced to choose between the journal’s cover and its Editor, she would start crafting language (“….must appreciate the elegant simplicity and historical resonance of…”) for the job ad seeking my replacement. But, again, I like the cover.
There are some things, though, that will never change even though I’d like them to, little niggly things like switching the “and” in the journal’s title to an “&.” (I mean, I work at the College of William & Mary but edit the William and Mary Quarterly? Can we get a little consistency here, people? Also, doesn’t an ampersand just look more “early American”? And isn’t that our brand? Hello?) That’s not going to happen, or at least it’s not going to happen without an enormous amount of effort on my part. And, to be frank, life’s too short.
There is, though, one of those little things that I could change, something that used to be a real annoyance and that no one would say “boo” about if it vanished: R/O. But I’ve come to realize that I rather like R/O. Let me explain.
I don’t tell authors that they may “revise and resubmit” their manuscripts. Instead, for an author whose essay is neither being “accepted” nor “rejected,” I say that his/her manuscript has been “rejected with the option to revise and resubmit.”
“Rejected with the option to revise and resubmit.” Reject w/ option. R/O.
The phrase “rejected with the option to revise and resubmit” is something of a mouthful, I admit, and when I first started as Editor it made me uncomfortable. Why, I wondered, couldn’t I just say “revise and resubmit” in my decision letters? Sometimes I did, in fact, use R&R, although never without a slight sense of transgression. As I’ve settled into the job, however, I’ve come to appreciate the R/O category. It’s still a mouthful, and I still often wind up prefacing the phrase with “what we here at the WMQ refer to as…”. But R/O has come to feel comfortable, standard, and—most of all—accurate.
I stress accuracy here because, when an author receives an R/O letter from me, I want her or him to know that s/he truly is under no obligation to bring the essay back to the Quarterly. The R in R/O frees the author to do what s/he thinks is best for the essay, for the larger project of which it is a part, and for his/her career.
I’ve been surprised by the number of authors who email me after receiving an R/O and ask whether they are required to bring the revised manuscript back to the Quarterly. Is that the expectation at journals that use “revise and resubmit”? I don’t know. But that isn’t an issue at the Quarterly. If you get an R/O, then the R means that you should take the essay in whatever direction and to whatever journal you think best. Most of the time, I hope you will resubmit it to the Quarterly—and on those few occasions when that’s not the case, I’ll tell the author why I believe that, on balance, s/he should look elsewhere—but that is your decision.
That’s important to note because the Quarterly’s review process asks a great deal from authors. The scholars who serve as readers for the journal take the task so seriously that even authors who receive what might be described as a “revise and resubmit” are frequently being asked to rethink core aspects of their essay’s argument, structure, or documentary apparatus. The decision letters that I write summarize the readers’ reports and my own reading of the manuscript, and those letters routinely offer not simply critiques of the essay but suggestions for the path forward. Those suggestions are just that—suggestions, not marching orders or my-way-or-the-highway, step-by-step instructions. I’m open to other options, other ways of responding to the points raised in the reports and my letter; and frequently authors send me revised manuscripts that respond effectively to the critiques from round one but do so in a way that neither the readers nor I anticipated. I’m not going to name names, but you’ve read a number of those pieces in the pages of the journal over the last two years. But ignoring round one’s critiques isn’t an option, at least if you want the resubmission to be accepted for publication.
It often happens that an author will simply not want to deal with the issues that are raised in round one of peer review. The author may think the readers and I are wrong. The author may believe that the readers and I are pushing him/her to address a particular group of scholars when s/he had a different audience in mind. The author may simply not have the time or resources necessary to undertake the revisions that the readers and I are calling for. Whatever the reason, the author may prefer not to follow the suggestions laid out in the reports and my letter. That’s fine. The essay has received an R/O, after all. The author should feel free to revise—or not—the manuscript as s/he thinks best and send it to another journal.
All of which is to say, R/O isn’t going anywhere – and neither is the black-and-white cover. And I’m learning to cope with the ampersand-less nature of the journal’s title.