When you’ve published an academic journal article or two, you start getting emails which, at first sight, seem very flattering. They praise your previous work, or your expertise, or both, then invite you to write an article for their journal, or to edit a special issue, or produce an e-book. But when you look more closely, these emails start to look a bit odd. Some ask me to write for journals in medicine, life sciences, or STEM disciplines, all areas in which I have little knowledge and no expertise. Others want me to take on onerous editing responsibilities, sourcing articles from prestigious scholars in return for one whole free electronic journal issue or e-book. And some are verging on the surreal. Here is an example I did not make up:
“Dear Dr. H Helen,
Tranquil greets from [name of] Journal… We would be truly fortunate if you could assist us to successfully release the issues by your active and enthusiastic submission of manuscript which will be processed & published under [name of] Journal for upcoming glorious year…. It would be grateful if you would submit your manuscript by [date in three weeks’ time]… It would be our honor to be associated with such an intent, expeditious personality like you for future endeavours.”
Maybe it’s my intent and expeditious personality that causes me to be somewhat suspicious of these emails – particularly as they always seem to want me to produce an article in three weeks or thereabouts. Now I’m a fairly swift reader, thinker, and writer, but producing a journal article in three weeks from a standing start is a request I would find virtually impossible to grant. So it’s just as well I have more sense than to try.
Interestingly, these are not predatory journals. None of them ask me to pay for publication, and they don’t appear on Beall’s List. They seem to be desperate journals. One emailed me on 17 February, giving me a most generous deadline of 15 March, and finishing, ‘If it is not feasible for you to submit paper in the month of February, then kindly let us know your feasible time of contribution. Anticipating your quick response.’ They didn’t get any response, let alone a quick one. So the cheeky blighters emailed again on 16 March, giving me a revised deadline of 31 March.
When I check out the journals online, they appear to be for real. So why are they so desperate? “I wonder if you could submit Research article, Mini review, Case reports, short commentary, letter to the editor, book review for publication in our upcoming issue, to spread the essence of your eminent efforts throughout the world.” Despite the strange language they use, many are based in the US – or at least that’s what their websites say.
And who responds to these poorly targeted requests? I write on research methods in the social sciences, and there is some overlap with health services. So, at a stretch, you could excuse journals focusing on medicine from thinking I might like to write for them, particularly as I’ve published articles in journals such as the Journal of Public Mental Health and Perspectives in Public Health. But life sciences? STEM disciplines? No chance.
I’m on the editorial board of the International Journal of Social Research Methodology which has never been short of submissions. If we weren’t getting enough submissions, I’d suggest we should stop publishing the journal – and I’m sure the publisher would be there before me. Or we could try soliciting submissions, if we thought it was a temporary blip, but I’d want to be targeting people much more carefully than these almost random emails.
I once responded to a request to submit a journal article. I was at the inaugural meeting of the Arts and Sciences Research Forum, at CRASSH, University of Cambridge. In a plenary session, for reasons I can’t remember, I was banging on about the need to do participatory research properly if you’re going to do it at all (must blog about that one of these days). At the break, a man came up and introduced himself to me as Woody Caan. He said he edited a journal, and was very interested in what I’d been saying about involving service users in research, and would I like to consider maybe writing something about this for his journal? He thought it would interest his readers, and perhaps I could think about it and we could discuss it more by email in the coming days and weeks.
When I checked out Woody Caan online, this self-effacing and charming man turned out to be an eminent Professor. We did discuss options by email and I ended up writing the article. He was completely relaxed about the fact that it took me several months.
That, in my view, is a good way to solicit an article for an academic journal. But mostly I decide what I want to write, for which journal. Then they can decide whether they want to publish it. That works for me.