Being a research scholar means a lot more than sticking your head in books and articles and churning out publications.  Here I explain an area of pure volunteer work with little glory but lots of grind.


A Research Scholar’s Editorial Work

One aspect of the life of a professional scholar that may not be well known to the general public involves editorial work.  For some scholars, this kind of work takes an enormous expenditure of time and effort, although much of the work, and many of the hours, are not transparent or evident to outsiders.  I have done a lot of editorial work over the years, but I do not think that my case is at all exceptional.  A lot of my colleagues have done less, but some have done a good deal more.  Many scholars see editorial work as a major component of “service” to the discipline.  Which means that, for the most part, it is really important but normally thankless!

As is my wont I will use my own experience as a guideline for describing this kind of work, since it is really the only experience I know about in excruciating detail.  I will devote three posts to the matter, two (including this one) dealing with editorial work involving academic / scholarly journals, and one dealing with work involving books (e.g., scholarly monograph series).

My Own Editorial Work As a Research Scholar

As I indicated in an earlier posting, publishing articles in scholarly journals is a very important aspect of professional work for academicians.  But someone needs to edit the journals!  Unlike popular magazines (Time, Newsweek, U.S. News… etc.), academic journals are not edited by professionals trained in journalism or communications.  They are edited by established scholars in the field who devote their time and energies to making scholarship available to the wider world of scholars.  Normally this is purely volunteer work (I’ve never been paid a dime to do any of it).  Every academic discipline has its serious journals, published in and read by scholars in the field.   In biblical studies there are such journals as The Journal of Biblical Literature, New Testament Studies, Novum Testamentum, Biblica, The Catholic Biblical Quarterly (which is not just for Catholics!); Journal for the Study of the New Testament, Zeitschrift für die neutestamentliche Wissenschaft, and – well lots of others, in Europe and the United States.   In the history of early Christianity there are Vigiliae Christianae, Journal of Early Christian Studies, Church History, and others.

Scholars typically do one of two kinds of work for academic journals.   First, scholars serve on editorial boards.  For years I was on the editorial boards of the aforementioned New Testament Studies (which specializes in technical New Testament scholarship) and The Journal of Biblical Literature (which covers both Hebrew Bible and New Testament), the Journal of Early Christian Studies, and an electronic journal, Textual Criticism: An Electronic Journal.  For a number of years now I have also been serving as a co-editor in chief for Vigiliae Christianae (a major international journal dealing with early Christian studies after the NT, published by E. J. Brill in Leiden).

What Is a Referee?

Members of an editorial board typically get asked to “referee” articles that have been submitted to the journal for publication.  This is the “peer review” process, where experts decide whether an author’s article is suitable for the journal.  Since the entire idea of peer review is to have established experts in the field determine whether a submission is acceptable, members of editorial boards are always acknowledged, respected, and published members of the guild.

When an editor receives a submission, s/he sends it to one or two (depending on the specific journal’s policies) members of the board who are experts in the specific area that the article addresses, who evaluate whether the article is based on solid scholarship, whether it advances our knowledge in significant ways, whether it is well written and fully documented, and so on.  The referee then makes a recommendation to the editor.  This is normally a written report, of varying length, that is primarily intended to guide the editor in making a decision about whether or not to accept the piece.  Secondarily, reports are often provided to the author of the article to provide guidelines for making revisions.  Sometimes articles are accepted provisionally; if the author makes certain revisions, then the article will be acceptable.  Needless to takes a good chunk of time to read a submission and write up a detailed report; some reports are very brief (a simple statement of whether an article is acceptable or not); others can go on for several pages, indicating weaknesses in the author’s argument, pointing out other problems with the article, etc. – all in an effort to help the author produce a more convincing and publishable piece.

Some journals require a lot more work from their editorial boards than others.  For some that I have worked with, I have been asked to evaluate maybe five or six articles a year.  Others have as many as an article month or so to review.

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2022-10-21T12:44:07-04:00October 20th, 2022|Reflections and Ruminations|

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