If At First You Don't Succeed...


(Update: Forgot to mention that my original submission is available here if anyone is interested or would like to provide feedback.)

Today, this Friday the 13th, I think that sentence could be completed with either "give up" or "get angry and fight back." I might have mentioned a while back (couldn't find a blog entry on it) that, in order to complete my grad research, I needed to produce a paper and get it published in an academic, juried journal. These journals have peer reviews in addition to editors and are supposed to be of higher quality. I did the exercise as requested, but I've always been leery. My expectation was that the submission would get bounced back with a request for revisions. I did not, however, expect the result that I received today: outright rejection. Not the best way to start the day, and a good way to get me very wound up about things. Here it is, my very first attempt at publishing something, and I was not even given a chance to submit a revision. But it gets worse...

Where my mind boggles is that all three reviewers said the manuscript was relevant to the magazine. 2 of 3 explicitly said that the research was interesting. Yet, despite a fairly moderate response, the editorial decision was to reject the manuscript in its entirety without revisions. I just find the process insulting. Let me walk you through some of the comments and see if you come to the same conclusions.

The Associate Editor in charge of my manuscript was the most insulting. Specifically, they said:

"...your paper needs a great deal of work before it is ready for publication. As the reviewers point out, the work is not new, the literature review is incomplete, there is no scientific rigor underpinning your claims -- in short, there is too much missing for this paper to be seriously considered for S&P. The gaps are so great that the reviewers cannot really judge the work's merit. For this reason, we suggest that you read the reviewers' comments carefully and reconsider whether S&P is the right forum for presenting your work."

What I find most offensive about these comments is that they are not in sync with the reviewer comments. Yes, 1 reviewer recommended rejection (though they also found the research relevant and interesting). It seems, really, that this Assoc. Editor keyed in on the one negative review and completely ignored the others. Very strange.

Perhaps most annoying about these comments is the assertion that this research is not original. People clearly didn't get it, for which I take some responsibility. They all keyed in on the Literature Review, that cataloged various infosec methods, and instead interpreted the cataloging as comparing, which it's not doing. And then to look at my completely new model and say that my work is not original. Really. And if it's not original, show me where it's been done before! Sheesh!

So, here are some brief notes from the reviewers:

Reviewer 1 says:

* Reject
* Manuscript is Relevant to the magazine
* Manuscript Rating: Poor
* Key Comments:
      - "The idea of exploring an unified assurance management model seems to be interesting."
      - "I would like to have the opportunity to have more details regarding it in the text. The manuscript submitted by the authors seems to be an outline for a paper, not a paper specifically."
      - "I found some typos and misconceptions in the text. ISO is a method or standard? The text lacks details regarding the experimental study..."

So, for Reviewer 1, I'm really confused. On the one hand, they seemed to think the work was useful. On the other hand, they recommended outright rejection, and their opinion seemed to weigh more heavily than the other two reviews. Providing more details was a major challenge for this paper. According to the manuscript guidelines, I had to condense 100+ pages down to 15 or fewer, and I had to reduce my dozens of references to 15 or less.

They mention typos and misconceptions, but they don't really expand on that. I went through the manuscript again this morning and could only find 1 typo at all. So, either they're using a different style of grammar, or they were simply prejudicial against the work and unloaded on it. As for misconceptions, their confusion about the work in its entirety seems apparent from the question asked. The answer is, of course, "both." ISO 27001 is a Standard (capital S), but in the defined language of my text, it's also a method.

My conclusion with this reviewer is to take it with a grain of salt. Clearly I failed in effectively communicating my objectives, but also clear is that this reviewer really didn't get it. Something to work on in the next attempt!

Reviewer 2 says:

* Accept If Certain Minor Revisions Are Made
* Manuscript is Relevant to the magazine
* Manuscript Rating: Good
* Key Comments:
      - "The final part of paper is too sintetic."
      - Need more detail, references.

I didn't find this review to be too bad. It was the thinnest of the three, but also the most charitable. I don't know what "sintetic" is supposed to mean. Maybe synthetic? As in, it seems manufactured or forced? I was required by my defense committee to go back and add a bunch of statistical analysis, even though the survey tool was not designed for it. That can be easily redacted and summarized in other ways (and probably should be). I'm wondering if that's what felt wrong in this reviewer's opinion.

Reviewer 3 says:

* Author Should Prepare A Major Revision For A Second Review
* Manuscript is Very Relevant to the magazine
* Manuscript Rating: Fair
* Key Comments:
      - "The paper is interesting and presents potentially publishable work. However, at its current form, it lacks sufficient theoretical rigour and appropriate structure as a research paper."
      - "The paper's research strategy, albeit strong, is not appropriately documented. The research strategy is not explicitly communicated, explaining to the readership how and why the hypotheses were derived, what is the actual validation instrument ('survey tool'), how it was piloted and how was the actual data received as feedback from the field experts processed and interpreted etc."
      - Revise with an expanded structure.

This review is, hands down, the best of the three. It was extremely detailed, well thought-out, and instructive. It's encouraging that they saw the value in the research. Like the others, they seemed to miss the point a bit, but overall it wasn't too bad. I'm currently working on a revised manuscript (for a new submission) that takes this advice into consideration.

The big lessons for me here are:
1) Provide more information on the process. Be more transparent.
2) Try to max out the references list if at all possible.
3) Don't worry about word count. If it's too long, they can tell you to reduce it. This is probably a better approach than what I did, which was have too little meat and get the whole thing rejected outright.

All that being said, I will definitely resubmit. I think the advice received is useful. I'm still perturbed about the Assoc. Editor's comments, because they clearly do not represent the comments of the reviewers (unless there is non-disclosed commentary). All 3 reviewers said that the manuscript was relevant to the magazine, so I'm just going to disregard this particular Editor comment ("...we suggest that you read the reviewers' comments carefully and reconsider whether S&P is the right forum for presenting your work."). Of course it's the right forum, and they all agreed! Sheesh.

Overall, I don't view this is a particularly positive experience. It's reinforced many of the concerns and criticisms that I held about this genre of writing.


Isn't calling the guy an ass and raving about their elitism in a public forum a good way to get your submissions permanently denied?

Just sayin'....


Thanks for the comment, Richard. I think you're right, so I've gone back and re-edited some of the disparagements. I'm still very frustrated by the process, because it seems incredibly unfair.



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