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Open Access Research article

What do the JAMA editors say when they discuss manuscripts that they are considering for publication? Developing a schema for classifying the content of editorial discussion

Kay Dickersin1*, Elizabeth Ssemanda1, Catherine Mansell2 and Drummond Rennie3

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Epidemiology, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, 615 North Wolfe Street, Baltimore, Maryland 21205, USA

2 Providence, Rhode Island, USA

3 Deputy Editor JAMA, The Institute for Health Policy Studies, University of California San Francisco, San Francisco, California, USA

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BMC Medical Research Methodology 2007, 7:44  doi:10.1186/1471-2288-7-44

Published: 25 September 2007

Abstract

Background

In an effort to identify previously unrecognized aspects of editorial decision-making, we explored the words and phrases that one group of editors used during their meetings.

Methods

We performed an observational study of discussions at manuscript meetings at JAMA, a major US general medical journal. One of us (KD) attended 12 editorial meetings in 2003 as a visitor and took notes recording phrases from discussion surrounding 102 manuscripts. In addition, editors attending the meetings completed a form for each manuscript considered, listing the reasons they were inclined to proceed to the next step in publication and reasons they were not (DR attended 4/12 meetings). We entered the spoken and written phrases into NVivo 2.0. We then developed a schema for classifying the editors' phrases, using an iterative approach.

Results

Our classification schema has three main themes: science, journalism, and writing. We considered 2,463 phrases, of which 87 related mainly to the manuscript topic and were not classified (total 2,376 classified). Phrases related to science predominated (1,274 or 54%). The editors, most of whom were physicians, also placed major weight on goals important to JAMA's mission (journalism goals) such as importance to medicine, strategic emphasis for the journal, interest to the readership, and results (729 or 31% of phrases). About 16% (n = 373) of the phrases used related to writing issues, such as clarity and responses to the referees' comments.

Conclusion

Classification of editorial discourse provides insight into editorial decision making and concepts that need exploration in future studies.