Choosing scholarly journals: peer review, time and rejection rates

This post is part of a mini-series that I’m creating, about choosing where to publish, aimed at early career researchers. If you haven’t got time to read it all, then maybe just scan for the most useful stuff in bold text!

I started this series with alternatives/additions to journal articles. Then I looked at the first two criteria, general reputation and suitability or relevance. And now I’m moving on to consider peer review, which of course influences reputation and is usually considered a sign of scholarly quality. We know that peer review is important and that journals which are not peer reviewed are often less highly regarded among scholars.

Connected to this is the time to publication, and rejection or acceptance rates at a journal, but these two aren’t easy pieces of information to find, to understand or to use in decision making about where to publish. In fact, I think they largely have little to contribute to that decision because they are so murky, except see the section on “when is it published?” because that is crucial for some authors.

These criteria are important for authors to understand and they also illustrate how useful it is to get to know journal editors. Should you ever find yourself in conversation with an editor, reviewer or author from the journal at the top of your wishlist, you might want to be prepared, so I’ve listed some questions towards the end of this post that could be helpful.

two silhouetted heads face each other, covered in colourful question marks
Ask an editor, if you can!

Peer review

If the journal is peer reviewed (sometimes also known as “refereed”) then this will weigh heavily in its favour, in terms of its reputation among the scholarly community. Peer review is used as a validation and polishing process, thus assuring the quality of research that you will find in a journal.

How do I find peer reviewed journals?

Directories of journals like Ulrich’s or Cabell’s will tell you whether a journal is peer reviewed or not (among other information) – if your institution has a subscription to one of these sources. And of course, you can check out journal home pages, for journals that you’re already aware of.

Note that Cabell have both a whitelist and a blacklist. The whitelist has lots more useful information for an author choosing where to publish than Ulrich’s does. But it has two major disciplinary gaps: Medicine and Engineering. Cabell’s blacklist covers all disciplines, and attempts to take over where Beall’s list left off: they consulted with Jeffrey Beall when deciding how to go about their blacklist, but didn’t just copy his list. I’m not covering so-called “predatory journals” in this blogpost (it’s coming soon!), but I thought it worth a mention at this stage.

Ulrich’s directory was historically designed for librarians choosing journals for a collection and covers way more titles than Cabell’s, so the two sources are rather different. Some years ago now, I asked Ulrich’s about journals that appear not to be refereed/peer reviewed (they use a little referee’s shirt symbol), and they told me that journals which have no symbol may in fact be refereed, but their data did not indicate it. So the directory is a starting point but you do need to check details yourself. (The University of Toronto have a video on how to use Ulrich’s if you’re interested in this.)

What do you mean “peer reviewed”?

The phrase “peer review” is not used to describe a standardised process: there are many different kinds of peer review, and some might appeal more to you as an author. A more rigorous process with more steps and more people might take more time, but result in a better quality article.

Some variations include:

  • Blind, double blind or open? This is about whether the authors and reviewers are aware of one another’s identity. Maybe you’re comfortable with not knowing who your reviewers are (blind): some argue that this frees reviewers to be more critical and therefore add to the quality of the article. Maybe you’d rather that they also didn’t know who you are (double blind). Or maybe you’d rather that everything was out in the open so that you each know who the other parties are: some argue that this makes reviewers more helpful and less off-hand or confrontational. Further, with some types of open peer review, the readers can also see attributed reviews and responses: this is both transparent and open peer review.
  • Transparent peer review. An article in the Scholarly Kitchen highlights the importance of transparency, where the content of the review process is available for all to read. It also describes more how transparent peer review works, including publication of author responses to peer review. The difference to open peer review lies in anonymity for reviewers.
  • Number of reviewers per article: there may be only two reviewers plus the editor, or some journals will use more reviewers. More people reviewing could also result in more requirements for you to polish your article since they could all bring different perspectives, some of which may be difficult for you reconcile. However some editors may help to consolidate reviewer comments: this is why it’s so worthwhile contacting someone already published with your journal of choice, to learn from their experience. If it’s your first journal article then a helpful editor is a real argument in favour of a journal! It is perhaps also a good sign (and useful information) if a journal has clear guidelines for peer reviewers on its website.
  • Stages of peer review: sometimes it’s not only about the number of people, but also the stages through which your article will pass. Maybe a third reviewer will be consulted only if the first two disagree about whether the article should be accepted or not. Or maybe the editor takes that decision. In some journals, an additional reviewer will be used to check for spelling, grammar, etc. A helpful diagram and explanation from Elsevier explains their system further.

