What Do Editors Do?

Mysteries of Publishing

The term “editor” is among the most confusing and vague job titles ever adopted for any role! Most occupations require some descriptive adjective to pinpoint the exact context or focus (“high school teacher,” “college teacher,” “ICU nurse,” “community health nurse,” etc.). But even with qualifiers, the term “editor” only vaguely names the exact roles or activities that are involved. The occupations of “teacher” or “nurse” convey an mental image of generally what kinds of skills and knowledge are involved, but the term “editor” rarely brings forth even a general image of what this person actually does and who the person is. Probably the most common image involves the activity of refining and correcting manuscripts intended for public viewing, but many people who hold the title “Editor” do other kinds of things and may never engage in correcting, or “editing,” a manuscript! The fact is that the term “Editor” does not precisely define an “occupation,” and there is no standard education or credential that is required. Many editors are actually volunteers who take on the responsibility of producing a newsletter, or journal, or magazine simply because they have a love for the focus on the publication, and see a need for communicating information about that focus to those who share the interest or concern involved. The qualifiers that more precisely pinpoint editorial roles involved in the production of scholarly journals help to clarify what the various people actually do.

Here are a few specific roles that fall under the ‘editor’ umbrella for scholarly books and journals –

  • Copyeditor – this is the person who examines the details of grammar, punctuation, flow, and organization of a text, and queries the author for issues related to consistency and correctness of a manuscript.
  • Acquisitions editor – a person who seeks out and engages qualified authors for the particular projects that the publisher seeks to add to their catalog.
  • Book editor – a person who assembles authors who are qualified to write the content for a book that is written by authors who are usually invited to contribute to a volume focused on a specific topic.
  • Managing editor – a person who oversees the overall functioning of all of the tasks required to produce a journal or a book, and delegates various functions to the people responsible for the development of the book or journal.
  • Journal editor-in-chief or editor – a person who is responsible to assemble and select the content of a journal.

This post focuses on the role and responsibilities of the person who is named on the masthead of scholarly journals as the “editor” or the “editor-in-chief,” as well as a handful of others who are named as the “associate editor,” or “section editor” for a journal. When you submit a manuscript to be considered for publication in a journal, this is the person who oversees the review of your work, and the person who makes the decision related to the publication (or not) of your submission. This is the person who sends you the letter that we described in last September’s post – “Responding to Peer Review,” and that you will work with if that decision is to revise, or the best outcome possible – that they are accepting your submission!

In nursing, we have a wonderful resource to support the work of nursing journal editors, and to educate and encourage people who want to be an editor, or who are beginning an editorial career – the International Academy of Nursing Editors (INANE). This completely volunteer “non-organization” has held a conference every year since 1982! In addition we offer an annual “Extreme Education for Editors” workshop led by INANE “Executive Volunteer” Leslie Nicoll , which since 2020 has been offered virtually; the 2023 dates are June 16-17.

The full scope and range of responsibilities of journal editors is a huge topic – one that is beyond what can be described in full detail here. Leslie Nicoll (member of the Nursology.net management team) and I co-authored a book that covers the details – The Editor’s Handbook. But bottom line – this is the person who the publisher counts on to provide the leadership that is required for a journal to fulfill its mission, and to provide the manuscripts that appear in the journal on a strict schedule to reach the physical or virtual mailboxes of all subscribers. Here are the most important responsibilities to consider if you are an author working with editors, or if you are considering becoming an editor!

  • Establish and implement the focus, scope and purpose of the journal.
  • In collaboration with the publisher, develop policies and guidelines for the processes required to produce the journal.
  • Oversee the acquisition of content for potential publication.
  • Recruit and maintain relationships with qualified peer reviewers.
  • Oversee the review of potential manuscripts.
  • Make the final decision about the status of submissions.
  • Communicate with authors, offering support for the development of their work consistent with journal policies.
  • Select the substantive article content to be included in each issue of the journal, and arrange the Table of Contents.
  • Manage the production of all other components of the journal, including components such as advertising, reports, illustrations, announcements, cover art.
  • Work with the journal publisher to assure the timely publication of each issue.

These responsibilities take shape in many different forms, depending on the needs of the journal, the ways in which the publisher conducts its business, and the personality and “style” of the Editor. The role requires dedicated attention to detail, as well as a vision of what is to be created, and a sense of global purpose! In other words, editors need to be concretely focused on production of what becomes the journal, while at the same time creatively envisioning and shaping ideas and messages that ultimately become the foundation for real-world action!

2 thoughts on “What Do Editors Do?

  1. Dr. Chinn,
    Thank you for the wealth of information regarding the editor’s work, and I look forward to the workshop in June.
    Kunta Gautam

  2. Pingback: Due Diligence: Sifting the Dependable from the Dubious | Nursology

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