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For academic journals, getting new articles and issues out can feel like a race to the finish. There are always looming publishing deadlines to meet, and authors expect journals to provide increasingly competitive publication timeframes. For some journals, the race is a relay, starting with peer review editors who then pass the baton to designated production editors or services for the last leg of the publishing journey. For others, it’s a marathon, with one core group of editors managing peer review and the full production process from copyediting to typesetting to proofing.

Workflow particulars aside, all journals share the goal of meeting production deadlines and publishing articles as quickly as possible so they can start having impacts. And, in the process, all journals face similar hurdles (see what we did there?). Among primary challenges that can arise for journals during production are getting caught up in back and forth edits with authors, chasing after missing manuscript details, and having difficulty transferring manuscripts between different formatting tools and systems.

At times, production holdups will be out of your hands. But, you can still take some steps to try and avoid these situations. In this blog post, we share five ways to streamline your production process so you can be sure to hit your current production marks and even start publishing new articles sooner. Let’s get to it!

Make sure you have a solid production schedule

The first step to having a more efficient production process is establishing a solid production schedule. You may be thinking, we already have a production schedule — but how clear is it? If the time it takes you to produce new articles is somewhat up in the air depending on how long each stage of copyediting and proofing takes, you’re likely not managing production as effectively as you could be. Your production schedule should not only consist of a list of steps to take but also hard deadlines for editors and authors to meet.

Production schedules with firm deadlines are necessary to ensure all members of your editorial team know what their duties are and when to fulfill them and to give authors more definitive answers to questions like, “When will I receive a proof of my article?”

To start, outline the stages of your production process. For most journals, this includes:

  • Copyediting phase 1 (then any subsequent copyediting phases)
  • Layout/typesetting (including citation checks and metadata creation)
  • First proof check (internal)
  • First proof check (author)
  • Final proof check (internal)
  • Final proof sent to author
  • Article published

From there, you should allot a set number of days for each stage of your journal’s production process, aiming for no more than ten. For example, all phase one copyedits should be complete within one week of a manuscript being assigned to a copyeditor. Once your journal has an established production schedule with deadlines, apply it to each accepted manuscript. Sticking to the schedule and not allowing additional changes after their due date will keep manuscripts moving forward and prevent any “surprise” updates, particularly from authors. For some authors, proofing can seem like an opportunity to start tweaking their manuscript copy or organization. Having clear (and preferably short) production stage deadlines will help authors to stay on task and stick to final proof review, without trying to start another round of edits (more on this below).

Set clear expectations for authors

Just as all journals should include peer review policies on their website to let authors know how their peer review process is structured, all journals should provide authors with basic publishing information, so they know what to expect if they receive an acceptance decision. While journals can wait to share detailed production steps until a manuscript is accepted, such as specific proof review stages and timeframes, some production-related information should be communicated upfront – namely, your journal’s copyright policies, any publication fees you charge, and any author statements you require (e.g., a declaration of authorship, conflict of interest statement, and ethical standard statement). These are key pieces of information that authors should be made aware of as part of the submission process. Journals should include this information on their website somewhere within or easily navigable from their author information page, so authors are sure to see it.

From there, you may choose to communicate additional production next steps to authors of accepted manuscripts via email, or you may decide to include more detailed production information on your journal website. For example, Oxford Academic has a Production and publication page that outlines its production process as well as a Production FAQs page that answers common questions around licensing, proof review, and online publication practices. There is no right way to communicate production next steps, all that matters is that you make a clear and succinct production overview available to authors as soon as their manuscript is accepted.

In your production overview, be sure to set clear expectations for authors around their role in the proof review process. You should provide authors with a scope for acceptable suggestions, such as specifying that elective rewrites will not be accepted. As noted, you should also give authors a set number of days to review their proof and submit any comments or requested changes to prevent publication delays.

Look for ways to cut down on typesetting time

When it comes to streamlining your production process, it’s important to evaluate whether you’re formatting articles as efficiently as possible. Layout and typesetting have historically been among the most labor-intensive aspects of publishing, but using modern processes and systems, it doesn’t have to be. If you work with a contracted publisher that handles production for you, this may be outside of your control. However, if you manage your own production process, you should always be looking for ways to cut down on article formatting time.

