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Letter from the Editor

In this letter, Scott Jacques describes his motives for serving as editor; editorial policies and practices; advice and requests for authors and referees; and, finally, how you can serve the journal.

Published onAug 05, 2020
Letter from the Editor

Why do I want to be editor of The Journal of Qualitative Criminal Justice and Criminology (JQCJC), also known as …Qualitative…Criminology (QC)?1 I have three motives: promote Open Access (OA), bridge qualitative to quantitative criminology, and diversify publishing values. In this letter, I describe my motives and then outline my editorial policies and practices; advice and requests for authors and referees; and, finally, how you can serve the journal.

Why I’m editor

Promote open access

One reason I want to be editor of QC is to promote OA. QC articles are free to read. Too much criminology is behind paywalls.2 OA must become the norm. It will increase our impact and serve social justice.3 That’ll be good for us as individuals, as a field of scholars, and the public at large, including policymakers and practitioners. Ironically, the problem with OA is the cost. To make papers free, major publishers require authors to pay an article processing charge (APC). Few of us can afford that, so our work gets paywalled. A solution to that problem is to share our postprints and preprints; for more details, see, respectively, my Open (Access) Letter to Criminologists and thoughts on the Utility of Making Your Preprints Open Access.

Diamond journals

Another solution is to publish in “diamond” journals. In addition to being free to read, they are free to publish in. QC is a diamond journal. You can see the others at the Wiki List of Criminology Journals. Because they don’t sell content or have APCs, diamond journals rely on other sources of financial support. Typically, it’s minimal. Due to their nominal funding, diamond journals tend to have websites and articles that are lower in production quality than those of major publishers. Production quality is distinct from scholarship quality. But an outlet’s production quality is a status signal that lowers or raises the perceived quality of its scholarship. Authors use it to decide where to publish; readers use it to decipher which outlets are good. For OA to become the norm in criminology, our diamond journals must increase their production quality. To be clear, it’s not low at all such journals; some look good. You should look for yourself (see above link), if only to become acquainted with the options.

QC’s new website

I thought this journal’s production quality could be improved, so I offered to help its prior editor, Lynne Vieraitis. That conversation turned into an application to serve as editor. I thank Lynne for her support. For the same, I also thank the Executive Board of the Southwestern Criminal Justice Association (SWACJ), and the Department of Criminal Justice and Criminology at Georgia State University. Just a few years ago, it would have been technologically or financially impossible to move this journal from its old website to one of this quality. It’s affordable, looks good, works well, and has all the bells and whistles found on major publishers’ websites. In fact, this site is even better than theirs, for many reasons. Perhaps most importantly for qualitative research, this site allows the seamless integration of non-textual media into articles, at no extra cost. We have MIT’s Knowledge Futures Group to thank for this upgrade, which is the maker of QC's platform, PubPub. If you have a diamond journal that you would like to start or help improve in production quality, don’t hesitate to email me or email PubPub for guidance or assistance.

Bridge the qualitative/quantitative divide

Another reason I want to be editor is that I love qualitative criminology. I want to help “us.” What I could do here, but won’t, is make an argument that parallels that above. It would go something like this: “Too much criminology is quantitative. Qualitative must become the norm; or, at least, a norm. That’ll be good for us as individuals, as a field of scholars, and the public at large.” In the journal literature, qualitative criminology is far less common than quantitative criminology. I wrote this a few years ago, but things have not changed:

Criminologists have provided a whole host of plausible theories of why qualitative research appears infrequently in criminology journals. These theories include that it is infrequently disseminated; there is a lack of agreement on how to evaluate its worth; it is less rational because its products are less rewarding (in part signified by its absence in higher status fields), it is riskier to conduct, and not in line with a widespread cultural preference for predictability and precision; conducted by less capable scholars; not taught as much; and experiencing a snowballing effect in reverse.4

Are all those ideas valid? Probably, to a degree. Among the causes, the worst are those tied to ignorance and disrespect. Do some quantitative researchers “not get” qualitative research?5 Yes. Are some quantitative researchers rude about it? Yes. But are most quantitatively-oriented editors and referees discriminating against qualitative research? No, I don’t think so. Are most quantitative researchers our enemy? Definitely not. They’re our colleagues. All of us want to improve understanding of lawmaking, lawbreaking, and reactions to that, for the sake of knowledge and improving the world.

