Becoming an editor of a journal is an exciting but daunting task, especially if you are working alone without day to day contact with editorial colleagues. This short guide aims to summarise key issues and to provide links to relevant pages of the COPE website as well as those of other organisations.
1. Initial assessment of journal when you take over
After getting to grips with the mechanics of the journal such as the submission system and timelines for manuscripts, preferably in conjunction with the previous editor, we recommend to assess current practice using the COPE Audit (members only). This tool is designed to help editors identify areas of their journal’s policy, processes or practice that may require attention or may need to be revised so that they adhere to COPE’s Core practices. Journals vary in the ways they prevent or handle ethical issues, depending on the size of the journal staff, the resources available, and the discipline they cover. We therefore recommend using the audit in consultation with those who are most familiar with the journal’s abilities and constraints; i.e., the publisher and journal manager. If you identify any substantive issues in need of change, be aware that it may take a considerable time to alter the journal’s practices.
2. Relations with the outgoing editor
Ideally there should be a handover period with the new and old editor working together. The duration of this period should be established in agreement with the publisher. This should allow the outgoing editor to complete submissions they started dealing with. You should not overturn the previous editor’s acceptance decisions unless serious problems are identified, such as plagiarism or data fabrication.
3. Relations with the other editors/editorial board
In some journals, the editor-in-chief will be expected to work with a team of co-editors. Your appointment as a new editor offers a good opportunity to review and confirm the roles and responsibilities of all editors and editorial staff, so that everybody is clear about who does what. Most journals also have an editorial board, although their levels of activity and involvement vary. We recommend that you contact your board members and discuss your expectations of them (e.g., reviewing a certain number of manuscripts each year). Based on their response you may find that you wish to add new editorial board members, ask existing editorial board members to step down, and/or restructure the editorial board. Some journals have a policy of appointing editors for a fixed time period, and you will need to consult the publisher on these changes. You may also wish to change the direction of the journal or redefine its scope. This must be undertaken in agreement with the other editors and the publisher; otherwise editorial decisions may be inconsistent. New aims and scope need to be agreed on and clearly published in whatever medium the journal uses to communicate with authors, reviewers, and editors.
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