Image Credit: Pexels
Image Credit: Pexels

Looking back on the past year, can you believe everything you and your fellow journal editors accomplished?

With the pandemic and countless other stressors, saying 2022 was full of challenges doesn’t even begin to cut it. Here’s to you for making it through and for all your efforts to support the advancement of scholarship! Editors do incredibly important work, which bears emphasis, especially now when so many journal teams are being put to the test amid heightened pressures to disseminate timely peer-reviewed research more rapidly.

We hope you have the opportunity to take a much-needed break this holiday season. Of course, if your editorial team is like most, you’ve probably been anxiously planning for your next issue during your time off. But have you made any journal-related New Year’s resolutions?

The new year is a blank slate (or should we say screen?) of digital opportunity just waiting for your journal to make its latest mark!

Here are five solid resolution suggestions to help get you started.

1. Start making more data-driven decisions

If your scholarly journal is like most, you’re probably tracking some mix of peer review and/or readership metrics. But are you zoning in on the ones that matter most? And are you using that data in day-to-day publication planning?

Our first resolution is all about making more data-driven decisions in two main areas: 1) peer review workflow optimization and 2) journal promotion.

Starting with peer review workflow optimization, we recommend tracking core journal performance stats, including your submissions per year, reviewer response rates and completion times, time to a first manuscript decision at the journal and editor level, and average overall time to publication. Then use those metrics to perform a journal operational audit at least once a year.

As Jennifer Mahar, Executive Peer Review Manager at Origin Editorial, explained in a Scholastica blog interview on editorial workflow optimization, “you have to start with metrics. You won’t be able to fix a problem or make an improvement until you know where you stand.”

Among common workflow bottlenecks Mahar recommends journals watch for are spending too much time on technical checks early in the peer review process and asking too many manuscript formatting steps of authors. Mahar also recommends making submission volume and peer review stats publicly available to provide greater transparency to authors, which is also a Plan S requirement. So there’s a dual benefit to tracking peer review metrics for journals that want to comply with that open access funder initiative. Plan S requires journals to publish editorial statistics at least once a year, including the number of submissions they received, review requests sent, reviews received, average approval rate, and average time between submission and publication. You can learn more about the Plan S criteria and how you can meet all of them using Scholastica in this blog post. Journals that use Scholastica’s peer review system can access reports and raw journal data for all of the peer review stats covered above.

Similarly, we recommend regularly collecting and auditing digital publishing analytics, including article pageviews and download counts, readers by country, and referring websites. You can then use those stats to help guide your journal promotion plans. For example, referring website data can help you see the social media channels where scholars are sharing your articles so you can prioritize posting and engaging on those platforms. Article view and download data can help you pinpoint your most popular content to promote and identify timely topics for special issues. And country data can help you track where your readers are coming from now and determine regions where you may need to work to raise awareness. If you’re publishing a fully open access journal, you can learn more about how to track these stats via Scholastica’s OA journal hosting platform here.

Many journals focus on publication impact measures, which are well worth tracking — but it’s important to remember that impact is a natural byproduct of publishing top-quality content and promoting it as widely as possible. So publishing analytics are needle-moving metrics you can use to get closer to your impact goals.

2. Leverage new automation opportunities

Your time is precious, and each turn around the sun is a reminder of that. Think about what you and your editorial team are doing to optimize your time now and what steps you can take to streamline journal workflows (and preserve your sanity) as you work to keep up with new peer review and publishing standards. One of the best ways to do this is leveraging new automation opportunities, which will look different for every journal depending on your current publication processes. Digging into available metrics is a great way to get a handle on areas you may want to automate to operate more efficiently and prevent delays (another reason to consider the resolution above!).

As a scholarly publishing software provider, we think about automation A LOT at Scholastica. And one of the simplest ways our team members go about identifying automation opportunities for our own workflows and those of the journals we serve is to regularly ask the question — could this be automated? Followed by, should this be automated? Of course, there are many times when a human touch is needed.