At some journals, you may be asked to suggest suitable peer reviewers: my earlier blogpost about impressing editors has further discussion of peer review possibilities.

For more information on peer review, a recent post on the LSE Impact of Social Science blog discusses problems with traditional peer review and opportunities to improve it, and my round-up of 2016’s Peer Review week offers a light-hearted look at some of the main topics in this area.

Responding to peer review is beyond the scope of this post, but I’ve linked to a video clip from the excellent “Publish and prosper” wikispace tutorial, where you can hear a voice of experience. Basic, sensible advice is to make sure you respond to all of the peer reviewers’ comments.

Time to publication

This is not simple! See especially the section “When is it actually ‘published’ because there are pitfalls to avoid if you need not only publication but also citations within a tight time-frame.

open day planner
Time flies…

How long does it take?

The time from submission of your article, until it eventually appears in print (or is rejected) can vary a great deal from one journal to another, and across disciplines. For many journals, you’re looking at a full calendar year – at least. As explored in my post about impressing journal editors, time to publication can be influenced by authors getting their submission right at the outset, saving on the need for the article to travel backwards and forwards for re-submission or onwards to a new target journal. We often hear of tales like the student who submitted an article to the wrong section of a journal, resulting in delays (THE article on getting published, mentioned in my first post in this series). I’ve blogged about the loss of time at journals too, where you can find more discussion of journal processes which might lead to delays.

Some authors are most interested in the time before the acceptance/rejection decision is made, so that they can move on to submit to another journal or already advertise the accepted article. Some journals make that decision relatively quickly and they will usually advertise this if they do: Nature News reports a median of 100 days for such decisions among journals in PubMed, but read that piece for all the caveats. (See also below, where I reference the same piece again in relation to “resetting the clock”.)

How do you know, how long it will take?

There is no one handy source of information here: you must look on journal websites and ask around. Some publishers, like MLA will describe the process, including typical timeframes and what the outcomes of decision making will be. Note that their journals use editorial board meetings, so one question you could ask is, how often does the board meet? Maybe two different journals that you are comparing use the same process, but one has a board that meets twice a year, and another has a board that meets three times a year. You might think that the journal which has 3 editorial board meetings a year will process yours faster, but the volume of submissions can be difficult to estimate too: maybe there is a reason they have more meetings.

Journal websites and journal editors sometimes provide information, but (as with rejection rates see below), you should be very careful in interpreting this.

This is why I keep coming back to finding someone who knows your journal of choice, who can tell you about their experience.  To find an author at your institution who has (recently) published in a particular journal, note that you can search by date, journal title and author affiliation on databases like Web of Science (WoS) and Scopus.

When is it actually “published”?

Some journals have a really helpful feature where your article goes online as soon as it is accepted for publication. They might also deem the article at this point to be “published”, as regards the timeframes that they give you on their journal information webpages. At this point, you can advertise that your article has been accepted by that journal on your CV and online profiles/publication lists, and scholars can read and benefit from your research findings. This is great, but a word of warning: Elizabeth Gadd has written about her experience of waiting for a paper from 2016 which will not be officially published as the “version of record” until March 2019. The “version of record” is the one that gets a volume, part and page number so that it can be indexed in databases like WoS and Scopus, and indeed so that citations can be tracked and counted towards her scholarly profile. Or her institution’s scholarly record.

To find out about the gap between online release and formal publication, you could look at the most recently released journal articles on the online platform for your choice of journal, where they might also display the year in which they are expected to appear in a volume of that journal. Or indeed you could approach an editor (see my section on this, below).

Rejection rates

We could also talk about acceptance rates: 80% rejection, 20% acceptance: which sounds better to you? Related to the time to publication, rejection/acceptance rates could theoretically help you to be strategic in choosing a journal where you have a higher chance of acceptance. Or you might see high rejection rates as a sign of quality and you can afford the time to re-submit to a new journal, so it’s worth the risk – especially if you know that the journal is quick to make this decision. However, rejection rates might not be as helpful as they sound.

Ink stamp with stars and the word ACCEPTED

What are my acceptance chances?

