Interview with Steffan Davies, Editor of German Life and Letters
What strengths do ECRs bring to the writing or editing process?
ECRs have some of the freshest ideas; they have the ability to concentrate on a research project without distraction, the time to research in depth, and often, though not always, the opportunity to travel for sustained periods to work in archives, special collections and so on. We get a lot of exciting, new, thoroughly original work from ECRs and we always want to read more of it.
“Don’t publish just because you think you ought to. Check that that sense of ‘something to say’ stays with you consistently throughout the article, and cut out the material that feels like filler…”
What are the unique challenges when working with an ECRs as editors?
There’s sometimes more work to do in helping an article to find shape, to develop and sustain a consistent argument throughout, and so on. At GLL we willingly do this work on articles that are essentially publishable, but of course, the tighter the shape and structure when the article comes in, the better. Rewriting and restructuring is really the author’s job, not ours, but we know well that those are skills we had to learn, too. And it’s not just ECRs…
What are the common mistakes that ECRs make when they submit a manuscript to your journal?
ECRs are prone to the same mistakes as everyone else: first and foremost, perhaps, thinking that the importance of the topic under discussion is self-evident. Time and time again we ask contributors to bring out more clearly ‘why this matters’, whether by reference to existing work in the field or in the way it informs a bigger picture in German Studies and (better still) beyond. There’s no need at all to make overblown claims for an article’s importance, but there is a need to show calmly and simply why the material is significant beyond its own terms.
One other trap into which anyone can fall is to try to do everything in a single article. This isn’t the place for a summary of the whole PhD, post-doc or book project! The article needs a focus of its own, and it needs to be coherent on its own, too.
“Early career researchers have some of the freshest ideas; they have the ability to concentrate on a research project without distraction, the time to research in depth…”
What advice would you give an ECR who is in the early stages of publishing their research?
Make sure you have something to say, and then say it. Don’t publish just because you think you ought to. Check that that sense of ‘something to say’ stays with you consistently throughout the article, and cut out the material that feels like filler, even if it took an effort to research and write it in the first place. Get others to read your work critically, and well before you submit it: your peers, and also more senior colleagues. Treat the process as a set of conversations – with your material, with others’ published ideas, with the readers of your drafts and finally, with the readers of your finished version – and enjoy it! Oh, and one practicality: get hold of the journal’s style guide, and observe it to the letter
Do you have a notable anecdote about working with ECRs or from your own personal experience throughout your career that would help early career scholars along their career path?
I can only think with gratitude of the many friends and mentors who encouraged me to present and publish when I was an ECR, who supported postgraduate seminar ventures, invited me to conferences, listened to papers, offered me books to review, and so on. They were endlessly generous with their time and conversation, and still are.