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What exactly does academic journal production entail? The term can be somewhat ambiguous to editors as it often depends on the publication. And, since production is a transitional point at many journals, where one editor or group of editors who handle peer review tasks pass accepted manuscripts to another editor or group of editors who handle publishing tasks, after that handoff point production can become a grey area for editors not directly involved.

While every editor may not be involved in production steps, it’s important that all editors understand the phases of their journal’s production process and how they relate to peer review. If your journal lacks clear alignment between peer review and production you may end up with gaps in your editorial processes that can delay time to publication or cause you to miss out on opportunities to improve your workflows.

In this post, we’re breaking down the different phases of production common to most journals and how they can impact all aspects of the publication. As noted, the phases of production can vary from journal to journal. If your journal does not follow one of the steps listed below - for example, arXiv journals likely won’t do typesetting - feel free to skip to the next point. But do read about the production steps your journal has and consider areas you may need to build upon.

Phase 1: Copyediting

The first phase of production at most academic journals is copyediting accepted manuscripts. This process is generally pretty straightforward. Manuscripts require final grammar and formatting review. This is also one of the areas where coordination between peer review and publishing is most important. Journals can significantly cut down on copyediting time when their editors are taking steps to get manuscripts as publication-ready as possible throughout peer review.

Ways editors handling peer review can help get manuscripts ready for publication include:

  • Iterating on manuscript formatting guidelines to make them clearer and consequently improve author compliance
  • Notifying authors about technical errors as part of peer review (for example if a table needs to be reformatted in order for the manuscript to be applicable for publication, let the authors know and have them make the updates)
  • Communicating next steps to authors so they know from the start how edits will be handled and when to expect to review their final article proof

Copyediting can be one of the more labor-intensive aspects of journal management, but when editors pool together the work can often be spread out relatively easily among available resources. You can also work with your editors to find a third party to assist in copyediting, whether it’s a service provider or network of volunteers. Many journals have saved production time and costs by enlisting graduate students to handle copyediting and technical checks, which is a great way for grad students to learn more about journal publishing.

Phase 2: Typesetting and proofreading

The next part of production at most journals is typesetting and proofreading articles. This entails formatting manuscripts into either or both PDF and HTML articles and then checking the final files for any errors. Journals can use a range of tools for typesetting with varying degrees of efficiency. While it is often treated as separate from peer review, the way you handle peer review can impact your typesetting process and how you typeset articles will have wider impacts on your publication that all of your editors should be thinking about.

How can you improve typesetting at your journal from the peer review side? As with copyediting, one of the best ways to get manuscripts closer to production is to give authors clear formatting guidelines. If you need tables in certain file types or images in certain sizes etc. make sure authors know and get them to you early on. Depending on your journal’s discipline, you may even be able to have authors help with typesetting. For example, if you publish in a discipline that uses the arXiv you could follow the arXiv overlay model to eliminate the need for typesetting altogether, like Discrete Analysis. Or, depending on your journal’s discipline you may be able to create a manuscript template that authors can use to put their manuscript file into a typeset state. For example, Quantum, a community-led physics journal, created a LaTeX template for authors that gets articles production-ready.

Another way that you can reduce work and time associated with typesetting manuscripts is by cutting down on handoff steps between peer review and publishing by using centralized tools and systems. Your team will lose time and introduce more room for errors or confusion if you use disjointed peer review and publishing tools that require editors to download accepted manuscripts from one place, then upload them to another platform for typesetting, and then upload them somewhere else to publish. Conversely, using centralized peer review and publishing tools can save you headaches and a lot of time. For example, Scholastica offers a typesetting service that integrates with our peer review and publishing platform so editors can handle all of their files and workflows in one place. Managing peer review and publishing on one platform also makes it easier for editors to quickly address any questions or concerns from authors about changes made from an article’s final accepted manuscript state to the typeset version.

In addition to concerns about workflow efficiency, all editors should care about how their journal articles are typeset from a visibility standpoint. If your journal doesn’t yet format articles in HTML and XML, it’s something your team should have on its radar for future improvements. HTML articles are more search engine friendly and XML is a requirement for many scholarly indexes. Producing your articles in these formats can greatly improve their discoverability and reach.

Phase 3: Online publishing

Once your manuscripts have been typeset, it’s time to get them out to readers online. Your online publishing steps are an area your whole team should be concerned about because time to publication is a deciding factor for many authors when choosing which journal to submit to. If you can show a fast time to publication, you’ll make your journal more attractive to authors. Ultimately, for most journals, publishing hold ups tend to come from technical struggles. If your website requires code to make updates, it will likely mean that only one of your editors can post articles or that you’ll need to work with an outside web developer. This will tag on time to your process and potential frustration. For example, seemingly minor article updates such as changing a metadata field or putting an article into a category on your website can become major headaches if they require custom code. And avoiding these kinds of optimizations will make your journal less user-friendly. For these reasons, if your editorial team is not especially technically savvy look for platforms that you can easily manage. For example, Scholastica’s open access publishing platform includes an easy-to-edit journal website template.

Phase 4: Indexing

The fourth and, at most journals, the final phase of production is indexing. Journals can submit their published articles to relevant scholarly indexes such as DOAJ or Crossref to help scholars find them. Depending on your journal’s discipline, your indexing needs will vary. There are many index types to consider! One thing to keep in mind for indexing is that many platforms will require or prefer articles delivered in the XML format. All of your editors will care about getting your articles in front of more readers so this is an area where, as mentioned previously, your entire team should be thinking towards the future.

Putting it all together

While journal production may seem worlds away from peer review, in reality, your editorial workflows will be intertwined and impact each other throughout every stage. Getting all of your editors on the same page in terms of how you handle production, where you can optimize your peer review process to save time down the line, and what aspects of publishing you’ll need to focus on in the future to improve can have big impacts on your publication overall. Perhaps it goes without saying, but your production editors should also be aware of the stages of your peer review process. But that’s for another blog post!