“Mind the gap” - you’ve likely heard this familiar phrase, often issued at train stations to remind passengers to be cautious while stepping over the space between the train and the platform. This warning could just as well be applied to many academic journals when it comes to moving manuscripts from peer review to publishing.
Many journals have figurative “gaps” between their peer review and publishing processes, or areas where work can easily fall through the cracks or become delayed as a result of disconnected workflows and systems. Such “gaps” can result in editorial headaches and slower time to publication.
Are you minding the gap between peer review and publishing at your journal? Here are 3 common causes of gaps in process and how to avoid them.
Are all of the tools and systems used to manage your journal effectively integrated? This is one of the first questions you should ask when considering whether or not there are gaps between peer review and publishing at your publication. Too often, editors find themselves working with multiple unrelated tools and systems that they have to manually move manuscript files between.
Consider this scenario: a journals’ editors have to upload manuscripts to one platform for peer review and then download accepted peer-reviewed manuscripts and re-upload them to a separate platform for publishing. In this situation, the editors may not think much of having to download and upload files, as each instance seems quick on its own. But consider all of the time being lost and the added complexity the journal will experience. The editors have to not only go through the manual steps of moving individual files, but also the steps of checking for correct file versions and accompanying attachments, as well as re-inputting manuscript details stored in the peer review platform into the publishing system. The editors will likely end up having to manually add all of the manuscript metadata stored in their peer review software to the published articles, because they don’t have a way to transfer that information between platforms.
Situations like the one described above can arise for many reasons - whether it’s choosing tools and systems in silos based on particular functions, without considering how they will or won’t connect, or trying to force fit various tools together. If your journal has this sort of workflow, you’ll want to revisit the tools and systems you’re using and see if and how you can eliminate extra manuscript processing steps. Ideally, your peer review and publishing tools should be completely integrated so that you’re not spending so much time moving around and updating files.
Sometimes, gaps between peer review and publishing are caused by bottlenecks in a journal’s editorial processes. This can happen when editors are not able to easily tell which manuscripts require attention or who’s working on what. If your journal’s editors don’t have an easy way to search and sort manuscripts to determine what stage they’re at in peer review, you might be delayed in making decisions. Likewise, delays can occur if there isn’t an easy way for each editor to tell who is assigned to which manuscript tasks. Having the ability to assign manuscripts and todos to yourself and fellow editors can significantly reduce such process gaps. If you’re able to set automatic task reminders, that can also help you and your team stay on track and consequently give authors a much better experience with your journal. You should ideally use a software platform that offers this functionality.
Another common process gap at many academic journals is waiting to publish articles as full issues. This practice is a great source of frustration for many authors, who want to get their research out into the world as quickly as possible to be the first to publish new discoveries and to begin adding value to their field. While publishing articles in issues was necessary in the print era, because it wouldn’t be logical or economical for journals to print and distribute physical articles one at a time, in online publishing issues are no longer a necessity. Rather than holding back finished articles to wait to publish them in a complete issue, consider publishing articles on a rolling basis as they’re ready and then grouping them into issues at regular intervals after enough articles have been published. Many editors are now taking this approach, which benefits authors by helping them to publish their work faster and also helps journals have a more constant stream of fresh content to keep readers engaged and improve search engine rankings.
Finally, another common cause of gaps between peer review and publishing is editors using scattered communication channels. This is often the case for journals that rely solely on email to manage peer review and production communication. If an editor forgets to Reply All to an email or CC one of their colleagues, details can get confused and files can fall through the cracks, resulting in back and forth between editors that can hold up editorial processes. Using email by itself, rather than communicating within a designated peer review system, can also create a lot of added work for editors in terms of organizing messages and files. Even the best email sorters can forget to put a file in a folder or not see an important message in their inbox, resulting in delays. Journals can avoid the hassle of managing email communication by using a peer review system that has messaging functionality, so they can start and store manuscript communication in one place. For example, editors using Scholastica access each manuscript they are working on in its own Manuscript Work Area where they can start Discussions about the manuscript with editors, authors, and reviewers. All Discussion threads are stored in the Manuscript Work Area, so messages and files are always in the right place.
Ultimately, gaps between peer review and publishing are caused by disjointed tools, systems, and processes. You should aim to centralize and simplify the editorial work at your journal as much as possible. As you identify and take steps to eliminate process gaps, you’ll be streamlining your journals workflows and saving precious time for everyone involved.