Image: Cupcakes for ISMTE's 10th anniversary
Image: Cupcakes for ISMTE's 10th anniversary

Last week we attended the International Society of Managing and Technical Editors (ISMTE) North American Conference in Denver, Colorado. This year marked the 10th anniversary of the ISMTE conference - with tons of contributions to editorial growth to celebrate! The conference brought together editors from all over the world for sessions spanning public trust in science, editorial reporting advice, and how to start a journal.

We had a great time and learned so much from the conference sessions as well as meeting with attendees (thanks to all who stopped by our sponsor booth!). We also had the privilege of presenting a session on how to perform an operational journal audit, titled “Polish Your Peer Review Process.”

Of course we couldn’t make it to every conference session, but we wanted to take the time to highlight the ones we were able to go to, and to share the details of our presentation for anyone who was unable to attend. You can access our full slideshow here.

If you didn’t get a chance to stop by our conference table, be sure to also check out Scholastica’s Resources page for access to our various editor resources including peer review and publishing eBooks, webinars, and more.

The role of the web in the research lifecycle

Throughout the conference, the impact of the internet on publishing was a prevalent topic. One session that brought the role of the web in academic publishing to the foreground was “The Web is the New Publishing Platform,” led by Mike Hepp, Vice President of Product Development at Sheridan. His session delved into not only the future of digital journal publishing but also the role of the web in all aspects of the research lifecycle including research writing.

Hepp kicked off the session with the question - “What’s the next great platform?” While he said the answer appears yet to be determined, Hepp did provide his predictions, including that:

  • Web platforms that span authoring, peer review, production, and publishing will enter the mainstream
  • LaTeX writing environments will become more common
  • HTML proofing and publishing will be the future with journals slowly migrating from Microsoft Word-based systems
  • PDF and HTML5 publishing will exist together - each have own benefits/uses

Hepp noted that while many of these developments are already occurring, getting new technologies to take hold in academic publishing can be a challenge. He used the analogy of crossing a chasm and emphasized that there will need to be early-adapter journals to enable new technologies to gain wider traction. The question, Hepp noted, is - who will lead the way?

Auditing and iterating on peer review performance

Scholastica’s conference session, “Polish Your Peer Review Process,” guided editors through 3 key steps for performing an operational audit at their journal as well as how to effectively implement their audit outcomes. Operational audits are holistic analyses of journal performance conducted at anywhere from monthly to yearly intervals.

During the session, attendees were asked to answer the question - why is an operational audit important to my journal? Recurring responses included: team efficiency, staying on peer review and production schedules, and maintaining a good journal reputation.

The session overviewed how editors can use metrics to guide their audits, stressing the need for editors to really dig into their data before making policy changes. As noted by Jason Roberts, Senior Partner at Origin Editorial, “anecdote is the enemy of effective office management.”

Key metrics covered included:

  • Submission volume: Remember to get specific by article type (e.g. “research article”) - total volume can be misleading
  • Reviewer performance: mainly, pending invitations, late reviews, and average days to completion
  • Editor performance: mainly, assignment speed, decision ratios (variance across team), acceptance and rejection rate, time to decision, and time to publication (print & digital)

We also talked about the benefits of productivity tools for editorial teams, such as using shared Google calendars and team-wide todo lists. Editors can use free todo list tools such as Hitask, or those provided in their journal management software. For example, Scholastica has Todos, which is a shared dashboard of tasks for all manuscripts that editors can use to assign tasks to themselves and others and to track team progress.

We wrapped up the session with some questions all editorial teams should ask themselves when performing an operation audit, in order to determine if they have the tools they need to make lasting improvements.

  • Is there a central place to track your journal’s key performance metrics?
  • Can you automate any of your action steps…which ones?
  • Can anyone access your performance data at any time they need?

Aim to address these concerns as best you can. The better organized your data and the more automation opportunities your journal takes advantage of, the better your prospects of making lasting change in your organization that will span editorial transitions.

Collecting and communicating editorial report data

Following Scholastica’s overview of how to perform an operational audit at your journal, Coronis Group Consultant Jen Mavzer gave a comprehensive presentation on compiling and using editorial reports titled, “Field Guide to Collecting, Interpreting, and Communicating Editorial Report Data.”

At the beginning of her presentation, Mavzer commented on the fact that journals often have what she refers to as “data archipelagos.” Many journals keep separate reports on different data and fail to take steps to interpret bigger picture implications. Her session was all about helping editors to use their journal data in a meaningful way, with helpful advice on how to create beautiful graphs to quickly show everything from submissions by country to submission volume. She advises journals to approach their data similarly to how a physician approaches a patient doing evaluative analysis overall as well as diagnostic analysis where trends and deviant data appear.

Key areas where Mavzer says journals should collect data are:

  • Editorial: Overview of traditional editorial indicators including submissions by article type, revision trends (turnaround time with authors), submission demographics
  • Production: Including acceptance to online publication and acceptance to print
  • Reviewers: Including unique reviewers invited, average turnaround time
  • Content usage stats: Page views, downloads, reader location

While editorial reports are traditionally internal documents, Mavzer suggested that journals consider making theirs public. She argues editorial reporting is an opportunity for journals to apply the scientific method at the publication level and give authors and readers a better window into how they operate and why. She also called for editorial teams to share their editorial reports with each other saying, “isolation breeds isolation,” and that journals could develop faster if they shared accumulated knowledge and could learn from each other’s mistakes and successes.

If you were at this year’s conference and had another favorite session you’d like to highlight we’d love to learn more, just share your thoughts in the comments section!