Journals can choose to handle layout/typesetting in-house or work with a service provider. Formatting articles in-house will, of course, be the most time-consuming option, as it will likely require your team to do a lot of manual work. Whereas using a service can free up editorial time and is often faster. That said, it’s important to know that not all article production processes are equal. If your journal articles are being formatted into PDFs in one word processing system then converted into XML and/or HTML separately, whether the work is being done by your editors or a service provider, you’re still losing a lot of time.

If your current situation sounds like the one described above, we encourage you to check out Scholastica’s digital-first production service. At Scholastica, we use advanced technology to generate PDF, HTML, and full-text XML versions of articles all at once from original DOCX or LaTeX manuscripts and accompanying files with no pre-formatting steps on the part of editors or authors. So journals can get all of the article file types they need in a fraction of the time it would take to have someone format each separately. And, because we generate all article files simaltaneously, Scholastica proofs always stay in sync. So authors and editors only have to review one article proof, and all edits made to that file automatically apply to the other versions.

Bridge gaps between peer review and production

A big part of streamlining your journal production process is looking for ways to bridge gaps between peer review and production — this includes gaps between your peer review and production processes and gaps between the journal tools and systems you’re using. Let’s start with process gaps. A common cause for production delays is editors having to wait on authors to submit necessary manuscript details and files once their manuscript has been accepted. In many cases, time could be saved if journals started soliciting available production information from authors earlier during peer review. For example, peer review editors can take steps to gather rich metadata from authors, such as ORCIDs, as part of the submission process so that manuscripts that are accepted already have all of the metadata they need. Additionally, editors can start requesting necessary author statements or permissions for copyrighted materials used in manuscripts as part of peer review, rather than waiting until a manuscript is accepted.

Once manuscripts have been accepted, if you have a handoff between peer review and production editors, your peer review editors should check that the production editors will have all of the information they need to start work on article formatting before passing the metaphorical baton. For example, peer review editors should make sure that all manuscript files are in a format acceptable for production and that all necessary figures and tables are included with manuscript files. Peer review editors should also make production specifications clear for each article, like the article type, issue assignment, and order of supplementary materials. If your production editors are frequently emailing your peer review editors or authors to gather missing information, that’s a smell that your peer review and production processes may not be as aligned as they could be.

Now let’s move to gaps between journal tools and systems. Another major production bottleneck for many journals is having to transfer manuscript files and information between different peer review and publishing software and services. For example, if your journal is managing peer review in one place, formatting articles in a separate word processing system or systems, then uploading articles to a separate publishing platform, file versioning and handoffs alone are likely eating up a good deal of your publishing time.

Wherever possible, journals should seek ways to integrate their peer review and publishing software and services. Using integrated systems can cut out steps like having to upload articles to different online systems at each stage of the publishing process and re-input all of the article details and metadata that goes with them. For example, journals can use Scholastica’s easy-to-integrate journal management tools and services to peer review, typeset, and even publish articles in one place. Using Scholastica, manuscript information gathered during peer review, including all article-level metadata, is retained when articles move to our production service, as well as our open access publishing platform should a journal choose to use it.

Try following a rolling publishing model

Finally, another way for journals to speed up their production processes and reduce their time to publication is to follow a rolling publishing model. In rolling publishing rather than waiting to compile manuscripts into an issue, journals move manuscripts into production as soon as they’re accepted and publish them online as soon as they’re ready. Articles published on a rolling basis can be compiled into issues retroactively for citation purposes. For example, Survey Practice, the American Association for Public Opinion Research’s e-journal, publishes all of its articles on a rolling basis and then applies them to annual issues. Publishing articles on a rolling basis can help your team break up production work and avoid developing a backlog of articles waiting to be published.

We hope you find these production tips useful! Do you have any suggestions to add or questions? Share your thoughts in the comments section or tweet to us at @scholasticahq!

Update Note: This post was originally published on August 06, 2018 and updated on December 30, 2019.