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3 Ways Academic Journals Can Better Support Authors During Peer Review

by | Jun 1, 2018 | 0 comments

Editor’s Note: This article is part of an ATG Special Issue on author support

Danielle Padula

Article by: Danielle Padula, Community Development Coordinator at Scholastica

No academic journal is an island. All journals rely on a network of editors and referees to coordinate peer review, as well as authors to submit quality manuscripts and work with editors throughout the revision process. Most journal editors are acutely aware of the importance of streamlining peer review for their internal team and external referees, but author support can sometimes fall by the wayside. In many cases, journal editors will assume that authors have more knowledge about the dynamics of peer review or their journal’s specific editorial processes than they actually do.

It is important to remember that authors are immersed in their own work and when they begin considering which journal to submit their manuscript to they have to familiarize (or re-familiarize) themselves with the submissions expectations of several journals before making a selection. The differences between journals and their submission processes can sometimes be confusing for authors. It’s up to your editorial board to present your journal information as clearly as possible and to ensure you’re guiding authors throughout peer review and production, should their manuscript be accepted.

Keep in mind that authors will base their opinions of working with your journal and likelihood of recommending it to colleagues on how well you address common questions and concerns — so attentiveness to authors is paramount! In order to process manuscripts as efficiently as possible and publish articles in a timely manner, you must bake author support into all of your journal’s submission information and editorial workflows. Below are three areas you can focus on to get started.

Make your journal aims and scope clear

The way your journal presents its aims and scope will dictate how professional it appears to authors. It will also have a direct impact on the quality of submissions you receive. Any vagueness in your journal description can either result in missed submission opportunities or lead to irrelevant submissions, due to author confusion. Either scenario can be a source of frustration for authors and your editors and should be avoided.

In communicating your journal’s aims and scope, it’s best to start from the highest level and then break out pertinent details. At the highest level, you should be able to condense your aims and scope into a single overview paragraph that includes: what, if any, society or institution your journal is affiliated with; a statement that your journal is peer reviewed; overview of the primary aim of your journal and the types of research you publish (journal field and relevant topics).

It may go without saying, but be sure that your journal’s International Standard Serial Number (ISSN) is clearly visible on the aims and scope page and ideally all pages of your website. Your journal’s ISSN is an indicator of publication legitimacy that authors will be looking for.

Below your overview paragraph, you’ll want to specify any particulars of your journal’s aims and scope. Areas that may warrant more detail include:

  • Fields/subfields that your journal covers (note whether articles must fit within a subfield or can be of general interest)
  • A list of article topics or specific areas of interest to your journal
  • The nature of the research you seek: practice-oriented, theoretical, or either
  • Selection criteria such as: originality, interdisciplinary interest, timeliness
  • The types of content your journal accepts (book reviews, interviews, etc.)
  • Your journal’s access model (if your publication is open access, make that clear)

Of course, even the most thorough journal aims and scope page won’t be of use if authors can’t find it! Be sure that your aims and scope page is easy to navigate too from any section of your journal website. Also, use an intuitive name for your aims and scope page —- authors will usually look for “About” or “Aims and Scope” in the top navigation. Once on the aims and scope page, authors should be able to review it quickly. Some ways to make your aims and scope easier to skim include using headers to break up the page and bullets for lists of information.

Have clear submission guidelines

After your aims and scope, the next (and arguably most important) area where you will need to provide thorough author support is your journal author guidelines. Think of your author guidelines as the map that authors will follow to prepare their manuscript for submission.

Your author guidelines should start with a “How to Prepare your Manuscript” section with concise instructions. In this section, it is helpful to include:

  • A clear list of which article types are accepted and which are not (e.g., original research, reviews, case studies)
  • Overview of the manuscript layout
  • Directions on what, if any, blinding of the manuscript the author must complete
  • Word length limits
  • The nature and placement of declarations
  • Placement of key elements (e.g., figures, figure legends, tables, conflicts of interest, funding, and ethics statements)
  • Citation style — numerical citation guidelines work best with explicit details on how to format the numbers in the text (i.e., superscript, brackets, parentheses)
  • Reference style — state how references should be formatted, instead of referring authors to a style manual so as not to confuse or create extra work for authors
  • Permissions requirements

It is helpful to include a link to a sample article that adheres to the current formatting style preferred for submission in your author guidelines. Many authors check a published article for guidance without understanding that the final version of an article may look different from what a journal prefers at submission.

Additionally, it’s a good idea for your editors to periodically check your author guidelines page, and any other author pages, for contradictory information. This can commonly arise when journal requirements are added to a larger guideline template from a publisher but incorrect formatting information isn’t removed. You’ll want to be sure to resolve any conflicting information as soon as possible.

Finally, along with manuscript formatting instructions, you’ll also need to include a “how to submit” section on your author guidelines page that gives authors clear instructions on where to send their manuscript. This could be as simple as a button to click that leads to your submission system. Be sure to also overview any submission system support your journal offers. For example, journals that manage peer review via Scholastica get free technical support for authors.

As with your aims and scope page, be sure to look for ways to break up large blocks of text in your journal submission guidelines to make it easier for authors to parse. Some ways to do this include using: tables, bullets, lists, and section headers. Authors will be more likely to follow all submission guidelines if they are able to easily find and review the sections that relate to their submission.

Have an author communication plan

The crux of effective author support is communication. When a new submission comes in, the first step editors should take in communication is identifying which author they will be primarily communicating with, or who will be the “corresponding author.” Whether you’re working on a manuscript with 2 or 20 authors, trying to communicate with multiple authors at once can be challenging. It’s best to communicate with one author who represents the group.

In its authorship guidelines, the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors defines the corresponding author as “the one individual who takes primary responsibility for communication with the journal during the manuscript submission, peer review, and publication process, and typically ensures that all the journal’s administrative requirements […]  are properly completed.” Administrative requirements include:

  • Providing the authorship list
  • Handling ethics approvals
  • Reviewing and signing copyright policy
  • Fielding technical edit requests prior to formal peer review
  • Collecting conflict of interest forms and statements
  • Handling communication with editors throughout peer review and production

Your editors should make clear to authors that whoever takes on the role of the corresponding author will have to be available to quickly field questions and requests throughout peer review and, if the manuscript is accepted, production.

Once you’ve established the corresponding author for a manuscript you’ll need to make sure they are aware of the primary stages of your journal’s editorial processes and their responsibilities throughout. As noted by the Council of Science Editors some areas corresponding authors will be responsible for that you should highlight are:

  • Adherence to journal confidentiality requirements
  • Statement of originality — signed document stating the work is original and all necessary permissions have been obtained
  • Financial and conflict of interest disclosures
  • Permissions for the reuse of any copyrighted material
  • Clinical trial registration
  • Proof that any research with live subjects was conducted according to approved protocols

It’s up to your journal to determine how to best convey corresponding author responsibilities. You’ll want to overview much of this information in the submissions section of your website and/or author guidelines. From there, you can create detailed documents for authors to sign within each or some of these areas depending on the applicability to your journal.

Putting it all together

Developing author support documentation and processes is paramount to effective journal management and it promises many benefits. As you iterate on author support at your journal, you will help your editorial team save time by answering common questions up front. Additionally, you’ll build up your journal’s reputation by giving authors quality submission experiences that they’ll remember. Authors that have a good experience working with your journal will be more likely to submit to it in the future and to recommend it to colleagues. So don’t lose sight of the fact that authors all have varying levels of familiarity with your journal and be sure to have a support plan in place to address all author needs.

The following article builds off of ideas outlined in the Guide to Managing Authors, a free journal editor training course by Scholastica, American Journal Experts, and Research Square.


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