In a session at the San Antonio UI Conference in March 2017, the leadership of the new UI Journal (Publisher, Editor, two Associate Editors, and the Technical Supervisor of the online review system) invited questions and comments on editorial policy and practice.
It became an eye-opening discussion of how this journal—created with a different purpose and focus—could be different in its conduct of review and publication as well. Below, in Q&A format, is information for prospective authors who are considering the UI Journal as a publication outlet.
Question: What is your vision for the UI Journal?
Answer: Understanding Interventions emerged from a need a decade ago to emphasize the role of research in practice. That is the essence of "translational" science.
Q: So what makes the UI Journal different?
A: Our focus is on the intervention, not on the science. This means that much work suitable for disciplinary journals will not fly here. We are supposed to fill a niche that is distinguishable from what other journals seek to disseminate.
Q: How will the UI Journal review process differ from what I am used to accommodating?
A: Interventions develop over time and become increasingly complex.There is a process of learning and adjustment from beginning to end of a project or program that is typically buried or ignored in a scholarly journal article. What we get instead is formulaic: inputs and outcomes, a little context, perhaps some theory, a methodology that bridges hypotheses to data, and analysis that indicates the need for more research. We have all followed this path to publication. We still do—but that’s not what understanding interventions is all about.
Q: How, then, must the work reported in the UI Journal be constructed?
A: In the types of publication we have conceptualized (see Concept Paper), there are three stages of development. But distinguishing them in a manuscript is not straightforward, so we have adopted a scheme that is more intuitive. We combine the paper’s length (i.e., number of words) and complexity of analysis (e.g., type of study, population focus, breadth of data collected, research design) into three publication formats: Letters, Communications, and Articles. Regardless of format, the “paper” (the umbrella term for all submissions and publications) must be theoretically situated, rigorous, and accompanied by bibliographic references that build on existing literature.
Q: What, for example, are the parameters of a Letter?
A: All three types are part of a continuum; they do not correspond to a hard-and-fast set of criteria. A Letter is typically brief (less than 2000 words) and more likely to focus on the front end of a study carried out in a single setting. It may be self-conscious about the rationale offered for the study, indicating what seemed to work and what didn’t. In this sense, it provides valuable information for those in the interventions community who may be contemplating a similar effort.
Q: What about Communications?
A: These are more detailed in various ways, necessarily longer (2000-6000 word range), and more descriptive of treatments with data on the study population(s). The study may have graduated to a new setting where the context differs in significant ways. The intervention thus becomes more complex and nuanced. The reader must be warned of pitfalls, but also about what is working and why. There is still an ongoing quality to Communications, with interim findings.
Q: What, then, would qualify as an Article?
A: Articles are the most developed, multiyear, and sophisticated of analyses. Length is not an issue. Articles speak to scale-up and national impact, the introduction of new kinds of data, and generalizations that inform matters of policy as well as local practice. Reviewers’ are instructed to scale their expectations accordingly. The editors would be vigilant about what the intervention does and does not achieve. The emphasis, in short, would be on outcomes, impacts, and usable knowledge—what is convincing and what remains open to criticism.
Q: What should I know about the review process, either as author or reviewer?
A: The UI Journal uses Scholastica as its reviewing platform. Once you have been confirmed as a UI Conference attendee in the last year (which means no fee is required) or one who seeks to become an author (without conference attendance in the last year, which requires a $50 fee), you will register on Scholastica. There you will find instructions on what information you need to proceed in your role as an author or a reviewer. Multiple revisions are likely to be the norm. Once the final version is approved, it will be copy-edited and formatted for posting. Papers will be posted once they are finalized. Then they will be collected as “issues” of the UI Journal—sometimes thematically—approximately three times a year.
Q: Anything else I should expect if I submit a manuscript?
A: This is an online, open-access, post-publication commentary journal. That means we are first committed to providing access for authors. The review process itself should be seen as an intervention where authors are advised—dare we say “mentored”—on how to present what has been learned. The complement to access is rigor, for no article is credible without it. Regardless of publication type, there are norms for reporting as well as conducting an intervention. The paper must merit professional credit. It must earn career credit as it advances knowledge of interventions.
Q: What else will UI do to assure that I receive professional credit for my paper contribution?
All papers published in the UI Journal will be indexed on Google. This is to facilitate credit for publishing and ease access by the community to your contribution. We will also publish commentaries by experts (not the paper’s reviewers) in the multidisciplinary STEM education community on the published peer-reviewed papers. This is intended to extend UI community learning beyond the boundaries of familiar jargon and experience.
Q: Any last words of advice?
A: Yes. Taken together, access and rigor must produce utility, that is, others must be able to read and apply the lessons of the intervention. Whether it is the story, the approach, the mistakes, the data, or the actions that are subsequently taken, the published paper—refined by the author, reviews, and editors—must qualify as a contribution that guides future interventions.