Building the Social Work Literature in Health

By Ross, Judith W. | Health and Social Work, May 1993 | Go to article overview

Building the Social Work Literature in Health

Ross, Judith W., Health and Social Work

At least once during a term of office, most editors-in-chief conduct a process and content assessment and reflect on the purposes, goals, and significance of publishing for their profession. In my first editorial (Ross, 1991), I wrote about the responsibilities of editors and others involved with Health & Social Work; experience has enlivened my appreciation for these roles. With about 1 1/2 years remaining as editor-in-chief of the journal, I think it is time to reflect on what I have learned and to comment on the challenges I see ahead.


Journal editors are perpetually considering the importance of the literature for building and disseminating knowledge and for maintaining a "consensus of values and ideals relative to professional priorities" (Williams & Hopps, 1987, p. Journals are social work's most prominent medium for communicating new ideas and preserving our belief system.

Editorial Board

The editor-in-chief does not work alone; without a committed editorial board, the quality of a journal cannot be assured. The editorial board is a small group of scholars, educators, and practitioners attuned to relevant and current issues and knowledgeable about social work theory. Within the framework of professional values, the board sets policy and standards and stimulates manuscript submissions by shaping calls for papers on important and timely topics. Along with consulting editors, board members share the yeoman task of reviewing manuscripts, a task that requires discernment and familiarity with the literature.

Manuscript Review

Critical evaluation of manuscripts is formidable work and requires a considerable time commitment. The reviewers, all of whom are volunteers and most of whom are employed full-time, have input into the fate of manuscripts, but the editor-in-chief makes the final determination regarding publication. The editor-in-chief decides whether to encourage revision of a flawed manuscript or to reject a marginal piece because of poor writing, faulty scholarship, questionable credibility, or lack of new ideas, all of which suggest that a revision would not substantially improve the work.

Although my position as editor-in-chief places me on top of the decision tree, I am sensitive to the powerlessness authors feel in the publication process and to their disappointment when work is not accepted. Authors deserve to receive detailed suggestions for improving their work, even when a revision is not being solicited. Previously I did not fully appreciate the necessity for anonymous review, a demanding code that requires the complicity of all participants. Now I am convinced that it is impossible to review work exclusively on merit if the covenant of author and reviewer anonymity is broken. During the review period authors should not reveal their identities with self-disclosing references to previous work, biographies, or personal initials (such details can be added before publication). Similarly, reviewers abstain from reviewing manuscripts when they suspect they know the identity of the author. The editor-in-chief also must guard against bias; communications between editor and author are made only through anonymous written comments while a manuscript is in review.

Manuscript Acceptance

Much effort and thought goes into crafting an article for journal publication. Authors can buy some insurance against rejection by avoiding the following common problems in manuscripts submitted to Health & Social Work:

* a research design that undermines the author's interpretation of results

* overstatement of the implications of a study

* lack of a theoretical context or framework when reporting on clinical work

* overly simplistic, superficial, or basic discussions of clinical interventions or reviews that present no new information

* failure in articles about clients with unusual medical problems to give new psychosocial information or to provide unique intervention models

* obvious mistakes in grammar and spelling, ignoring journal style, general sloppiness, and mathematical errors. …

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