Image Credit: Julia Koblitz on Unsplash
Image Credit: Julia Koblitz on Unsplash

Getting added to Scopus is a goal that many journals share. One of the top academic indexes today — Scopus includes over 40,000 journals across disciplines, and it’s one of the primary places scholars go to find relevant articles and that research stakeholders look to as an indicator of research quality.

Scopus has a highly rigorous application process to ensure the index only admits thoroughly vetted publications. At Scholastica, we know publishers and editors often have questions about how to get a journal added to Scopus for the first time. So when Precision Nanomedicine (PRNANO), one of our customers, was accepted into Scopus, we decided to reach out to learn more about their experience getting added to the index.

Founded in 2018, PRNANO, the official journal of the European Foundation for Clinical Nanomedicine, is a fully-OA publication (i.e., free to read and publish in). The journal was launched by a group of former editorial board members for Elsevier’s Nanomedicine: Nanotechnology, Biology, and Medicine, who left that journal to publish scholarship “by the community and for the community.”

Today, PRNANO is growing fast, with a rapidly expanding readership. The journal uses Scholastica’s Peer Review System and OA Publishing Platform. PRNANO is led by Editor-in-Chief Lajos (Lou) Balogh and Managing Editor Georgette B. Salieb-Beugelaar, who joined us to discuss their experiences applying for Scopus.

Many thanks to Lou and Georgette for taking the time for this interview!

Q&A with Lou Balogh and Georgette B. Salieb-Beugelaar

To get things started, could you share a quick overview of PRNANO’s development up to this point?

LB: To start any journal, what you need first is a good concept and a quality publishing platform; then you need authors who are willing to write for the journal, high-quality articles on topics that people are interested in reading, and to establish communication channels for the journal, which includes applying for indexing. You could publish the greatest articles of all time, but if nobody knows about them, then it doesn’t matter. And, finally, of course, you need people to read the journal.

Once you get a base of readers, people will start sharing and citing your publications, and then you’ll be able to interact with and attract more authors. As your publication matures, you can begin applying for indexes. Finally, which I can talk about later, you must read the requirements for every index you wish to apply to. Every indexing service – DOAJ and others – has different requirements.

When we started, we worked with a programmer to create our own publishing platform and tailor it to our liking. After the first couple of months, that turned out to be too complicated and not efficient at all. Then, we went to another AI-based startup platform that could not deliver what we wanted. Finally, in 2018, we joined Scholastica and found it was a good and affordable platform.

We created the journal on the Scholastica platform, attracted a base of readers, and then we addressed one by one the requirements of the indexing services we wanted to use. That’s the short version.

GSB: One of the most important parts of our success is that we are familiar with scholarly organizations in our field and the keynote conferences, mainly CLINAM. This conference comes back every year, even with COVID – though that was a little difficult as an online conference. Meeting each other every year in person was very important for coming so far with the journal. Because if you go to a conference, you can network. You can speak to people about what they research and motivate them to publish part of it in your journal or talk about their plans for future publications. That was so valuable!

LB: To bring it all together, the following three components have been key to our development. First, we established a readership base. Second, we connected with researchers in our field. Having the backing of the European Foundation for Clinical Nanomedicine was vital to that. And the third component is the personal connections I acquired while I was EIC of the journal Nanomedicine: Nanotechnology, Biology, and Medicine. More than sixty members of the NNBM editorial board joined me to start PRNANO to promote sustainable open science in the field; we had a very good group of associate editors who had been working together for years by that time. We are grateful that we have good authors and a very good and supportive editorial board.

So there was a need, and we had personnel who formed our authorship, advisory, and editorial board. And I was very lucky to have Georgette as well. We have a weekly meeting where we discuss both actual issues and strategy. We understand the industry and know how it works from both sides as authors and editors. I just had to learn how to publish.

Why was applying for Scopus so important for PRNANO? What are the unique benefits that Scopus offers journals as an index?

LB: Well, there are three indexes that are most important for all OA journals in addition to any discipline-specific ones — the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ), the Web of Science from Clarivate, and Scopus. Google Scholar is more of a web extract, which is another issue. Clarivate measures the Journal Impact Factor, the limitations of which are well-known, but it is still central for research institutions and university administrators. Right now, they use that “impact factor” to judge the productivity of authors, which has become an existential issue for scientists. In my view, it’s ultimately gotten to the point that publishing an article in a prestigious journal is more important than the actual content of the article. And that’s what we are trying to change because no author’s productivity can be reduced to a number.

So, at first, we applied to DOAJ, which provides the credibility you need early on. They have a list of requirements to fulfill. This was very easy with Scholastica because the journal website template has a place for all the necessary information. And, once a journal is admitted to the DOAJ, Scholastica offers an integration to start indexing new articles automatically.

Then we followed up with inclusion in COPE and DORA, and applied to Clarivate. Scopus requires at least two years of publishing before you can apply, and once we reached the minimum time requirement, we approached Scopus. So that’s how we started.

One thing that stands out about PRNANO is the quality of our editorial board. We have forty-five members on the world’s top two percent of scientists list, and twenty-five belong to the top one percent based on their career-long citation numbers. We don’t ask them to write “critiques” but to give advice. When they give advice, they’re certainly not a poser judging a clinical director’s work. That matters.

