Conventions of comportment are long held in scientific publishing. Authors submit manuscripts; editors screen and manage blind reviews. Feedback is forwarded to authors along with a decision about publication, revision, or rejection. When requested, revisions are made; an author submits a written response documenting how reviewer recommendations were addressed. Occasionally, authors contact editors for guidance or ask the editorial office for technical support. Correspondence is courteous and respectful. This brief recap of the process is not to suggest that the publishing a manuscript is without frustrations. However, frustrations vented in the privacy of an office are expected to stay behind the closed door. Professional comportment is maintained, or so it has been over the years.
Something is changing. A recent author’s response with a not-so-subtle snarky tone was a tipping point. Perhaps, it is driven by the Internet or social media, where informal, unfiltered communication goes on in blogs, text messaging, tweets, Facebook, or other electronically enabled forums. Regardless, the norm of conventional comportment by authors has taken a turn toward more pedestrian and, well, sometimes rude behavior. In the last few years, some eyebrow-raising responses have been sent to the journal. To illustrate, here are a few examples, modified to protect privacy:
- (1) A reviewer recommended that the manuscript be edited to remove anthropomorphisms; the author replied, explaining that anthropomorphism was a heretofore unknown word and requesting that the editor provide a definition. Remember dictionaries?
- (2) An author, in response to a rejection based on reviewer comments about inadequate scientific rigor, sent a contemptuous note of disbelief pointing out that the project team included 2 PhD-prepared nurses, a physician, and a statistician. Aha, the benefits of blind review.
- (3) Having mistakenly uploaded a manuscript revision in the wrong place, an author’s response to attempts at resolving the mystery of the outstanding manuscript resulted in a written diatribe about the awful experience and a pledge to never support the journal. Well, yes, technology can be challenging, and good luck finding a journal that does not use a Web-based manuscript management system.
- (4) And to all the first-time authors graduating from schools requiring the American Psychological Association (APA), not all journals use this format. Do not write an editor to express dismay at this discrepancy. Look up the format used by the journal and follow it.
At some point, everyone who ever published manuscripts has thought a reviewer or editor was an idiot. With greater frequency, authors have been sending these should-be-private thoughts to the journal in writing. Legitimate questions should be addressed to the editor. Miscommunications and mistakes do happen. However, before heading for the keyboard to document frustrations, authors should take ownership for clarity in writing. A reviewer who misses the point may have been reading a manuscript where finding the point was tantamount to a safari in a word jungle.
Social media is not the only factor influencing the situation. New graduates from doctor of nursing practice programs and advanced clinicians such as clinical nurse specialists in hospital systems seeking to achieve or maintain Magnet accreditation are being added to the author pool. Over time, these important contributions will increase the visibility of clinical nursing scholarship. This journal seeks manuscripts addressing clinical scholarship, such as quality improvement projects, nursing innovations, and outcomes of safety initiatives—topics consistent with doctor of nursing practice curricula and Magnet criteria. The journal publishes many of these manuscripts, often with several revisions and much patience on the part of dedicated reviewers and the editorial board. Getting a manuscript published after 6 revisions, 1 new author wrote a gracious thank you note to the journal for the support and guidance received in the process.
In encouraging students to publish, faculty need to assure that they have access to support for all steps in the publishing process—selecting a journal, interpreting author guidelines, proofreading drafts, using the submission system, processing reviewer feedback, making revisions, and celebrating success! Hospitals and health systems promoting publication among the staff for Magnet and other purposes should provide resources to assist staff in writing for publication. New authors sometimes have difficulty understanding the meaning of terms or contextual factors assumed in the information for authors and correspondence from the journal. For example, when inviting manuscript revisions, the journal requests a point-by-point table documenting how the author addressed reviewer recommendations and comments. First-time authors sometimes fail to send the document—they have never experienced a manuscript revision submission and do not understand what is being requested. Mentors are needed to interpret the process and role model professional comportment in communicating with editors and publishers.
Editors, editorial boards, and journal publishers are stewards of publication integrity. Authors may find the reviewer feedback or editorial decisions dismaying. It is the nature of the work. Frustration is included in the process. Close the office door and rant, but that is where it stays.