Sometimes journal websites have information for submission, where they advertise an acceptance or rejection rate. Some publishers might issue reports, for example the American Psychological Association make data available in their Journal Statistics and Operations Data. You can also find information about journals in some subscription resources, for example The Modern Language Association (MLA) International Bibliography or Cabells’s Directory. Such data is usually supplied by journal editors/editorial staff. So if you want to find out the rate for a journal that is not publicly advertised, then it is the editorial team that you need to find a way to make contact with.

Even when you find, or are given a rate, be aware that there are no standards for calculating it and it could be an estimate. Furthermore, editors won’t want to make their journals look too exclusive with high rejection rates, thus discouraging quality submissions. Nor will they want to make it look too inclusive and therefore not good enough for high quality submissions. So they might measure, tweak or estimate rejection rates according to what they think looks best for their journal, so you just can’t compare one journal to another. It is possible that this information can really only be used to prepare you for almost inevitable rejection, or else to understand your just cause for celebration if your paper is accepted!

I’m not covering how to handle rejection here, but if it happens then do remember to thank the editor and be gracious.

Note that I deliberately titled this section “acceptance chances” because I wanted to point to my post on impressing journal editors again: you can influence your chance beyond whatever the figures say. If more than 50% of articles are rejected for not following journal submission guidelines then you can make sure that your article is not one of those.

Revise and resubmit is not a rejection

It’s fairly common that all articles which get sent forward for peer review are included in acceptance counts, even though as an author you might feel that your paper has not been accepted when the reviewers want you to “revise and resubmit”. Some papers may never be resubmitted, or in fact are submitted to a different journal and so would seem to be rejected by the first journal in effect, if not in the statistics.

Note that when papers are re-submitted, then sometimes this date of re-submission is taken as the date of submission when calculating the time to publication at a journal. A Nature news feature talks about this as “resetting the clock“.

Summary of time to publication & rejection rates

Both time to publication and rejection rates rely on information from editorial teams, which you might find on journal websites. But if you can’t find what you want then maybe you can find a way to make contact with an editor, and ask. If you get in touch with an editor, then make sure you make a good impression: you can ask about information not publicly advertised, but perhaps it is best to do so as part of a broader conversation.

Conferences are an ideal place to look out journal editors, and talk to them about the conference as well in some way, before asking about the journal’s processes. Rosalia da Garcia from SAGE publishing suggests making friends with editors. (Part of the “Publish and Prosper” wikispaces tutorial.)

Ten questions to ask those in the know

Make sure you’ve read all info on the journal website and other available sources before you ask. And cherry pick: which of these questions are of most interest to you? You don’t want the editor to feel interrogated! Maybe you could ask an author from the journal some of these instead (especially no. 6!).

Don’t forget to strike up a general conversation first, full of admiration for the journal and wonder at the mysteries of the publication process. And if possible, show that you’re familiar the latest editorial piece they’ve written, or you attended their talk at the conference.

  1. Are there any changes likely in the near future, to the peer review or publishing process? (Maybe express your own views on open peer review, or similar.)
  2. How long does it take before a reject/accept decision is made?
  3. What is their “pet hate” in terms of mistakes that submitting authors make?
  4. How much of a back-log of articles are waiting to be processed? (This might affect future rejection rates / time to rejection, or indeed substitute for the rejection rate when one is not shared.)
  5. What is the official rejection rate and does it include articles where the outcome is “revise and submit”?
  6. Does the editor help to reconcile directly opposite peer review comments?
  7. How often does a third/extra peer reviewer get consulted?
  8. After acceptance, how long before an article typically appears online?
  9. When does the “version of record” with volume, part and page number, which can be indexed in citation tracking sources, get issued?
  10. What do you look for in a peer reviewer? (Maybe say that you’re willing to act as a peer reviewer yourself, and explain your expertise.)

If you’re able to strike up a friendship, then perhaps you could even ask if the journal has unusually high acceptance rates at the moment!

two dogs silhouetted against sunset
Best friends forever… maybe!

Final thoughts

As I said at the beginning, these three criteria are not the most important when choosing a journal to publish in. They are, however, fundamental to understanding the scholarly publishing process. The suitability or fit of your work to the journal is far more important, and so, perhaps are features like Open Access or impact factors (both coming soon in this series!). But if there are several journals that might suit your work, then maybe this sort of information, or even your impressions on meeting editors could help you to narrow down your wishlist.

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Choosing scholarly journals: first two criteria

This is my second post in a series that I’m building up, on choosing where to publish. