HSR Author Instructions Part 3: Editorial Policies and Ethical Considerations

This post is part of a series explaining aspects of the author instructions (see also the checklist) for Health Services Research (HSR) as they existed circa March 2022. Each post quotes portions of the instructions and explains their import. Neither these posts nor the checklist are a substitute for reading and following the full set of instructions, which is expected of all authors for all submissions. 

This post focuses on portions of Subection 3.2, the Review portion of the Editorial Policies and Ethical Considerations section.

Section 3.2: “…Manuscripts will be sent to external review only if the Senior Managing Editor, Editor(s)-in-Chief, and Senior Associate Editors determine that they meet quality and relevance requirements….”

Manuscripts are assessed by the managing editors to check for compliance with author instructions. Many manuscripts are sent back to authors for corrections for failure to follow the instructions. I know this seems annoying to authors. They may think, “Can’t they assess my manuscript on scientific merit before making me [include funding information in my Acknowledgements | explain why my data are all older than 5 years | structuring my abstract in HSR style | etc.]?”

Actually, no. These things are expected by us and reviewers, and it’s in your interest to do them. When editors and reviewers have to do extra work, or make inferences, to fill in the gaps they’re going to be less pleased with your contribution. We send manuscripts back to fix these things so that you have the best possible review experience and are not at a disadvantage relative to other manuscripts with which you are competing for space in the journal.

Once the manuscript has all required elements, the Senior Managing Editor checks it for broad themes of scientific contribution and looks for similar work in HSR and elsewhere, among other things. It may be desk rejected at this point if it’s an obvious bad fit for HSR. Otherwise, then the Editor-in-Chief (EIC; that’s me) considers your manuscript. Desk rejection is possible at this stage as well. If not, it is assigned to a Senior Associate Editor (SAE) for consideration and possible assignment to reviewers. The SAE, with reviewer input as warranted, makes a recommendation to the EIC (reject, accept, revise).

Section 3.2: “… The acceptance criteria for all papers [includes the] clarity and organization of writing…”

Yes, we expect manuscripts to be well written. We have asked authors to revise manuscripts for writing. This is a challenging ask, but we must make it from time to time. What’s challenging is that we cannot tell the author all the ways in which the writing is not acceptable. To do so would be tantamount to doing the editing for them, which would make us co-authors! When we request that an author improve their writing, they will have to find a way to get feedback, perhaps from a colleague or a professional, scientific editing organization.

Section 3.2: “… Submissions authored by researchers with whom a particular editor has close relationships (for example mentor/mentee, recent coauthor, academic department member) or prior personal or professional conflicts will not be handled by that editor…”

We take this very seriously. Just because you’re buddies with an HSR editor doesn’t mean you’ll get (unfairly) favorable treatment. Just because you’ve had a conflict with an HSR editor doesn’t meant you’ll get (unfairly) unfavorable treatment. This is as it should be.

I will skip over the very short Sections 4 and 5 (Article Preparation Support and Assistance Upon Rejection, respectively). Though not unimportant, they’re so brief you can go read them in full in a moment yourself. In the next post I’ll cover a few post-acceptance topics in Sections 6-9, wrapping up this series.

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