The Journal of Extension -

For JOE Reviewers—Principles

The following explanations and "principles" should guide you as a JOE reviewer.

Editorial Review

The editor reviews all JOE submissions initially to determine their suitability for double-blind review (Feature, Research in Brief, Ideas at Work) or publication (Commentary, Tools of the Trade). In 2008, she sent 58% (163 submissions) back to the corresponding authors for revision before accepting them as suitable for review or publication and rejected 12% (34 submissions).

This spares you the effort of reviewing outright inappropriate, unacceptable articles; helps new or non-academic authors learn something about what it is required of a scholarly article before their articles are subjected to double-blind review; and allows you as reviewers to focus more on the expertise-specific aspects of the articles you are reviewing.

The two-tier review process, your efforts combined with mine, allows JOE to legitimately claim to offer a "unique combination of professional development and academic rigor."

JOE Rigor

As you know, acceptance rates are critical for refereed, peer-reviewed journals like the Journal of Extension (JOE). If a journal's acceptance rate is too high, authors are less likely to submit articles. And authors who do submit to and are published in journals with a reputation for being less than rigorous do not receive the same credit as their colleagues who are published in more rigorous and thus more prestigious journals.

Unfortunately, JOE still fights the reputation of being "easy," despite the fact that we haven't been particularly easy to get published in for quite a while (as our acceptance rate attests). This reputation hurts JOE authors, who don't get the credit they deserve. It hurts JOE, which loses out on fine submissions from authors who must wrestle with the realities of promotion and tenure. It hurts JOE readers, who miss out on the opportunity to learn and benefit from articles that are published, instead, in more "reputable" journals. And it hurts JOE reviewers, too, in that they do not get proper recognition for the contributions they make.

This explanation has two points.

  1. JOE is not the same journal it was in 1995, when the acceptance rate was 85%. The current acceptance rate is 27.8%. Thus, with your help, we have been quite successful in "raising the JOE bar," and we need to let people know.

  2. You are not doing anybody any favors by softening your recommendations for disposition for fear of unduly discouraging authors or of seeming too exclusive. If you are torn between recommending major or minor revision, don't be. Bite the bullet, require major revision, and give the kind of supportive advice in your reviews that educates your colleagues and helps them revise and strengthen their articles. And sometimes you should bite that bullet even harder and recommend rejecting an article—needless to say, with a full explanation. Authors will learn from the experience, and JOE will continue to maintain an "acceptable acceptance rate."

Don't misunderstand. The editor does not mean that you should require major revision or reject an article just to "beef down" the acceptance rate. Some articles don't need major revision, and some need very little. But it is our job as editor and reviewers to both have high standards and to help our colleagues meet them.

Reviewing Submissions

Article Categories

As you review a submission, be mindful of its category. Each article category has particular criteria, both in terms of purpose and length. That's why the review form gives you the opportunity to recommend a change in category. The criteria for the various article categories are explained in the JOE Submission Guidelines.

Be protective of the Feature category, JOE's premier article category. Some JOE authors inflate what are really Research in Brief articles into Features because they perceive Features to be more prestigious (despite the fact that both kinds of articles go to three reviewers and are thus subjected to the same degree of rigor).

Comments on Review Forms & in Manuscripts

Provide comments and suggestions to support the recommendations for disposition you make on the review forms, even if you are recommending that a submission is acceptable for publication. Not only do your comments help authors revise their submissions, but they also help the editor, who must synthesize review results and guide authors in their revisions. Your comments are especially important on those occasions when the editor has to make sense for the author of sometimes quite discordant reviews.

The aim is not simply to "score" articles. The aim—and your obligation—is to bring your expertise to bear and provide insight that will help authors revise and strengthen their articles.

Make comments in the manuscripts themselves, as well. Making comments and asking questions in the manuscripts allows you to be more specific and "zero in on" areas of the articles you think need attention. This is often more directly helpful to authors than the more general evaluative comments you make on the review forms.

Overall Ratings & Dispositions

If you are suggesting a change in article category, this will much more than likely require major revision for length reduction reasons alone, not to mention the recasting that is often necessary.

Following are definitions/explanations of each recommendation for disposition.

  • Accepted for publication: The article is acceptable for publication as written, although you may make minor suggestions to further strengthen an already strong article.

  • Accepted for publication contingent on minor revision: The author must make minor revisions (as opposed to major or extensive revisions) before the article is acceptable for publication. Be specific about the minor revisions required.

  • Major revision and resubmission required: The author must make major, extensive revisions before the article is acceptable for publication. Be specific about the major revisions required. Virtually all recommendations for a change in article category require major revision.

  • Rejected for publication: The article does not meet the criteria and is simply not good enough to warrant space in JOE. (The editor rejects Features and Research in Brief articles for publication if they receive a major revision and resubmission recommendation for disposition and a reject recommendation for disposition from their reviewers or two reject recommendations for disposition. The editor gives authors the option of preparing a new submission on the same topic if reviewer consensus is that the article under review is not acceptable for publication.)

In the past, the editor has seen some discordance between numerical ratings (from 1 [weak] to 10 [strong]) and overall ratings and dispositions. There were quite a few 6's, 5's, and even 4's in some reviews specifying only minor revision. If your review contains more than a few ratings of 6, 5, and 4 out of 10, that does not suggest that only minor revision is required. Such discordance confuses authors. So please give some thought to how your numerical ratings and overall ratings and dispositions "square" with each other.

More Help for JOE Reviewers

The Help for JOE Authors page, although directed at JOE authors, should help you as you review the articles those authors have written. Needless to say, the other material linked on the For Reviewers page should also help.