Between being and nothingness: The editorial management of scientific journals today


The changes that are taking place in the way of making and communicating scientific advances in the Social Sciences and Humanities pose challenges for the editorial projects of journals, create some opportunities, and involve some risks.

In the last three decades, but especially in the most recent one, the editorial management models of Social Sciences and Humanities journals have been substantially modified, thus becoming a more complex, dynamic task that tends towards professionalization. To date, editorial teams have to ensure not only the meaning and unity of a publication and the originality and scientific significance of articles, reviews, interviews and other materials they publish, but also that their members build other social, bureaucratic and technical skills that have little or nothing to do with academic and scientific work per se.

Consequently, scientific journals that aim to earn a spot in the academic community should consider several issues, regardless of the management model they adopt. Firstly, despite the difficulties involved, the number of new specialized periodicals continues to increase, particularly in the field of Education Sciences. For this reason, editorial teams must make an extra effort to define more clearly a project that arouses the interest and recognition of the scientific community, trying to respond to the interests, concerns, and needs of a significant part of it and to endow the editorial project with certain character that distinguishes it from others.

Depending on the discipline or field of knowledge in question, the task of finding a good scientific and intellectual niche will be more or less simple, but it always entails some risk of over-specialization, which, due to a lack of scientific production, could rapidly deplete the editorial project or turn into feedbacked intellectual circuits.

The second issue editors must address is the quality of the journal’s management. It should conform to international standards of good practice that indicate the seriousness, rigor and professionalism of a publication, at least externally. They regulate the formal aspects to be considered, such as transparency in the publishing processes, accessibility to contents, intellectual opening and internationalization of authors and members of editorial teams, their complete identification, originality of studies, peer review of contributions, presence of the publication in repositories and databases, compliance with periodicity, and adherence to an editorial ethical code. Sometimes, as in the case of review of originals, compliance with good practice presents an additional challenge for publishers, since it requires that they can weave a wide network of external collaborators—specialists in the discipline who rigorously evaluate the scientific nature and publishing timeliness of the articles received.

Afterwards, the indexation and marketing strategy must be outlined to bring research to the scientific community. Traditionally, this was achieved initially through university libraries and research centers which, either through costly subscriptions or exchanges of publications, acquired, cataloged and made available to the public the most novel science and culture advances. Now, this is still very useful for all journals, whether open-access or fee-access. However, as digital journals extend and consolidate, international databases, which also have their own catalogs of good practice and an impact or popularity ranking, play a key role in the possibilities of disseminating papers and their access. More recently, the complexity of disseminating papers published in journals has increased due to the relative generalization of social media, whether specifically designed for academic communication or not, which have a significant impact on the popularization of journals and respond to the need to publicize research results immediately. Such issues demand that editorial teams have a wide range of technical, bureaucratic and advertising knowledge.

Given the current situation, scientific journals of Education, as well as the rest of the Social Sciences and Humanities, will face some challenges in the medium term. The bottom line is that editorial teams should continue to use their best efforts in maintaining the originality, soundness and scientific interest of published works, without which everything else makes no sense. The definition of the editorial project—what distinguishes a journal from others—is a more complex and stringent requirement for journals of Education, due to the large number of them.

On the other hand, publications that already have good indexation should maintain the level to remain there and continue to adapt to the new demands of editorial management. Furthermore, newer publishing projects must draw up dissemination strategies that incorporate social media, carry out meticulous indexing work, and adopt international standards of good publishing practice.

All this leads, among other things, to editorial teams being prepared to face multiple technical tasks and establish more intense and fluid working pace and styles, in which coordination, collaboration and communication acquire greater relevance.

The trend towards standardization of editorial projects may cause journals to dilute their identity, abandon their scientific, academic and—why not—political project, and become non-spaces of scientific communication. This is yet another reason to emphasize the importance of defining scientific and editorial projects that feed specialized journals, particularly of Education.

To conclude, we have plenty of opportunities and possibilities to try to make the academic environment somewhat freer, more dynamic and democratic, in which communication, collaboration, cooperation and fraternal solidarity in our endeavors are the principles behind the activity. A good example of this is the widespread open-access movement and the increasing use of social and academic media.

José Luis Hernández Huerta

Postdoctoral scholar in Theories and Cultures in Education, from the Pontifícia Universidade Católica do Rio Grande do Sul (Porto Alegre, Brazil, 2016). He has been a professor since 2011 at the School of Education of Palencia, attached to the Department of Philosophy of the University of Valladolid. He is the editor-in-chief of the FahrenHouse publishing house, editor of the journals Foro de Educación and Espacio, Tiempo y Educación, and the scientific blog Connecting Education: Global Information on History of Education. He is part of the International Standing Conference on the History of Education (ISCHE), the Spanish Society of History of Education (SEDHE) and the Sociedade Brasileira de História da Educação (SBHE). More information at:éLuisHernándezHuerta.