Background: In an effort to identify previously unrecognized aspects of editorial decision-making, we explored the words and phrases that one group of editors used during their meetings.
Methods: We performed an observational study of discussions at manuscript meetings at JAMA, a major US general medical journal. One of us (KD) attended 12 editorial meetings in 2003 as a visitor and took notes recording phrases from discussion surrounding 102 manuscripts. In addition, editors attending the meetings completed a form for each manuscript considered, listing the reasons they were inclined to proceed to the next step in publication and reasons they were not (DR attended 4/12 meetings). We entered the spoken and written phrases into NVivo 2.0. We then developed a schema for classifying the editors' phrases, using an iterative approach.
Results: Our classification schema has three main themes: science, journalism, and writing. We considered 2,463 phrases, of which 87 related mainly to the manuscript topic and were not classified (total 2,376 classified). Phrases related to science predominated (1,274 or 54%). The editors, most of whom were physicians, also placed major weight on goals important to JAMA's mission (journalism goals) such as importance to medicine, strategic emphasis for the journal, interest to the readership, and results (729 or 31% of phrases). About 16% (n = 373) of the phrases used related to writing issues, such as clarity and responses to the referees' comments.
Conclusion: Classification of editorial discourse provides insight into editorial decision making and concepts that need exploration in future studies.