Below are some of the primary areas where we’re helping journals leverage automation at Scholastica:

Recurring peer review communication: Think about the amount of time you spend sending nearly identical update emails and reminders to referees, authors, and even fellow editors? If you’re not already, one low-hanging fruit workflow optimization opportunity that’s sure to pay time-saving dividends is taking steps to automate that kind of recurring outreach. At Scholastica, we’ve designed our peer review system to help editors do this in various ways while still keeping customization opportunities, so emails don’t lose the personal touch. For example, editors can set up automatic reviewer reminder emails for accepting and completing assignments to be sent at regular intervals (i.e., every 7 or 14 days). And they can create manuscript decision letter templates, as well email templates. Here are some draft email templates to help get you started that you can copy and paste right into Scholastica. Of course, feel free to make them your own!

Manuscript formatting: Another aspect of journal publishing ripe for automation that we’ve been tackling at Scholastica is the production process, including layout, typesetting, and reference checking. At Scholastica, we know that manual formatting steps to get manuscripts production-ready are tedious for editors and a turnoff for authors. That’s why our digital-first production service uses advanced software to take journals’ original unformatted DOCX or LaTeX manuscripts and handle formatting for them. We’re even able to convert citation styles (i.e., change MLA to APA). You can learn about how Scholastica is leveraging automation to make journal production more efficient and affordable in this blog post.

Archiving and indexing: Another area we’re helping journals automate at Scholastica is archiving and indexing, including automatically producing machine-readable XML article-level metadata files for journals using our production service and/or open access publishing platform. We also offer integrations with leading archives and indexes including, Portico and DOAJ for journals using our OA publishing platform and PubMed Central for journals using our production service. Once a journal turns on its desired integrations, our software takes care of the rest making automatic article deposits, so you don’t have to worry about things like manual metadata preparation or file uploads.

3. Make life easier for your peer reviewers, which will make life easier for you

In addition to leveraging the powers of software to optimize your editorial workflows for all involved, we recommend carving out time to give your journal’s peer reviewers some extra attention in the new year. In many ways, peer reviewers are the unsung heroes of the scholarly publishing lifecycle, giving their expertise and time freely in the service of advancing scholarship. The volunteer-based nature of reviewing also means finding available referees willing to take on more assignments is often a major challenge for editors. For these reasons, the next resolution on our list is to find ways to make life easier for your peer reviewers in the new year. They’ll appreciate it, and so will your editorial team, as it will likely help you attract and retain referees!

Among steps journals can take towards this goal include:

  • Setting up those automatic reviewer reminders we mentioned above, reviewers will appreciate the help staying on track
  • Organizing and reaching out to reviewer contacts based on their specialties so you can be sure you’re only sending relevant requests (if you’re using Scholastica’s peer review system, take advantage of our reviewer tagging feature)
  • Keeping tabs on how frequently you’re reaching out to each of your reviewers so you can ensure you’re not making too many requests of the same people
  • Establishing clearer revise and resubmit processes and expectations for authors and reviewers to put a limit on review rounds
  • Iterating on your peer review feedback form to make it as straightforward and short as possible
  • Providing guidance on how to write more constructive peer review comments, particularly for early-career researchers (ECRs)

4. Get more (virtually) social!

At the onset of the pandemic, many questioned how long working and socializing in virtual environments would last. Now three years later, it seems what was once deemed the “new normal” has become, well, normal. Disruptions to in-person activities haven’t been easy for anyone. But there have also been many silver linings, including more organizations embracing flexible work cultures and more scholarly publishing events and discussions happening online, making it easier for stakeholders around the world to participate.

