Guest blog: Writing and reviewing for ROLSI (1)

The process of having your paper reviewed by a journal, and indeed of reviewing for it, can seem mysterious. Certainly we don’t talk about it much; it feels like a private affair between author and editor, and reviewer and editor, respectively. So I’m particularly pleased that Søren Beck Nielsen, a friend of ROLSI and a wonderful researcher making a name for himself in the interaction studies community, has agreed to write this two-part guest blog. In this first part, be recounts his experience as a submitting author.

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Søren Beck Nielsen,  University of Copenhagen

What’s it like to write and review papers for ROLSI? Some personal experiences

In these two blogs I shall try to get across my personal experiences of two very different, but related, engagements with ROLSI: sending in a paper for publication and, on the other side of the fence, acting as a reviewer on someone else’s submission.

Part 1: Writing papers for ROLSI: two concrete examples

The first time I submitted a manuscript for ROLSI was in 2008. It was an analysis of verbal accounts, given on behalf of cognitively, physiologically or socially challenged patients, in geriatric case conferences. The study was a part of my PhD research, and this particular focus had been on my mind for some time. I had done a talk about the subject for the first time at the Center for Language, Interaction, and Culture conference at the University of California Santa Barbara back in 2005. Upon receiving my PhD degree in 2007, I figured it was time to try to publish the study. This was the first time I submitted a manuscript for an international journal, and I had no doubt that my first choice should be ROLSI. So what happened when I heard back, after an apprehensive wait?

Not really knowing what to expect, I was nonetheless completely surprised to receive what seemed like a pile of documents:

  1. a substantial editorial decision letter,
  2. a document that collected three anonymous reviewers’ overall assessments and careful, detailed and very lengthy comments (on what seemed to be just about everything I had poured into the manuscript); and
  3. the editor’s detailed suggestions on how to proceed and possibly prioritise among various options.

That last document surprised me the most. Was this really standard procedure when you submit a manuscript to an academic journal? I later found out that it wasn’t (and still isn’t, for many journals).

Reviewers’ Comments.

The document with reviewer comments was a revelation. It was clear that three experienced researchers had spent a great deal of time reading my text, carefully observing its potentials and shortcomings, and that each of them had invested a lot of effort in communicating their observations in constructive and diplomatic ways. The message from two of the reviewers was ‘revise and resubmit: major work required’. The editor concurred to this decision, and – as I mentioned – supplemented the decision with extensive suggestions as to how to go about making the changes.

All this made me return to the study – listening again to the recordings, reading the transcripts once more, reconsidering the collection I had made, reviewing the categories, and observing the selected examples more carefully. The revision required hard work that took a couple of months. But it paid off. Not long after I submitted the revised version came the letter of acceptance. That was terrifically gratifying.


University of Copenhagen, Denmark

The final paper came out the following year in 2009. That same year I successfully applied for a position as assistant professor. I won’t speculate on whether this paper made the difference or not in that process, but it certainly helped to accompany the application with a recently published paper in such a well-regarded journal. Furthermore, the publication definitely also opened some collegial, networking windows. For example, I’ve been approached by peers who have read the paper and who wished to discuss elements in it, or who have wanted to compare the results with some of their own findings.

My second experience

The second time I submitted a manuscript for ROLSI was more recently, in the spring of 2015. I analysed a particular aspect of general practitioners’ use of digital records during consultations: do doctors explain to patients that they are about to read the records? Under what circumstances do they provide such explanations? How do they design them?

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A doctor managing computer records during a patient consultation. From Nielsen (2016)

An encouraging note from the editor followed just a few days later, saying that the manuscript would be sent in review – another welcome surprise, because I’ve had the experience with other journals of waiting for several months just for that sort of initial decision. A couple of months later, in the late summer, I received a package similar to the one back in 2008, that is, an editorial decision that read ‘revise and resubmit: major work required’, a document that compiled lengthy and detailed comments and assessments from three reviewers, and a letter from the editor, which commented upon the overall assessment and suggested a potentially feasible way to go about doing the revision.

Once again there was a lot of work to be done. All three reviewers agreed that the study displayed potential. But they also all agreed that it was much too unfocused. So one of the challenges was to fundamentally reconsider the aim of the analyses. The reviewers provided excellent help. I shan’t go into the details of what the reviewers said – suffice it to say that their comments were sharp, constructive and imaginative.

One thing strikes me as I reflect back on how the reviewers’ reading prompted me to radically change the paper. It is remarkable how much reviewers can contribute to an investigation whilst remaining acknowledged merely anonymously in a footnote. I have no idea who the three reviewers are, but I’m grateful to them for profoundly improving my study.

How long do you get for a revision?

I understand that it’s ROLSI’s policy to ensure that the revision and the publication process isn’t prolonged unnecessarily. Ask any researcher, and I’ll bet that they’ll agree that this is a most reasonable and well-needed policy. I witnessed one of its manifestations when I was given ‘only’ two months to complete the revision. Initially, I thought this gave me plenty of time. But I soon found out that I was in a great hurry. Once again, there was a lot of work to be done – more than in the first case, actually (where I was given six months as I recall it). And I did spend most of the two months doing the revision. Luckily, this effort also paid off. I resubmitted in mid-fall, and within a few days I was asked to conduct a number of minor changes. So I did, and in late-fall of 2015 I received the final letter of acceptance. I did the final proof reading in January 2016 and the paper will to come out very shortly. Who knows what it will bring for me.

The Editor is pleased to add: it brought Søren Beck Nielsen a publication: a very welcome article in the just-released Volume 49 issue 1:

Nielsen, S B (2016) How Doctors Manage Consulting Computer Records While Interacting With Patients. Research on Language and Social Interaction, 49(1) pp 58-74

The second part of Søren Beck Nielsen’s blog, on reviewing for ROLSI, will appear soon.