What does an editor do anyway?

Part 2 in a 7 part series

When I took over as editor-in-chief of Administrative Theory & Praxis, the journal of the Public Administration Theory Network, I admit there was a big learning curve. I served as managing editor prior but always had someone above me making decisions. In the new role, I was the decision maker, and that was a bit daunting. I also am the first woman to hold the position, and with that comes its own challenges. Couple that with being someone who got her start in academia via the Theory Network, there is a lot of pressure on me in the role (or perhaps I perceive it that way).

            So, that begs the question – what does an editor do anyway? I want to be clear I am not generalizing beyond my knowledge and that I share with fellow editors. Other disciplines, I am sure, are quite different. The point of this post and those that follow is to give insight into a process that is often shielded from view.

It might seem obvious, but there is a lot that goes into being a journal. As Paulson-Ellestad and colleagues (2020, p. 11) explain, an editor-in-chief  “is responsible for overseeing the editorial process and policies across the journal, managing other editorial staff, and making the ultimate editorial decisions on published content.” In other words, I oversee the big picture of the journal’s strategic growth as well as process and decide on manuscripts.

Mullen (2011) notes journal editors are pulled in myriad directions, with editors serving as both mentors and gatekeepers – roles that are sometimes in tension. Editors might try to help and shape authors but there is a fine line when an editor might too closely dictate what and how an author writes (Muller, 2011). Many journal editors see themselves as mediators and facilitators rather than strict gatekeepers (Wellington & Nixon, 2005), though I am not naïve enough to argue this is how everyone sees the role. For me, I try to execute the position in a facilitative manner, but I know some readers might think otherwise. As a reminder, I am human.

            Our publisher is Taylor and Francis, and I recommend readers check their resources for editors to gain insights into what that publisher looks for in an editor. For example, they note some things we have to worry about as editors: develop content, impact factor, journal visibility, peer review, manage the editorial board, and ethical publishing. It is a leadership role with many moving parts that also are constantly changing with the industry. I am not here to debate the pros and cons of the current academic publishing model. What I want readers to see is the myriad directions editors are pulled sometimes with no support.

            In the next part of the series, I examine the associate editors and editorial board.


Mullen, C.A. (2011). Journal editorship: Mentoring, democratic, and international perspectives. The Educational Forum, 75(4), 328-342.

Poulson-Ellestad, K. et al (2020). Illuminating a black box of the peer review system: Demographics, experiences, and career benefits of associate editors. Bulletin Limnology and Oceanography, 29(1), 11-17.

Wellington, J. & Nixon, J. (2005). Shaping the field: the role of academic journal editors in the construction of education as a field of study. British Journal of Sociology of Education, 26(5), 643-655.

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Public Administration Theory Network

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