Editorial comments by the Editor in Chief

Original text by David L. Kirchman, November 1993

Updated by the present Editor in Chief, Everett Fee, May 2009

The words of previous L&O editors (Edmondson 1984; Jumars 1987, Kirchman 1993, Kirchman 1994) will not lead aspiring authors astray, although perceptive readers may detect an evolution in editorial views which may be informative (but certainly not necessary) for successful publication here.

The scientific scope of the journal is also described in the L&O manuscript preparation Web page, but is probably best ascertained simply by skimming a few issues. We interpret limnology and oceanography in the broadest sense, and have no bias for or against any subject. Manuscripts are screened for quality alone; the mix of papers in the journal largely reflects the kind of material that is submitted, which, in turn, represents what people are working on at any given time. While there is no deliberate editorial policy behind any trends in topics that may appear in L&O, perceptions of bias tend to reinforce themselves, so that when few papers on a subject appear, even fewer manuscripts on that subject are then submitted; and manuscripts that are not submitted obviously stand no chance of publication. One prominent exception to our expansive editorial policy is that manuscripts consisting solely of abstract models without data relating them to actual events in the real world are rarely accepted for review. This policy was adopted early in the journal's history when each ecological model, and sometimes each computer program, was considered to be a major contribution by its designer. Over time this policy has served the journal well and there is no compelling reason to overturn it.

This page describes the various things that can happen to a paper after submission to L&O, defines the types of L&O papers, provides guidelines for referencing in papers, and discusses the difficult issue of dual publication.

The fate of papers submitted to L&O

The following constitutes Part 3 of our guidelines for reviewers It contains the reviewer's recommendation to the editor on what the fate of the paper should be. A reviewer can recommend:

  • Accept for L&O after suitable revision.. This paper will probably be ultimately accepted; indicate whether your recommended revisions are minor or major in scope, and whether you are willing to review the author's revision.
  • Reject, but encourage resubmission to L&O. Some of the material is worthy of publication in L&O, but the needed revisions are so extensive that any resubmission should be considered a new paper. Again, indicate whether you are willing to review the revision (if it is submitted.)
  • Reject without possibility of resubmission to L&O.O is discouraged. The material is not worthy of publication in L&O (if the authors should consider submission to another journal, please give that journal's name.)

The purpose of these categories is to sort out papers as soon as possible into two piles: Those that look like they will be accepted, and others that won't. The first and last categories are self-evident; the middle one is where problems arise. Reviewers are frequently tempted to use the "Reject, but encourage resubmission to L&O" recommendation for marginal papers. But in practice their response following revision frequently remains lukewarm and most of these papers are eventually rejected after several months of waiting and a lot of work for the author, editor, and reviewers; in retrospect, it would have been better for everyone involved if the paper had been definitively rejected initially. Thus, this recommendation should put authors on notice that they need to do something radical to their paper if they want it published in L&O. Indeed, such revisions are frequently so extensive that the nature of the paper has changed to the point that new reviewers are needed.

Types of L&O papers

How papers are formatted depends on their type:

Articles

Research papers containing original ideas and supporting data. In the past we also published short original research papers in a distinct format (Notes); but the recent (May 2009) move to immediate on-line publication of L&O papers on the Web removed the primary reason for this format (i.e., starting a Note on the same page where the prior one ended to conserve pages in the printed journal). No longer having this format will also remove the widespread misperception that short papers (previously 'Notes') are in some way scientifically inferior to Articles, which anybody who has had a Note reviewed at L&O knows certainly isn't the case!

Comments

Essays that discuss papers previously published in L&O or other scientific issues of interest to our readers. Comments provide new interpretations or insights of existing data and typically involve substantive disagreement between parties on the interpretation of findings. If a manuscript contains original data it should be submitted as an Article rather than Comment, regardless of whether the discussion of the new data focuses on a previous L&O paper.

In the past, Comments have also dealt with issues concerning ASLO. However, there is now another ASLO journal (the Limnology and Oceanography Bulletin) for such materials.

Limnology and Oceanography: Reviews

Scholarly reviews are a new type of L&O paper (begun autumn 2005). They do not carry the requirement for (but nevertheless may contain) original data, as regular L&O Articles do. Novelty of approach and likely impact on practice and thought, as with all L&O manuscripts, remain essential discriminants of manuscripts that will be accepted for publication in the limited space available for this type of paper in L&O. Application of novel theory derived from or tested against published empirical results is especially encouraged. For more general information about Limnology and Oceanography: Reviews papers, see the article by Peter Jumars in the L&O Bulletin, which is available online as a separate PDF file.

Errata

Manuscripts that correct problems in an L&O paper should be sent to the author of the paper in question. If the author agrees with the correction s/he should contact the Editor in Chief about publishing an erratum (including a generous acknowledgment to the person who identified the problem).

Authors are encouraged to contact the Editor in Chief prior to formal submission to confirm that submission as a Comment is appropriate.

