Building an editorial board

Topic lead: Wendy Patterson, Alex Mendonça, Andy Nobes, Rebecca Wojturska
Last updated: 05/06/2023

The editorial board is a core component of academic journals and can provide advice, assist in developing policies and strategy and play a role in the peer‐review process. Board members can also help promote and give visibility to the journal. Before appointing members of the editorial board, the roles, responsibilities and expectations between the publisher, owner and editorial board members must be clearly defined and understood.

The editorial board is typically an internationally diverse group of recognised researchers who have a strong interest in academic publishing. Members of the editorial board are sometimes seen as a proxy for the quality of the journal, so it is essential to make efforts to recruit the right individuals: these are expected to have strong networks and to act as ambassadors for the journal.

Key responsibilities

The role of the editorial board may vary based on the size of a journal: in smaller journals, the board is likely to have a more hands-on role, with involvement in journal operations, while, in larger journals, they may focus on governance, accountability and strategy.

Overall, the responsibilities of editorial board members may include a mix of the following:

  • Providing scientific expertise for the journal
  • Recommending expert reviewers
  • Identifying new topics for commission, or for special issues
  • Advising on the strategic direction of the journal
  • Providing external accountability to the journal’s staff
  • Recommending potential authors or guest editors
  • Peer reviewing articles and providing constructive suggestions to authors regarding article content, structure, relevance and areas for improvement
  • Providing content in the form of occasional editorials and other short articles
  • Promoting the journals to authors and readers and encouraging peers to submit their work

A terms of reference document is particularly helpful to outline responsibilities, the structure of the board, the terms of membership (including term limits) and relationship between the board and any sub-boards that the journal may decide to establish. It will also often define the frequency and conduct of meetings, the rules of appointment and is typically a public document.

If editorial board members have access to sensitive information, receive compensation or directly handle manuscripts, it is recommended to require a written agreement or contract. This will clarify the level of contribution expected (including measures of performance), details of any payments or reimbursements, a definition of potential conflicts of interest and term limits.

The balance between governance and operations

Ideally, a board is most effective when it can focus on governance rather than operations. This way, a structured approach to accountability can be put into place, building and enhancing the credibility of the journal and, in principle, strengthening its ability to make good strategic choices for future developments.

If a journal wishes to expand its publishing programme, for example by introducing new journals, the editorial board may be useful to consider the benefits of doing so. Where a journal is part of an institution, such as a university press, an additional service board may be useful to ensure the journal remains aligned with the institution, particularly as the institution itself adapts to the external environment. Members of the board may include librarians, editors, authors and external partners.

Editorial board membership

One of the most important factors for a successful journal is an active, widely respected, diverse and representative editorial board. Therefore, when assembling the initial board, journals should consider an appropriate mix of individuals with expertise aligned with the journal’s scope and sufficient time to devote to the role. The reputation of editorial board members can significantly enhance the reputation of the journal itself, and having a reputable editorial board may contribute to getting the journal indexed. As with other recruitment efforts (see Recruiting journal staff), equality, diversity and inclusion should be a priority. In selecting members, it is advisable to avoid using author metrics such as the h-index or other limited measurements of impact.

Recruiting an editorial board

It may be difficult to identify suitable editorial board members, but there are several resources at a journal’s disposal. The following are potential leads that journals should consider:

When starting a journal

  • Former editorial board members of similar or competing journals
  • Authors of key reviews in the journal’s discipline
  • Contacts made at conference or meetings
  • Speakers at conferences
  • Frequent authors or reviewers in competing journals
  • Experts listed on institute and society websites

When the journal is already running

  • Former guest editors
  • Recommendations from other board members
  • Frequent authors or reviewers in the journal
  • Open calls via the journal’s website or social media
  • Open calls in discipline-specific magazines where advertising is allowed

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