Authentic and inclusive

Qualitative criminology is not the norm, but so what? Let’s be positive, not negative. Let’s focus on the quality of our work, not its quantity. Let’s focus on putting our values into action, not whether quantitative criminologists value us.6 If they do, great; if they don’t, oh well. If we are too thirsty for validation, we will be led away from our authentic selves and doing our best work. Being authentic doesn’t require isolation. Instead, it should motivate engagement. The “qualitative/quantitative divide” is our fault if we don’t build a bridge. It’s our fault if we don’t actively talk to quantitative researchers: try to provide them with stuff they find useful; try to better know their craft; and, try to better understand it. That’s what we do with our subjects, so why not with our colleagues? In addition to being authentic to ourselves, we should be inclusive of others, including quantitative researchers. I don’t see a war between qualitative and quantitative criminology. But some of you do, so it’s my duty to help you stop it. Let’s extend an olive branch. The vast majority of quantitative researchers will tell you we weren’t at war, or they will appreciate the gesture and change for the better. Yet no matter their response, we must make an effort to include our quantitative counterparts in the qualitative criminology discourse.

Diversify publishing values

Finally, I want to be editor because it affords the opportunity to diversify publishing values. To me, the biggest problem in criminology is the overemphasis on “impact” based on citation metrics. Impact is important, no doubt. We should value impact. We should try to increase our impact. But should impact be the only value we talk about? Or the only value we consider when deciding where to publish and how to evaluate the worth of publications? I beg you, no. Above, I alluded to other values that should guide us: openness, innovation, inclusivity, and authenticity. Furthermore, we should prize democracy, efficiency, and transparency. At What Guides Us, you can read more about what those words mean to me and their importance to this journal. In or outside QC, I hope you will join the movement to pluralize values in publishing. We need to be more diverse for ourselves and the world around us.

Editorial polices and practices

I now turn to my editorial policies and practices for QC. I answer these questions: What is the journal’s scope? How will it be decided to desk-reject or have papers peer-reviewed? How will peer-review be done? How will reviews be used to make publication decisions? Editors have a lot of latitude to implement the policies and practices that they believe are best.7 To be transparent, mine are specified, below. Additional details are available at How to Submit and How We Review.

  • Scope: The journal will publish papers based on qualitative research, solely or along with quantitative research (i.e., mixed-methods). Also, we will publish papers that only use quantitative research to analyze qualitative criminology.

  • Desk-reject: In consultation with the vice editor, I will desk-reject papers that are deemed unlikely to be accepted for publication. As an author, I know that receiving a desk reject is disheartening. Yet it’s better than waiting months for the same result, as it allows seeking publication elsewhere. It also saves referees time and effort. In a word, desk-rejects are efficient. They also are merciful. They are not perfect as an overall strategy (e.g., it sidesteps democracy) or across individual cases. Mistakenly, I may desk reject papers that had a real shot of being of accepted at QC. If I do that to your paper, I truly apologize. The worst part about being an editor is rejecting papers. The good news is that all good papers find a place for publication, so please persist.

  • Peer-review: For the papers selected to be peer-reviewed, I will follow the process outlined at How We Review. As mentioned at How To Submit, authors are not anonymous; they are asked to recommend five to ten potential referees; reviews are published on CrimRxiv; and, referees are strongly encouraged to sign their reviews. There are several factors motivating those decisions. Above all, they reflect that I trust our community members to behave properly. QC’s peer-review process is closer to a commune than a secret police state. This not only serves transparency but also innovation and democracy in criminology.