References in L&O papers

L&O severely restricts the number of references. There are several reasons for this policy. First, the amount of money that ASLO has to spend on the journal is absolutely limited, and competition for space is fierce. Excessive references consume space that could be used to publish more papers. Second, a long string of references breaks up the narration and makes it harder to follow the train of thought. Excessive references also lengthen the paper without adding new ideas or data; it is well known that the number of readers decreases exponentially with the length of a paper. But the most serious reason to limit references is that unnecessary references diminish the importance of truly significant previous studies. Long strings of references inevitably include papers of lesser quality or those that add little to the debate. By not being selective,the author is giving all equal weight; if a paper is important enough to cite, the reader should be told why. The general guideline for inclusion of a reference is whether the science of the present paper requires inclusion of the reference.

Here are some specific guidelines for referencing papers in L&O: Over referencing in L&O papers is most common in the introduction and secondarily in the discussion. General truisms and obvious facts, i.e., things that are not debatable, do not need supporting references. In fact, better papers do without such statements entirely. Ideas needing support should give AT MOST three references: the study that first suggests the idea, a recent review or another paper that discusses it in detail, and perhaps the most recent important study. There is no need to cite old papers that have been superseded by new ones. When more than three references are really required too many ideas are probably being packed into one sentence. Increasing the number of citations does not improve an idea; if readers do not believe a statement with three references, they won't when >3 are cited. "Giving credit where credit is due" is NOT an adequate reason for citing a paper: simply citing a paper is not giving proper credit -- the paper must also be adequately discussed, which is not possible with >3. Remember, the purpose of citing is not to acknowledge colleagues' work, but to push the science forward.

Dual Publication

There are two main reasons why publishing the same material in different papers is not permitted. First, from a scientific viewpoint, due to space limitations in journals, dual publication of the same material will exclude the publication of new useful material that is not yet in the public domain. This is an unfair result which impedes the progress of science. Second, from a legal standpoint, dual publication may be a violation of the copyright laws. Most journals require the authors to assign their copyright in the manuscript to the journal. Thus such material cannot be duplicated or re-used without permission of the journal.

L&O's criteria for rejecting a manuscript on the basis of potential or actual dual publication include any paper that has been published, any paper that is accepted for publication, and any paper that is under consideration for publication in another peer reviewed and copyrighted publication. However, MS and PhD theses are exceptions: they are reviewed and copyrighted, but not widely disseminated. Certain kinds of "grey literature" may not be republished in L&O, including chapters of books and proceedings of conferences that are published in copyrighted books. In particular, re-use of any presentation of data, e.g., tables and figures, is not permitted.

The various rapidly emerging electronic media pose new problems for editors. L&O archives materials that are either too bulky (large tables) or of a nature that precludes appearance in the printed version (video clips) on the L&O website. These "Web Appendices" have undergone peer review and are copyrighted; therefore, material in them may not be reused in another paper. This is fundamentally different than the informal posting of preprints or data on personal websites, or on CD-ROMs that are not readily available to the average reader (typically these CDs summarize the proceedings of a conference, and are not peer reviewed or copyrighted). Such electronic venues are informal and evanescent; consequently, papers that appear in them may not be cited in L&O, which operates strictly in the formal realm of scientific communication (citation is advised as "author, unpublished" if they are the sole source of a good idea or data). On the other hand, such technically unpublished papers may be submitted to L&O.

Perhaps the most difficult cases for editors to deal with are those in which the same or very similar material is used more than once in a series of papers on the same topic (a practice graphically referred to as 'shingling.') Deciding when such overlap is excessive is difficult because subsequent papers are not identical and some mention of prior work in the introduction and discussion is appropriate. Thus, shingling is a problem only in degree. One thing is clear, however: the presented data (figures and tables) must be exclusive to each paper.

To ease the editor's job of deciding whether something constitutes dual publication, authors are strongly advised to disclose any prior use of data or text in the cover letter accompanying their submission, and to include copies of papers that previously used the material in question. Editors who discover serendipitously that something in an L&O submission was published elsewhere are less likely to decide in the author's favor than if they learn about it from the author.

If you are having doubts about a particular manuscript or want an opinion concerning a related issue, please contact the L&O Editor in chief.


To say that the Editor-in-chief's main job is to ensure the high quality of L&O sounds like quite a heavy responsibility. Fortunately, it would be hard for any single person to mess up L&O badly. The journal has an excellent group of Associate Editors and a professional editorial staff. Just as important are its solid tradition, and the many reliable and thoughtful scientists who review for the journal.

References

Edmondson, Y. H. 1984. Editorial comment: The natural history of a manuscript. Limnol. Oceanogr. 29: 1145-1148.

Jumars, P. A. 1987. Editorial comment: The evolving natural history of a manuscript. Limnol. Oceanogr. 32: 1011-1014.

Kirchman, D. L. 1993. Message from the editor: What's so special about an L&O paper. ASLO Bulletin 2(2): 2-3.

Kirchman, D. L. 1994. Editorial comment: Natural history of a manuscript, revisited. Limnol. Oceanogr. 39: 739-741.

From the Editor