Life Cycle of the Journal (Pt. I)
Updated: Nov 11, 2020
by Rachel Czwartacky
This is one blog post in a series about law journals written by Michigan Journal of Gender & Law. The goal of the series is to ‘demystify’ law journals, something that many first-year law students, especially those who are first generation and haven’t had many opportunities to interact with the legal profession, are unfamiliar with when they begin law school. We hope to explain some basic concepts, like what a law journal is, what law journal processes look like, and why a law student might (or might not) want to join one. MJGL hopes that providing access to information on these topics will play a small part in promoting transparency and making elite spaces more accessible. If you are interested in writing a piece for the series, want to see a particular topic covered, or have questions or comments, please email GenCoor@umich.edu
Before I started working on the Michigan Journal of Gender & Law, I had mostly no idea what being on a law journal involved. I knew about enough to tell my parents that no, being on a journal does not mean you write all the articles like on a school newspaper, but that was about it.
If my parents pressed me further, I probably said something like “copyediting” or “proofreading I guess” and for my first year on the Journal, that wasn’t too far off. As an Associate Editor - as most journals call their staff - I knew that the work I was doing was just one piece of a big journal publication puzzle, and I knew what the puzzle was supposed to look like by the end. But for my first year on the Journal I didn’t know how the rest of the pieces came together and that was often confusing, occasionally frustrating, and sometimes even a little isolating.
I didn’t learn much more about how an issue of the Journal comes together until it was time to start thinking about whether to run for an Editorial Board position (on MJGL our board is elected). Now, from this vantage point, I can see how the responsibilities of the different Editors come together over the course of the many steps of the publishing process. When you learn a little more about how your role fits into the whole, suddenly the whole endeavor feels like a much more meaningful scholarly collaboration than it did before!
So, if you are like me and you like to know how things work, here’s a brief explainer about the life cycle of a journal issue. This isn’t one size fits all - I know plenty of other journals do things differently than MJGL. Still, I hope it’s helpful for anyone who’d like to learn a little bit more about how journals work and, if you’re on a journal or considering applying, where your work fits into the bigger picture.
Selecting Pieces for Publication
Each issue starts with our Selections Editor and a committee of Associate Editors reading incoming submissions. We have a few requirements we “triage” for like length and, unsurprisingly, a focus on the intersection of gender and law, but otherwise Selections is reading for interesting ideas, clear structure, and original thought.
The Selections Editor recommends pieces to the Editors-in-Chief who decide whether or not to extend an offer to publish. We publish four to five pieces in each issue, at least one of which will almost always come from a member of the journal (MJGL has a publication guarantee for its members, subject to certain criteria!). The pieces can vary in length and we do not necessarily try to group topics into single issues, but the Selections Editor’s role is to keep an eye on how the overall issue is coming together and help make the decision when to “close” the issue to new submissions.
We publish twice a year, and always hope to have our pieces selected for the next issue before the current one comes out. For example, the Selections deadline for the May 2021 MJGL issue is this November, and they started looking in June. This means the committee is almost always in the process of selecting and reading new material!
The Editing Rounds
After an article is selected for publication, the Article Editors, Editors-in-Chief, and Executive Editors start to work on edits, going back and forth with the author of the piece over several “rounds.” On MJGL, Article Editors are selected per semester, with two to three assigned to each piece, so more members get a chance to try out Article Editing if it interests them.
These rounds start out broad and get narrower - early rounds are focused on overall structure, clarity, and development of the author’s argument. Another early focus is on substantive support - whether the author is supporting their own ideas both by logically building up to their point and by using other sources. If an author might need to seek more support through additional research, this is a discussion we want to have with them right away!
Later rounds will involve more line editing that actually focuses on an author’s text, consistency (i.e., using the same terms to refer to the same concepts), and bringing the piece in line with our journal’s house style. For example, as you may have noticed, MJGL likes to use the singular “they” as a gender neutral pronoun; we also disfavor use of a lot of latin phrases. Being an editor during these rounds is a fine line between suggesting changes that can help a reader better connect with a piece and suggesting changes just because we think something else might be better. We never want to edit so much that the author’s unique voice and perspective is lost.
The views expressed in this post represent the views of the post's author only.