I am continuing my discussion of the seven deadly sins and their relation to publishing in an academic journal. Today I discuss gluttony and wrath.
Gluttony. “An overindulgence.”
I ran full steam into gluttony when I imposed an 8500 word limit on manuscripts. Many authors bitterly complained that they needed 50 or 60 pages to demonstrate their result and to ask otherwise was to hold back knowledge. It did not surprise me that those same authors, once it was clear that the constraint was going to be enforced, found that a manuscript could be turned in that was 8,498 words in length. Gluttony is manifest in excessive verbiage.
Gluttony takes on various guises in a manuscript. One culprit is the literature review. Gluttons prefer to be exhaustive (and exhausting) in their review of the literature. This means citing and detailing every piece that is tangentially related to the topic. The defense of gluttony is that surely a reviewer will object if she is not cited. Yet such a literature review usually ends up looking like an encyclopedia and fails to put the current research into its context. Even worse, it crowds out the contribution. A gourmand (rather than a glutton) will write a literature review that accentuates the research, highlighting the contribution.
Gluttons are also fond of taking a long and winding road to the data. The result is a flabby discussion of the research design and structure of the data. Of course the aim is well intentioned because, in the interest of full transparency, the author believes that every decision about case selection and coding must be put on the table. Yet most readers want to see the core elements of the design and data and move to the results. By all means write the fully blown version of the data. It should be available for researchers (and at AJPS it is more than welcome in the Supporting Information). An interested reader, who wants to know more, should have that information at her fingertips – but it should not be inflicted on all readers.
Finally, gluttons are fond of showing off their methodological prowess. For an empirical piece this may mean including every statistical check in the full text. If there is room for two models in a table, why not eight? The glutton knows no bounds. Of course, every robustness test will also be included, crammed into the manuscript, crowding out the point to the research. Robustness tests are critical and readers should demand them. However, they may not always belong in the main text. Again, at AJPS the Supporting Information is the logical place to put robustness checks. Strangely enough the glutton should thrive in this environment. Sadly, however, the SI is usually just a collection of tables with little indication why they are important. The SI should be written as a stand-alone document in which interested readers can follow the logic intended by the author in offering additional tests and information.
To protect against gluttony authors should re-read and edit their manuscripts before submitting to a journal. The key question while editing should always be: “Is this necessary?” It never hurts to have peers or colleagues give your manuscript a quick reading, especially if you ask them to comment on it over coffee (your treat). You might ask them whether sections can be cut or clarified. Science is a collective process and we learn from one another through or interactions.
Wrath. “Uncontrolled feeling of hatred and anger.”
This is a common failing that usually accompanies a letter rejecting a manuscript. It takes the form of “The editor is an idiot and the reviewers are jerks.” While one or the other may be true, it is unlikely that they are conjointly true. At most journals reviewers are carefully selected for their expertise in the subfield and for their capacity to assess the impact of the manuscript. The editor values their advice and you should value it too.
Wrath leads to two kinds of problems. First, by getting angry, you risk ignoring good advice. Rejections hurt and you should feel free to get mad, shout, rail against the powers that be and then wait two days. After that try to figure out what the editor and reviewers are telling you. If your manuscript was reviewed, that’s great. It means that you made it past one hurdle and you received the intense scrutiny of your peers. Make the best of it.
Wrath creates a second problem if you immediately write a blistering email detailing the degree and type of idiot the editor must be. After all, two of the reviewers suggested that the manuscript might possibly be given an R&R. A journal is not a democracy. If it was, then the median reviewer would dictate outcomes and we would have median science. Earlier I mentioned that excellence is a requirement. Arguing with an editor (the person who will ultimately make the decision to publish) is not a great strategy. Please write a blistering email and then put it aside for two days. It will be cathartic. It will also not be sent based on sober second thoughts. Sometimes a reviewer or the editor may be mistaken. Politely write a reasoned note indicating why. I have been known to change my mind. I am more likely to do so when an argument is made for why I should.
To avoid wrath please feel free to get angry, rant to your pet and then put your rejection aside. After a few days return to the manuscript and the reviews and try to figure out what was being said. Oftentimes you are probably right in that the reviewers have missed your point. But that should be a signal that you have not clearly communicated your point. All reviews and letters from the editor contain some nugget of information that will help you when revising the manuscript for another journal.