One area that’s seen significant change is conferences and events. As discussed by Marco Marabelli, associate professor of Information and Process Management at Bentley University, in a guest Scholarly Kitchen article, online conferences are likely here to stay, at least for the foreseeable future. Marabelli and a group of colleagues conducted a survey of conferencegoers and organizers to learn peoples’ perceptions about whether online-only and/or hybrid conferences are more inclusive. Participants noted various benefits of online event access, including affordability, flexibility, and attendee health and safety. Although, organizers raised some drawbacks, including technical challenges, less interaction among online attendees, and potential privacy concerns for those in recorded sessions. Given the mixed responses, the survey team concluded hybrid events offer the best compromise and may be the future of conferences.

For editors, this presents new opportunities to participate in relevant research communities they may not have been able to before because of health and safety concerns, time constraints, or various other factors. That’s why our next resolution for 2023 is to get more virtually social, starting by taking advantage of online access opportunities to attend more industry conferences and events.

Two editor-specific conferences to consider are the International Society of Managing and Technical Editors (ISMTE) and European Association of Science Editors (EASE) annual conferences. EASE now offers a hybrid conference, and ISMTE transitioned to holding one meeting for all of its constituencies called ISMTE Global instead of separate North American and Asia Pacific conferences. Both the ISMTE and EASE conferences are open to non-members and offer a variety of panels and vendor exhibits to explore. ISMTE also hosts local meetups in different cities, and now virtually, which can be found on their website and are announced regularly on social media.

Of course, the other key way to be more virtually social is by joining online forums in your discipline and expanding your personal and publication networks on social media. LinkedIn, Facebook, and other social media channels offer opportunities to connect with fellow editors and academics and promote your journal’s latest articles and other publication news.

If you’ve been holding out on social media because it seems like too much extra hassle, now’s the time to reconsider. Why embrace social media in the new year? Here are just a handful of reasons:

  • Attract more readers: Promoting your journal’s latest articles via your personal social media profiles and dedicated publication accounts can help you reach new readers and appeal to a more global audience. According to the latest “How Readers Discover Content in Scholarly Publications“ report (which we recap here), scholars globally are increasingly using social media to stay on top of the latest research in their fields.
  • Connect with more early-career researchers: Social media, particularly academic Twitter and now Mastodon, is also where many early-career researchers are hanging out. So becoming active on social media is a way to increase awareness of your journal among the next generation of scholars helping to boost your readership, submissions, and even reviewer pool. Here are some tips for bringing ECRs into the fold of your peer-review process.
  • Boost publication impact: By posting your journal’s latest articles on social media, you’ll also increase the likelihood of others sharing and engaging with them, helping to increase their impact.

If you’re already using social media, consider how you can take your efforts to the next level. We round up seven examples of great digital journal promotion that you can use as inspiration in this blog post!

5. Embrace Agile planning (and celebrate the small wins!)

Finally, a topic we’ve covered quite a bit at Scholastica (including in this white paper) is the benefits of incorporating relevant Agile project management principles into journal planning. The concept of Agile project management originated in the world of software development in the early 2000s as an alternative to the then-dominant “waterfall” methodology. In contrast to the waterfall project management approach, wherein teams map out entire software applications from soup to nuts and then code them to completion, the Agile methodology involves incremental software planning and execution. In Agile development, teams build working versions or pieces of products, test them, iterate as needed, and then decide what to work on next.

Applying Agile project management principles in publication planning where applicable can help your team more quickly adjust operations as needed to account for changes in the research landscape and your publisher or sponsoring organization. Agile project management can also help you continually improve your editorial workflows and provide more value to authors, readers, and institutions. You can learn more about how editorial teams can become more Agile in this blog post. One of the most rewarding parts of Agile project management is that it encourages teams to celebrate lots of “small wins.” Breaking up larger projects into more manageable parts and pieces that can be completed individually means teams can start making real progress on their goals as they’re working towards them.

How will you resolve to help make your academic journal even better in 2023? There are so many new digital optimization possibilities to explore. Just think of all the awesome initiatives you’ll be able to look back on this time next year!

Tales from the Trenches