Image Credit: James MacIndoe

Are you thinking about making the transition to use a new software platform to manage peer review at your scholarly journal?

Whether you’re currently managing your journal by email, or you’re using a designated peer-review system, you or your editorial board may have some questions about making the switch to new software:

  • Will the transition to a new platform take a long time?
  • Will editors or reviewers get confused by the change?
  • Will it be possible to make a clean break from the old system?

Rest assured, while the prospect of switching software may feel daunting it can be a seamless process and the benefits you’ll get from using a platform that’s a better fit for your journal will last long after you’ve made the switch. Here are some tips to help you make the transition to new software.

1. Map out your journal’s review stages, then determine the best workflow in your new software

Remember, when you adopt a new software platform you don’t want to find yourself trying to use it in the exact way you used your old software. Don’t get caught up trying to recreate every click from your old system - ideally, you’ll be able to have fewer clicks and fewer steps while using your new software so you can save time!

But trying to figure out how to use your new software to achieve your journal’s workflow while trying to learn that software isn’t an easy thing to do. To avoid confusion, you’ll want to take a two step approach to applying your journal’s peer review process to your new system.

As a first step, map out your journal’s review stages. To do this, make a numbered list of everything that needs to happen from the time a manuscript is submitted to your journal to the time a decision is made. Focus on listing out what steps you take during each phase in peer review but NOT how you currently do them. In short, leave your current peer review software system out of the story. Why? While the core of your peer review process should not have to change when you transition to new software (unless you choose to change it), the way you manage and organize peer review will likely change based on the structure and features of the software you choose.

Once you’ve mapped out what you need to be able to do during peer review, you’ll be in a much better position to figure out how to fulfill those steps with your new software. Take some time on your own, or work with a software support specialist, to determine the best way to achieve your journal’s workflow in your new platform.

Tip: What we at Scholastica have learned from working with editors is that it can be helpful to separate the three main aspects of transitioning to new software into discrete phases:

  1. Learn the ins-and-outs of the software
  2. Start managing peer review in the new system
  3. Find ways to improve your peer review process

When editors try to do all three at once it can be frustrating: imagine on the first day of using new software trying to invite reviewers without knowing where that functionality lives, or fielding questions from editors who are still figuring out the new software and who don’t remember what’s next in the “new-and-improved review workflow.” By making sure you and your editors learn your new software first, you can all be successful in moving your peer review process forward. Once you’ve learned the new software, that’s a great time to revisit your peer review process and decide if there are improvements you can make.

2. Make sure all of your editors are in the loop and help onboard them

You’ll of course want to keep your editorial board in the loop as you decide which new software you want to switch to and as you make the transition to that system. Some of your editors may have concerns about how the transition will affect day-to-day peer review work, namely if it will make life harder for them. You’ll want to take steps to onboard your editors to the new software and assuage any concerns they have:

  • Take the peer review process you mapped out in step 1 and share it with your team. Make sure you’re all on the same page about the steps in your process and that everyone understands how you plan to recreate that process using your new software.
  • Have the lead user (whoever will be using the software the most) “scout ahead” and use the new system enough to write down the best way for everyone to use it. This will help other editors know exactly what to do rather than each person having to figure it out for themselves.
  • Reach out to your new software provider to see what training opportunities they offer. For example, Scholastica offers free lead editor and team trainings to all new journals.

3. Gather all of your peer reviewer data

Having easy access to your journal’s core pool of peer reviewers is paramount. Ideally, you should be able to transfer all the peer review contacts and information you need to your new software to avoid having to work between your new platform and a spreadsheet or email-based system.

Before switching to your new software, you’ll want to compile a list of all your journal’s peer reviewers and any pertinent information about them that you need to easily have on-hand. Among reviewer information to consider is:

  • If you use email, how often do you send reviewer reminders? Know this so you can program your new software accordingly.
  • Do you need to be able to categorize your peer reviewers based on availability, specialty etc.? Map out how you would like to be able to do that - then you can determine how to achieve this using new software. For example, Scholastica has the option to add custom tags to peer reviewers so you can group them in multiple ways using your journal’s terminology.
  • Have your reviewer feedback form ready so you can recreate it in the new system.
  • Move your commonly-used emails (reviewer invitations, decision letters, etc.) into your new software.

A tip for dealing with your past reviewer list: moving to a new system is a good time to clean up your reviewer database. Remove reviewers who have dead email addresses or have consistently declined to review for your journal.

4. Move manuscripts to your new system

When you make the transition to use new software, one thing you’ll definitely want to minimize is the time you spend continuing to manage manuscripts using your old system after your new software is in place. To avoid this:

Update your journal website and submissions page to link to your new submission system right away, so you aren’t getting submissions in two places. Move all new, untouched, submissions to your new system. Set a date for when you will switch to your new software, and from that point on make sure new and revised manuscripts go through your new system while you phase out the old system by completing reviews and making decisions for articles still active in it.

5. Start managing all peer review communication on your new platform right away

In addition to ensuring that all your journal’s submissions are moved to your new software, to avoid having to manage peer review in two places, you’ll also want to start moving all of your peer review communication over to your new platform.

For example:

  • Set up communication templates, such as decision templates and reviewer reminders in your new system (don’t use old templates, especially emai).
  • Use any built-in communication your new software offers rather than continuing to use email or another outside system.
  • Move any editorial team scheduling into your new software. For example, on Scholastica all journals have a Todo Dashboard, which is a collection of a journal’s to-dos and due dates across all manuscripts that editors can use to post the tasks they’re working on or assign tasks to team members.

Conclusion

If you want to make your transition to new software as easy as possible, it’s best to try and make a clean break from your old system. Make sure you have all the data you need to move over to your new software, get your editorial team onboard, and work with your new software provider to figure out the best way to use their software to fit your needs. By focusing on learning the best way to apply new software to your journal’s peer review process and working to switch to your new system as qiuckly as possible you’ll be able to make the transition with ease.