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Interview with a Journal Editor – Peer Review Week

As a peer-reviewed press, our journals are committed to instituting a thorough review process that is thoughtfully mediated by our journal editors to be inclusive, constructive, and ethical. Our journals pride themselves on being especially supportive of the innovative insights of early career researchers and it is thanks to the peer review process that up-and-coming scholars have the opportunity to have their research recognized alongside established figures in their fields. In observing Peer Review Week, we extend our utmost appreciation to the peer reviewers and our journal editors who are essential to ensuring the credibility and integrity of the scholarship that we publish as an independent press.

Vivian Berghahn, Managing Director and Journals Editorial Director

To celebrate Peer Review Week, Berghahn Books coordinated several interviews with authors, series editors and journal editors to explore what their views of our process are and to thank our peer reviewers for the valuable work they do.

An interview with Ann Smith, Managing Editor of Girlhood Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal

  • At Berghahn Journals, the peer review process is double-blind, promoting compete anonymity of reviewer and institution. How would you describe the contributions of peer reviewers to the journal that you oversee, Girlhood Studies? If any, in what ways can/do you celebrate/reward those anonymized contributions as Managing Editor?  

Of course, without reviewers there would be no academic journals being published so their contributions are essential. I would say that about 85% of Girlhood Studies reviews have been good to excellent over the years and the rest, with the exception of one two-sentence response that suggested outright rejection with no supporting evidence, at least adequate if not memorable. 

For a while we published an alphabetical list of reviewers without reference to what they had reviewed in the last issue of a volume as a way of acknowledging them, but Berghahn now has a fixed process of doing so. 

  • What do you especially look for when deciding to either reject a manuscript or move it forward for the peer review process?  

I very seldom reject an unsolicited manuscript outright and do so only if there is no reference at all to girls or girlhoods in it. Many authors, especially first-timers, need help to get their manuscript to the review stage and I work with them to do so.  

  • Do you feel that there may be existing methods that could make the peer review process more efficient for you, the editor, as well? Or methods that you may not have seen yet?  

There may well be such methods, but we are not in favor of having the review process carried out as part of what I might call an impersonal electronic editorial manager system. This isn’t part of your question, but I maintain a file of Girlhood Studies authors, titles, and keywords that I consult when a possible reviewer of an article doesn’t come to mind immediately. I always try to pair an established scholar in an academic area with an emerging one, often a doctoral student, in the interests of variety and capacity building. My partner, Claudia Mitchell, the Editor-in-Chief can be relied on to come up with the name of at least one such reviewer among her past and present students for most articles. These students are often wary of being too critical and tend to offer less critical reviews, so I make sure that the authors know this and encourage them, when appropriate, to pay more attention to the senior reviewer’s comments, observations, suggestions etc. I most often send the more scholarly review on to the more junior reviewer, again in the interests of building reviewer capacity.  

When I do this, this is what I tell authors when I send them their collated reviews. 

It is my practice whenever possible to have a highly experienced senior scholar in the relevant area of study review manuscripts along with, in the interests of mentoring and capacity building, an emergent scholar in the field as you will see when you go through these two reviews. This is not to say that you should disregard Review 2 but only that you should attend more particularly to the points made in Review 1 and note those that are picked up in Review 2. Also, please remember that first time reviewers are often much more accommodating and lenient than experienced ones; they sometimes lack the confidence to be critical. 

  • As a longstanding editor, have you seen a marked change over time in the peer review process? Do you find it more difficult to find peer reviewers, or has technology helped streamline the process?  

It is becoming more difficult to engage willing reviewers if not to find them! Scholars have become increasingly busy, it seems to me, given the pressure to publish, perhaps?

  •  Artificial Intelligence models may be able to cut out some of the preliminary review work–especially for pure plagiarism—so that reviewers can focus on the more nuanced aspects of the work and research. Do you believe there are other ways AI technologies might assist in the peer review and how might that change the reviewer role? Do you think AI technologies have a place in the process at all?   

I am divided on the question of AI and, given what I have seen, wonder if CHAT GPT isn’t “capable” of producing highly nuanced articles that do more than pass muster! 

In passing, this is what I send to authors along with their collated positive reviews. 

