28 December 2017 by Lisa Meloncon
Happy Break Everyone –
I hope that you’re finding time to rest and recuperate during this down time between terms. Over at the journal, Rhetoric of Health and Medicine, we’ve been working hard on getting the first issue moving forward (look for more details coming in the early part of January!) and we’ve also been working through proposals for RHM’s first special issue (in 2019) on the rhetoric of public health.
And that’s what I want to talk about today. The process we went through for the special issue proposals.
Every journal handles special issues a little differently, and we’re no different at RHM. In our case, we developed our system based on feedback from our editorial board. The system is created to avoid some of what editorial board members—and the editors—felt are problems that sometimes affect special issues, such as less rigorous review standards/easier to get into, the feeling that only friends of the editor were invited, and issues that don’t cohere.
So we adopted a three step review process that we want to explain. This explanation does three important things: (1) it continues RHM’s dedication to making the review and publishing process as transparent as possible; (2) it provides a type of accountability to the editorial board, the readers (or technically future readers since we’re working toward our first issue), and to the broader RHM community; and, finally, (3) it simply explains the process for those who submitted to this special issue and those that will, hopefully, submit to the journal in the future.
We received 48 proposals, which is a healthy number for a special issue of any journal, and considering the broadness of the topic (public health), we were quite pleased with this turn out. Contributors spanned a number of RHM related fields (e.g. bioethics, English, communication studies, law, etc.), represented a number of different health related institutions (e.g. medical research centers, hospitals, nonprofit organizations, etc.), and held a variety of different ranks and titles (e.g. graduate students, grant-funded researchers, tenured professors, healthcare practitioners, etc.). Jennifer Malkowski, special issue co-editor, and I independently read and ranked the proposals. We then compared rankings and notes to advance 16 proposals that were clearly connected to the topic of public health, publics theorizing, and included a direct engagement with Rhetoric. (See our captioned video or transcript on what we mean by rhetoric). Keep in mind, too, that following RHM’s broader goals of ensuring multiple perspectives, Jen and I have different backgrounds. Jen was trained in communication studies, while I have a mixed bag of a background and am firmly situated within technical writing/communication.
Those 16 proposals were then made anonymous and forwarded to Blake Scott (co-editor of RHM) and two members of our editorial board who are specialists in “publics,” Cynthia Ryan and Gary Kreps. While other members of the editorial board also have expertise, Cynthia and Gary represent the two big “sides” of RHM’s audience: English studies (including rhetoric, composition, technical communication and some linguists) and communication studies (including rhetoric, health communication and applied research methods). The three of them were asked to rank the proposals from 1 to 16, with 1 being the best. Each reviewer was familiar with the CFP, but beyond that no other ranking instructions were given because we wanted their responses to be based on their own readings of the information presented in the proposals and their own perspectives of the proposals’ relevance and timeliness.
I collated those responses, while Jen ranked the blinded proposals herself using a table to compare each contribution’s theoretical contribution, health issue/topic of interest, research method, disciplinary affiliation, and the nature of the artifact being examined. Jen did not see the rankings from the three reviewers when she was making her rankings. As co-editor of the issue, one of Jen’s jobs is to set the focus of the issue. Therefore, she ranked the proposals based on how things talk to each other holistically. A guiding factor, therefore, was how well each individual proposal worked toward a coherent issue that gets a bunch of things represented and shows the breadth of RHM work and influence. To do this, she prioritized diversity in methods, issues, theory/concepts, and sites of study and application.
In the end, we accepted seven proposals and have invited those contributors to submit full manuscripts that will be sent through the regular peer review process. This means the proposal acceptance rate was 14.5%, which is lower than many special issues and also a tad lower than many of the acceptance rates of most journals. It is important to note that even though these proposals were accepted, the odds are that at least two of the manuscripts will not make it through the peer review process. Unlike many special issues, RHM does not have to fill pages (so to speak), which means that we can maintain our rigorous standards and we will not accept and publish an essay that is not actually ready. We will circulate a revised special issue manuscript acceptance rate at the time of publication.
We are excited about the potential this issue holds and look forward to sharing it with you!!
Until then, wishing you health, peace, and joy!