Selecting Editorial Board Members for Technical Communication Quarterly

At the 2021 SIGDOC editors roundtable, a question was posed by Dr. Lauren E. Cagle, regarding editorial board procedures, specifically the process of becoming a journal editorial board member. With the goal of greater transparency, Technical Communication Quarterly (TCQ) editor-in-chief Dr. Rebecca Walton and managing editor Hannah Stevens are answering this question more thoroughly by explaining the TCQ process for choosing editorial board members in this blog post.

As far as the big-picture process, potential members of the editorial board are proposed by the TCQ editor to the ATTW executive committee for approval. But this explanation raises the question of how potential editorial board members are selected in the first place.

First, a bit of context. Regarding inclusion and equity in academic publishing, research has identified tremendous gender disparities in the publication process including citation gaps (Dworkin et al., 2020; King, 2017; Maliniak, Powers, & Walter, 2013; Pells, 2018), first author disparities (Larivière et al., 2013; West et al., 2013), and fewer women serving on editorial boards and participating in the peer-review process (Cho, et al., 2014; Lerback & Hanson, 2017; Makunga, 2017). Similar disparities exist in terms of racial imbalances in the publication process: e.g., patterns of white authors being cited more frequently, including in scholarship about racial issues (Krayden, 2017; Ray, 2018; Roberts et al., 2020); repeated desk rejections of publishable work (Williams, 2020); and gatekeeping regarding what constitutes academic research (Buchanan, 2019; Delgado, 1984). For journal editors in technical communication, these patterns raise the question, “How might we dismantle the existing exclusionary and oppressive philosophies and practices of reviewing in the field of technical and professional communication and replace them with philosophies and practices that are explicitly anti-racist and inclusive?” (Anti-racist scholarly reviewing practices: A heuristic for editors, reviewers, and authors, 2021).

One answer (and many answers are needed!) is to be proactive about diversifying our editorial board. Some of the types of diversity we seek across the TCQ editorial board include

    • Underrepresented identity factors (e.g., person whose first language is not English, member of underrepresented racial/ethnic groups, person with a disability)
    • Areas of scholarly expertise (e.g., programmatic research, big data, critical theories)
    • Types of educational institution (e.g., land grant university, historically Black college or university (HBCU), religious university)

To develop a baseline understanding of the diversity of TCQ’s editorial board, in spring 2021 Rebecca and then-managing editor Cana Uluak Itchuaqiyaq developed a survey, the design of which was influenced by Itchuaqiyaq’s Multiply Marginalized or Underrepresented (MMU) Scholars List (Itchuaqiyaq, 2020). Rebecca sent this survey to editorial board members.

The results of this survey are supporting current managing editor Hannah Stevens and Rebecca in identifying “thin places” in the coverage of TCQ’s current editorial board (refer to Anti-Racist Scholarly Reviewing Practices #5F). In other words, the survey data helps us to recognize areas in which we need to build additional representation on the editorial board. Currently, based on the survey data, areas of strong representation include editorial board members who do not identify as cisgender men, editorial board members who work for research universities, and editorial board members with scholarly expertise in classroom research/service learning. Example thin places in our current board coverage include scholars who work for HBCUs, scholars who work for religious institutions, scholars with expertise in the history of the field, and scholars with expertise in queer or trans rhetorics.

The survey data is one key factor informing the selection of scholars proposed to the ATTW executive committee, but it’s not the only factor. Some other aspects that we consider when choosing editorial board members are

    • Excellent reviews: If a scholar who’s not on the editorial board produces particularly specific, knowledgeable, and kind review feedback (Alexander, Cheek, Itchuaqiyaq, Shirley, & Walton, 2019), that suggests they could really enrich TCQ’s editorial board.
    • Rotation of board members: If someone has served on the board for an extended time, it might make sense to rotate them off the board for a well-deserved break.
    • Other editorial boards: To diffuse representation across the field and avoid overburdening particular scholars, we tend to invite new members who don’t already serve on editorial boards for other technical communication journals.
    • Capacity to review: TCQ asks editorial board members to commit to reviewing two unique manuscripts (including any revised versions of those manuscripts) per year.

It is important moving forward that academic publishing perform within its power to limit the gatekeeping of the publication process, and the TCQ editorial team recognizes transparency as one such move in the direction of both generally inclusive and specifically anti-racist scholarly publication practices. As Angela Haas states in the ATTW President’s Call to Action, “Witnessing in horror is not enough. Acknowledging our white and light-skinned privilege is not enough. Reading and teaching Black authors is not enough. Being non-racist is not enough” (Haas, 2020). Assessing how we can make change and embracing anti-racist publication practices are the ways that we begin to redress exclusionary and oppressive publication practices.

The factors informing the selection of potential TCQ board members are complex, but we wanted to share this complexity in an effort to be more transparent. In October 2020, Rebecca participated (along with many other technical communication editors) in two listening sessions to invite feedback on ways to make academic publishing more inclusive. One of the main things we learned was the importance of transparency in the work of inclusion. So when a SIGDOC 2021 participant raised the question of how editorial board members are selected and whether this selection process is publicly documented, it revealed to us the need for more transparency. We thank Dr. Cagle for posing the question which led to this blog post.

 By Hannah Stevens (TCQ Managing Editor) and Rebecca Walton (TCQ Editor)


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