It is standard practice for us at GHS to require a chart [chart below] in which authors tell us how they plan to attend to all the comments, suggestions, and criticisms of the reviewers of their articles as they revise them for publication. We are interested, too, in why you may feel that some of these are irrelevant or beyond the scope of your revised article. Please see the attached example and send me such a chart. We will review it carefully and let you know if we think you should go ahead and revise your article accordingly. For this reason, it is advisable to wait to hear back from me before you begin to do so. 

We are grateful to you and the reviewers for your helpful feedback and suggestions on our paper. We have integrated this feedback into the revised manuscript and have summarized the changes in the following chart. Where overlap between reviewer’s comments has occurred, we have listed only one comment.

Reviewers’ CommentsAuthors’ Response
Reviewer 1, Comment 1: The authors might consider offering less description and more analysis in the first section.We will relate the descriptions explicitly to the analysis here and throughout the article and will offer more analysis.
Reviewer 1, Comment 2: Parts of the abstract are repeated word for word in the introduction. This should be changed to avoid repetition.We plan to revise the abstract so that none of it is repeated in the introduction.
Reviewer 1, Comment 3: The method used to search the literature needs to be explained more clearly since this affects the validity of the findings. How many articles were consulted? How were they sourced? What were the criteria for inclusion? Were all the researchers experienced in this type of work? How many did each consult? Perhaps they all consulted the same sources?We will make clearer the process we went through to find literature on arts-based research methods and war-affected children. We will specify both the academic databases we used to search relevant articles and chapters as well as describe how we organized the literature into different categories. Because our review process led us back into reflection about the tricky feature of what counts as ethics, we feel that concentrating on mapping this out rather than engaging, strictly speaking, in a rigorous review of ethics would be more appropriate. We will explain this and return to this point at the end of the article.  There is also a query about the experiences of the research team in working with children. We have not referenced the specific experiences of each of the researchers because of space constraints and because of the focus of the article. We do include a reference to the geographic regions where the team members have been working with war affected children (Canada, and Sierra Leone, Pakistan, Kenya, Palestine).  The team leader’s work in Sierra Leone is specifically cited. In our bios we have each made specific reference to our field work that is relevant to this article.
Reviewer 1, Comment 4: It is difficult to judge validity because there is little information on how data was analyzed to come up with the four issues. The one sentence offered is not enough to convince the reader that the analysis process was rigorous. Please elaborate on this.We will provide more information on the process of data analysis. As noted above, the idea of seeking to provide a more nuanced argument on ethics took us into a slightly different direction in the review process but we will give more attention to this.
Reviewer 2, Comment 1: The four issues that were identified have been pointed out twice, but they are not exactly the same. Consider removing the second mentioning.We will delete the second reference to the four issues and revise the list to accurately reflect the headings we go on to use.
Reviewer 2, Comment 2: I would suggest revisiting the section on “representation” to ensure that it is distinctly different to interpretation. It seems as if there is some overlap.We will revise this to emphasize both interpretation and representation and will make the distinction clear.
Reviewer 2, Comment 3: The point about the power play between adults and kids is great, but I do not believe it should be in aesthetics – that is more about beauty or the quality of the drama, not about who decides what should be shown and what not. That section possibly would fit better under power relations.We agree and will move this section accordingly.  
Reviewer 2, Comment 4: This article contributes to knowledge about ethical practice – not sure if it contributes to theory?  We agree that the article contributes more to ethical practice than to theory, but we will include more reference to theory in the paragraph that deals with power and participation. Any more than this we feel would be beyond the scope of this article.
Reviewer 2, Comment 5: There are a few typos and grammatical lapses that have been highlighted.We will address the typos and errors that the reviewers noted in the text and will go through the article carefully to eliminate any other errors. 
Reviewer 1, Comment 5: The word count of 7008 exceeds to recommended word count of 6500 words.We will trim this down to 6500 words.
Reviewer 2, Comment 6: The in-text citations should be revisited to ensure that the use of double inverted commas is consistently used for quotations.We will use double inverted commas for all direct quotations and will consult with the language editor/managing editor to further address any inconsistencies in the use of inverted commas.
Reviewer 1, Comment 6: The reference list should be rechecked to ensure consistent use of Berghahn’s modified Chicago house style.We will revise the presentation of the reference list to reflect the requirements of the Style Guide.

Ann Smith has been the managing editor of Girlhood Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal since its inception. Formerly a lecturer in the Department of English, University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa, where she specialized in literary theory with a particular focus on feminism and queer theory, she is now an adjunct professor in the Department of Integrated Studies in Education at McGill University, Montreal.