Image Credit: Kevin Dooley

The role of the scholarly journal editor is changing fast. What was once a job centered on managing peer review and getting articles to print has evolved to include new steps to ensure journal articles reach their intended audience. As we transition to digital journal publishing, editors must think beyond peer review and production to article discoverability and dissemination on the web.

If you’re new to online journal publishing, trying to organize your team to address and master its components all at once can feel like attempting to put together a vast puzzle with new pieces being added by the day. Overwhelming, right? That’s why it’s important for you and your editorial team to approach each new aspect of digital publishing one at a time, building out your journal’s digital publishing strategy piece by piece. As you make incremental improvements to your online publishing process you’ll be getting into the mindset of a modern journal editor and bringing new life to your publication.

How should you be rethinking your role as an editor? Here are four ways to start:

1. Take steps to make your content more discoverable online

Arguably, the most important place to start rethinking your role as an editor is article discoverability. That means stepping away from the old print publishing mindset of leaving readers to find your journal on their own, and realizing that now that scholars are searching for articles on the web, rather than looking for specific journals, if you want your content discovered, it’ll take more than just printing a new issue on time.

Where to begin? First things first, you’ll need to ensure that your journal has a metadata plan in place. Metadata is data about your journal and its individual articles that search engines and databases require to find your content, organize it, and display it in search results. There are two types of metadata your journal will need: structural metadata and descriptive metadata.

Structural metadata is descriptions of how the components of an object are organized. For example, if your website has page numbers those numbers are structural metadata. Descriptive metadata is data describing your content that is generally used to help search engines locate it online, including:

  • Title
  • Author
  • Keywords
  • Publisher

In your role as a digital journal editor you need to be thinking about these types of metadata and how your journal is being interpreted or ignored (yikes!) by search engines. If you’re not familiar with metadata, reach out to your journal’s webmaster to see what data you currently have in place for your website and articles. Pay close attention to your descriptive metadata and make sure you’re covering all of your bases. Many journals are still failing to add keywords to their articles, which can be a major hindrance to showing up in search results.

When you’re making a metadata plan for your journal, be sure to take Google Scholar into account and organize your metadata the way it requires in order to crawl your articles. Google Scholar is one of the first stops many researchers make when conducting online searches. You can check if your journal is being indexed by Google Scholar by doing a quick search for a few of your article titles. If your searches yield no results, you’ll need to follow Google’s Inclusion Guidelines for Webmasters to get set up. We broke down the basics of getting added to Google Scholar in a recent blog post.

Finally, in terms of making your articles more discoverable in Google Scholar and in academic search databases, you’ll want to start familiarizing yourself with Digital Object Identifiers (DOIs). A DOI is a persistent link to a piece of content online. When you assign DOIs to your articles it ensures that scholars will always be able to locate the official version, even if you change your journal’s web address or if there are different versions of your articles online. It’s important to stay ahead of changes to your content on the web because online content is more likely to be subject to change than print.

2. Always keep your website design in mind

Here’s an exercise to try: Surf the web and, from the perspective of a non-editor, look at how different publications in your journal’s field setup their websites. As you explore make a note of your experience on their sites. Now, visit your own journal’s website and try to objectively ask yourself what you think of it. See where we’re getting? As a digitally-minded journal editor it’s imperative that you’re always thinking about the experience of authors and readers when they come to your website and how it compares to the experience they would have with another journal.

In the early stages of online publishing most journals followed a similar website design with a basic journal description on their homepage and then a link to a page of journal issues that each linked out to their respective articles. These websites looked a lot like reading in print. Part of rethinking your role as an editor is working to understand how the scholarly communication experience is changing online and how your journal must evolve to meet the needs of digital scholars. Online scholars are becoming more focused on articles than journal issues, so above all else it’s paramount that you take steps to make it easier for readers to find individual articles on topics of interest to them. This means taking steps to decouple your articles from your journal issues on your website. As you make changes to the way you organize content on your website, take a look at how other journals and mainstream media outlets present their online content to get ideas for your digital publishing design.

One aspect of online journal web design that we can’t stress enough is: make sure your website is mobile-friendly! More and more scholars are using tablets and even their smartphones to do article searches. It’s essential that your website is accessible from mobile devices.

3. Establish an online presence for your journal

Oftentimes, journals will create a publication website and then think that their online presence is fully established and that no more needs to be done. However, part of rethinking your role as an editor is understanding that scholars now expect journals to make their online content engaging and expand its reach - especially scholars considering publishing with your journal. Scholars want to see that your journal will help them get their content in front of readers and grow its impact. With the rise of altmetrics impact, the more opportunities you take to encourage discussion about your journal’s content the more likely you’ll make it for authors to grow their impact and consequently to grow your journal’s impact and reputation.

There are many ways you can go about building your journal’s online presence, including:

  • Fostering an active social media presence for your journal using Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn
  • Taking steps to resurface your journal’s articles such as starting a journal blog, adding article sections to your website, or featuring top articles on your journal’s homepage
  • Looking at what other journals are doing to get ideas for content promotion, and asking editors about their experiences trying out different communication outlets

When it comes to taking steps to establish your journal’s online presence be sure to keep things simple at first. Choose one or two outlets that you think will work well for your journal and commit to keeping them active, rather than trying to take on a blog, profile for every social media outlet, and so forth, which will likely get overwhelming all at once.

4. Be prepared to multi-task

Time is one of the greatest barriers editors face when they’re trying to rethink their traditional role in order to meet the needs of digital publishing. You don’t want to make the mistake of trying to modernize the appearance of your online journal while still maintaining a clunky peer review and publishing process managed between email and spreadsheets or using outdated software. It’s important that you make sure the technology you’re using to manage peer review and publishing at your journal is also helping you to grow your digital publishing strategy.

Make sure your peer review and publishing systems are giving your journal:

  • A more professional peer review experience for authors and editors
  • Insight into your editorial workflow via analytics
  • A smoother process for moving manuscripts through peer review and into publishing
  • Helpful automation options to speed up manual tasks
  • Customer support for your editors, authors, and reviewers so you don’t have to field technical questions

If you know it’s time for your team to adopt a more modern journal management platform but worry that changing your peer review process will be tedious or confusing, don’t fear! As with any transition to new software preparation is the key to a smooth hand-off between systems. Start by mapping out your journal’s current peer review process then determine the best means of using your new software system to achieve the outcomes you need. Focus on completing all of your prep work to make as clean a break from your old peer review system as you can and you’ll be on track to switch over to your new software in no time.

How are you rethinking your role as a journal editor? Where do you think is the most important place to begin? Let us know on Twitter at @Scholasticahq!