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By Elom Hillary Otchi, PhD, FISQua Monday. Feb 21, 2022

Reflections of an Editorial Apprentice Featured

I used to be anxious and wondered why journals took forever in publishing my manuscripts when submitted. I did not understand. Neither did I understand why some of my manuscripts were rejected. I didn’t understand what form of considerations went into accepting particular manuscripts for publications either. But now I do… my journey as an ISQua Editorial Apprentice has provided me with increased clarity.


I have come to appreciate the months of enormous work that happens at the backend before any issue is released. I have come to appreciate that the journey your manuscript goes through could be likened to the journey of a spermatozoan from production to fertilization! Your manuscript is likely to go through the following processes upon submission: a complete checklist will be run including an electronic plagiarism check, a deputy editor will then be assigned, the deputy editor will subsequently select and invite peer reviewers; peer reviewers will do a review and submit their scores and recommendations (e.g., accept, minor revision, major revision or reject); based on the recommendations of the peer reviewers, the deputy editor will also make further recommendations to the editor-in-chief to also either accept, minor revision, major revision or reject. A decision is then finally made by the Editor-in-Chief based on the recommendations received from the deputy editor. After a decision to publish is made, your manuscript then goes to the publishers to begin another cycle! What you may not know as an author is that, there are very strict timelines with the editorial process and deputy editors assigned to your papers only breathe a sigh of relief when the cycle is completed. Deputy editors receive frequent alerts and notifications about “overdue” manuscripts in their custody! There are very robust IT support and systems that will not let you rest until you have done the needful.


Further, I have come to be more tolerant of the delays of journals because I can confidently say most of these delays are beyond their control. One major reason why your manuscript might be needlessly delayed is that your assigned deputy editors struggle endlessly to get peer-reviewers. Yes, it is a lot of struggle! There is often a dilemma between efficiency, timeliness and especially striking a balance between the number of reviewers to invite at a time.


One intriguing aspect of this journey was the discovery that some peer reviewers set “auto-declines” to be rejecting invitations to review manuscripts. In one search of peer reviewers, I discovered the number of peer reviewers that had “red flags” because of their record numbers of “auto declines”! In one instance, all 20 peer-reviewers declined the invitation to review a manuscript and that paper subsequently had to be withdrawn! I think peer-reviewers have a great privilege, a sacred duty and should be seen as their little contribution to ensuring that whatever is finally published by any journal passes the rigour of science. I would like to seize this opportunity to encourage and appeal to all peer reviewers and potential peer reviewers to accept and diligently discharge this duty despite the enormous competition for their time and other equally important commitments!


As a budding author, I have received rejections of my manuscript by various journals and I did not understand, but now I do. I don’t think there is any author who has not had a manuscript rejected by a journal before! Your manuscript is likely to be rejected based on some of the following general reasons: if it fails the rigour of science i.e., when your study design, methodology and analysis wobbles; when your study is not original or novel; when your tables/figures are not clear; and when your writing, composition and the use of English language is not clear. I remember the day I was composing a message to the Editor-in-Chief recommending the rejection of a manuscript after a discussion with my colleague deputy editor. At this instance, we have received recommendations from 2 peer-reviewers all of them suggesting the manuscript be rejected because it had failed on all the above criteria and we had to go with it. Composing my first recommendation for a rejection was mixed. At one time it felt like playing God deciding who enters and who does not, while on the flip side, I was just empathizing with this author for all the months of waits only to be told that, “I am sorry…your manuscript cannot be accepted at this time because of …, I wish you all the best in your search of another journal… thank you for considering IJQHC… all the best”.


On another occasion, I struggled to no avail to save a paper! As an editorial apprentice and a peer reviewer, I think most authors (and like Donabadien said, “I include myself here”) especially first-timers need help in publishing in peer review journals! Most of us are good in our chosen areas but we need help in “writing”! It is a skill we need to cultivate. We need a lot of mentors to dedicate their time to mentoring first-time authors! Academic institutions will have to do more to prepare their students to be all-round and journals will also have to consider making such services available and affordable especially to first-time authors!


As an editorial apprentice, I have also come to realize that, in spite of the criteria available for making objective decisions about a manuscript, a lot of the processes are however left to the discretion of the deputy editors. However, I have come to know that most of the subjectivity in editorial decisions are often in favour of the author even though only about 10% of manuscripts end up being published in most journals!


It was however a lot of “wow feeling” for me whenever I had signed off an invitation to peer reviewers as “Deputy Editor”. The other major benefit in this journey for me is the expansive wealth of knowledge on the various subject areas of healthcare, quality and patient safety that I have gained. As an editorial apprentice, I have had the opportunity to read every manuscript that I have been assigned fully before I proceed to select and invite peer reviewers!


Another interesting part of the journey for me was the editorial meetings where I got to meet all the deputy editors. But the most important learning was how the Editor-in-Chief was very efficient in managing the meetings. Irrespective of how tall the agenda was and the number of attendees (normally averages about 18 attendees per meeting), you can always bet that the meeting will not go beyond 1 hour!


Another exciting part of the journey was navigating the “administrative centre” of Scholar One. It was initially a maze of confusion but hey, colleagues were always available to give a guided path and demystify the process!


I would like to finally say a big thank you to ISQua for selecting me as one of the first 4 candidates for this role. Another big thank you to the Editors-in-Chief of IJHC and IJHC Comms. Further, I would like to say another big thank you to all the Deputy Editors, especially Richard Greenhill (IJCOMS) and Anthony Staines (IJQHC) for holding my hands and guiding me through my journey as an editorial apprentice. Thank you. It has been an extremely fulfilling and thrilling editorial apprenticeship journey!


Finally, I say congratulations to all my other colleagues. We have made it. I hope ISQua, will grant us the permission of calling ourselves “Deputy Editors” from today!


OTCHI, Elom Hillary (PhD, FISQua)

Editorial Apprentice

International Journal for Quality in Health Care (IJQHC) / IJQHC Communications (IJCOMS)


If you are interested in Editorial Apprenticeship Programme, please visit Editorial Apprenticeship Programme 2022 and submit your application by Friday, 25th February 2022.


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