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When selecting an online system to receive manuscript submissions and manage peer review most academic journals focus on the experience and needs of their editorial team—but what about authors and reviewers?

Your peer review system can either positively or negatively impact how authors and reviewers think about your journal. The last thing you want to do is make an author or reviewer slog their way through a confusing peer review system. They may decide that they don’t want to work with your journal again! That’s why it’s imperative for journals to assess their current or prospective journal management system from the eyes of all users. Journals must ensure that they’re giving authors and reviewers a streamlined peer review experience.

A cohesive platform is a must for a cohesive peer review experience

As a general rule, centralized tools and systems result in the most streamlined peer review processes. With the right journal management software, editorial teams should be able to get all of the tools they need to manage peer review - from tracking manuscripts to coordinating peer review communication - all in one place. A mistake that many journal teams make is trying to patch together different software like email, DropBox, and Google spreadsheets to create a submission system. For editors, this generally becomes an ongoing headache, but often teams get so used to the process that they resign themselves to its flaws and limitations. The problem is, if peer review feels scattered for your editorial team it’s likely the same or worse for reviewers and authors who aren’t used to your process and are more likely to get frustrated by it.

When journals use scattered tools for peer review, it creates added work for authors and reviewers. No reviewer likes having to log into DropBox to view a manuscript and then having to dig through their email to find the right person to send their referee report. And no author likes having to create a folder in their email inbox to keep track of revision emails. Such situations can make your publication appear unprofessional. For the sake of everyone involved in peer review at your journal, you should seek a journal management platform that has all the tools you need in a central location.

Authors and reviewers are infrequent visitors to your journal - they can’t “learn” your system

When determining how to manage peer review, all journals should follow the guiding principle that authors and reviewers do not have the time to learn the intricacies of a complex system. One more time - authors and reviewers do not have the time to learn how to use complex systems. Therefore, you should seek to manage peer review via an intuitive platform that authors and reviewers can easily access and work within.

Some factors that can make for an unpleasant peer review experience for authors and reviewers are:

  1. Clunky software: If your peer review system looks and functions like a circa 2000 database, that’s a problem. Your editors may be used to your software’s multi-click processes and lengthy sidebars, but authors and reviewers aren’t. Try testing out your peer review software from the perspective of authors and reviewers. If you can’t figure out how to complete a common action within a few minutes, you can be sure authors and reviewers won’t be able to either.

  2. Lack of status updates: Authors and reviewers like getting notification emails like submission status updates and reminders to complete review assignments. You should be able to send automated status updates to authors and reviewers from your peer review platform. And authors and reviewers should be able to access those updates both within your peer review platform and via email.

  3. Difficulty keeping communication straight: Your peer review system should make it easy for authors and reviewers to communicate with editors. Authors and reviewers should be able to contact editors from your peer review system. They should also have easy access to threads of all peer review communication. Ideally, authors and reviewers should be able to access and respond to messages from your journal both within your peer review system and via their email. Scholastica’s peer review software has a feature called Discussions that makes this possible.

  4. File version confusion: You’re bound to work with multiple versions of a manuscript file during peer review. Don’t task authors and reviewers with keeping file versions straight. Make sure your peer review system can automate file versioning.

Busy authors and reviewers need fast user support

Every author and reviewer’s worst nightmare is trying to submit a revised manuscript or referee report on time only to encounter a technical question or technical trouble. It’s important to think about this and to make sure your peer review system offers adequate user support. Authors and reviewers will get frustrated if they have to write to your editors every time they have a question. Everyone using your peer review system should have access to help documentation and technical support.

More tips for assessing peer review software

As you consider what will be the best journal management system for not only your editorial team but also authors and reviewers, check out Scholastica’s guide The Modern Journal: Technology and Peer Review Management, which walks through journal management software benefits and common pitfalls. If you’re interested in learning more about Scholastica’s journal management software, we’d love to show you around! Click here to request a demo.

This post was originally published on (April 17, 2017) and updated on (March 14, 2019).