  • Post-review publication decision: Again, for papers selected to be peer-reviewed, I will follow the process outlined at How We Review. The key takeaways are that referees, not I (with possible rare exception), decide whether a paper will be accepted or rejected for publication; and, there are no R&Rs, though authors may submit the same paper on one occasion. These policies and processes benefit innovation, democracy, efficiency, authenticity, and transparency. For more details, see this footnote.8

Advice and requests

For authors

I will publish papers that I don’t particularly like. That’s ok; to each their own. My personal preferences as a reader should not dictate what appears in QC. However, I do have advice for the structure and content of papers:

  • Throughout, write simply and clearly. Write like you talk. Assume readers are much less smart and knowledgeable than you. Also, assume they will not try hard to understand you.

  • From the start, describe and explain your topic.

    • Then describe prior research and preexisting knowledge on its types, quantity, causes, and consequences.

      • To set up your study, be sure to describe and explain the limitation(s) of prior research and existing knowledge that you will address.

  • Tell us how and why your study addresses the limitation(s).

    • Describe and explain your method: data, sampling and analytic techniques.

  • In the findings section (or whatever you call it), show us the data so we — your readers — can interpret it for ourselves.

    • Describe and explain specific interpretations of the data. By “specific,” I am referring to, for example, statements like, “In this quote, the participant refers to ‘X’ by saying ‘this’ and ‘that.’”

    • Describe and explain how specific interpretations led to general interpretations of the data. By “general,” I am referring to, for example, statements like, “The sum of the cases reveals that there are 3 ways of doing ‘X’.”

  • Summarize the topic; prior research and preexisting knowledge of it; its limitation(s) that your study addresses; your method; and, how your specific interpretations of the data warrant general interpretations of them.

  • Finally, describe and explain how the insights and limitations of your study suggest particular paths forward in (1) qualitative research, (2) quantitative research, and (3) policy or practice.

For referees

Some referees let their dislike of a paper taint their evaluation of whether it should be published. There are right and wrong ways to do things; there are better and worse ways. Yet there are many right and good ways to do criminological research, and no one likes all of them. We are wasting too much of everyone’s time and energy on revisions that don’t significantly improve papers. That is inefficient, makes articles less authentic to authors, and, sometimes, contra innovation and inclusivity. In short, whether referees like a paper, including the method it’s based on, is a somewhat different issue from whether it’s competently executed and good. By “competently executed,” the things I have in mind are described in the prior section. By extension, I think a referee should certify that a paper is written in a simple, clear fashion, and that it properly describes and explains (1) the topic and relevant literature; (2) how and why the study addresses limitations in that literature; (3) the method; (4) specific and general interpretations of the data by showing them to us; and, (5) reasonable paths forward in qualitative and quantitative research, policy and practice.

For authors and referees

Competent execution is not sufficient to warrant publication. It also hinges on whether the paper is “good.” There is reasonable disagreement about what makes a paper good. Authors and referees are free to decide for themselves. For me, it depends somewhat on whether it is based on qualitative or quantitative research. Qualitative research is more for creating than testing ideas; quantitative research is the opposite.9 In qualitative articles, especially, I want to see new ideas that are created through the analysis of data. There are two types of ideas: conceptual and theoretical. Conceptual ideas draw abstract lines between types of things. Theoretical ideas state how a change in one thing leads to change in another thing. Conceptual ideas can draw lines that are qualitative or quantitative. Theoretical ideas can focus on change that is qualitative or quantitative. All ideas are “better” to the extent they are more original. More specifically, conceptual ideas are better to the extent they are more elegant, general, powerful, and theoretical.10 A little differently, theoretical ideas are better to the extent they are more elegant, general, testable, and valid.11 Our goal as qualitative researchers should be to create and reward ideas that live up to those values.12

How you can serve the journal

I conclude with some ideas on how you can serve QC:

  • As a criminologist: Support us by putting our shared values into practice.

  • As an author: Send us your best work.

  • As a referee: Accept the request and write a thoughtful review in a timely manner.

  • As a reader: If you come across something obviously wrong on the “production side”, please email me. While moving over nearly one million words from the journal’s old website to this new one, I may have made some mistakes.

  • As a special editor: Come up with and email me good ideas for special issues. Be aware that the review process will be the same as specified at How We Review.

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