It’s not only about the number of articles you publish but; rather the quality of those articles. Though there is a minimum quantity of articles you must publish annually before being indexed in Scopus.

What was the experience of applying to Scopus like for your journal? Can you briefly walk through the application process?

LB: First, there is a preliminary list of what should be in your application. You must read the list closely and seriously. So many people don’t read the instructions because they assume everything is the same for every service. Read the list! There are also FAQs for Scopus content partners, which cover everything you need to know. They provide an overview of the content selection process, the process of making changes, how to promote that you are indexed in Scopus, and so on. So, there is a very clear list, but it is a long list.

I downloaded the PDF version of this list. Then, I went through to check off everything as I took care of every item. There is a provisioning form. After that, the process begins. Your application goes to a committee that handles the paperwork, which isn’t up to you. That’s the short version of the process.

When you applied, were there any additional steps you had to take that you didn’t expect? Is there anything you think people should know that they might not get by reading the Scopus website?

LB: No. The answer might seem simple, but just fulfill the requirements!

And there are a lot of requirements — so the main thing editors and publishers need to know are that you have to take the time to comb through them all carefully and make sure you do every step before you submit your application. Because once you send it out, you can’t change anything.

For PRNANO’s application, I suggested the title and completed the preliminary document, which includes contact information, serial title, and document uploads so they can access the articles. It’s all pretty straightforward if you Google “how to apply for Scopus.” Once you submit the application, it goes to a committee with a content selection and advisory board. They come back with questions about the publishing model and the funding support system, and you have to provide answers.

Scopus is the second most important and generally trusted index in the world, so getting into Scopus for us means that we are accepted as a credible source. But I don’t look only at Scopus’ Scopus citation indices. I still consider the journal impact factor important because of its significance to authors.

GSB: I’ll add that it helped that Lou and I could talk with each other about the application process because it was a puzzle! We discussed it and tried to find the best way to proceed. It was a challenge sometimes, but it works out if you stick to the process and publish quality content.

Did you have to upload articles as PDFs or other file types to Scopus for review, or were they able to automatically pull articles from your site once you submitted the Scopus application?

LB: We first applied three years ago and had to upload our articles as PDFs then. When we applied most recently, we only had to give them the URLs for the articles, which was not an issue since we are open access. So they could go right to the link we gave them. It was very easy the second time because of that.

If a journal isn’t open access, do you know how Scopus would be able to access and index the articles?

LB: I believe they would have to upload the files manually. They would have to upload a certain number of articles or issues so the committee could look at them and assess the journal.

And how long did the vetting process take, as they assessed your articles to see if you would be admitted into Scopus?

LB: They didn’t promise a timeline, but it took around 4-6 months. It depends on how many applications they have at the time and how many people work on them.

Was there a lot of back and forth with the Scopus team while they assessed your application? Did they ask for additional documents or clarification?

LB: Zero back and forth. All we could do was wait, be patient, and keep working.

Since receiving Scopus approval, have you had to take any steps to enable Scopus to start formally indexing all your articles?

LB: Since we are totally open access, we don’t have to do anything else. They can program Scopus to go to our site and ingest new content. But it does take time between signing the papers and being indexed in the database. They only update their database twice a year. Getting on the list takes about six weeks, but evaluating it takes longer. So, we’ve kept Scopus off of our website because I don’t want people to try and confirm it via Google and see that we aren’t on there yet. We will wait until we are on the list and then update that. There is an Excel file that anyone can download to see all of the journals indexed in Scopus – and there are a lot of them!

What advice do you have for other journals that aspire to be indexed in Scopus?

LB: I really cannot give much more advice than this — read the darn requirements! But the basis for it all is improving authors’ visibility. Every author gets five emails per day asking them to pay to publish in various journals. Interestingly, there’s less public trust in journals that are free for authors to publish in. People think that free means cheap – it’s a human thing, you know. So, we need to keep educating authors about the benefits of open access and show them that open-access journals can be of the highest quality. Indexing is part of that story, and that’s why it’s worth taking the time to apply to respected databases like Scopus.

For additional advice, I think back to a mentor of mine who said, “Everything works; nothing doesn’t.” That’s my best advice: just keep working on it and be patient. Indexing organizations want to do good work themselves. They don’t want to harm themselves. If they deny your initial application, it’s not because they’re against you. They are just trying to make it better – and that’s very crucial to understand.

GSB: I heartily agree!

LB: One more thing: you should never give up expanding. Don’t get satisfied and rest on your laurels. Nothing will happen without constant work. Social media is one important way to expand your base. We use social media well enough to get some slow and steady expansion. For example, I have more than 5,000 followers on LinkedIn now.

Georgette also runs our journal’s Twitter and Pinterest pages. Facebook is not as important because it’s more personal than academic. But the point is, you need to think about who you want to read your journal and then go out and find them. You need to establish a base of readers to ensure they know about you and read what you publish. Because if they don’t know about you, it doesn’t matter what you do.

We are trying to change the culture of publishing by making the content important again and focusing on quality. It’s a simple thing, but building long-term values takes time! Patience and diligence are essential components. It took us five years!

Thanks again to Lou and Georgette for taking the time for this interview! For a step-by-step overview of the Scopus application process, we encourage you to also check out our blog “Why, when, and how to get your journals indexed in Scopus.”

OA Publishing Guide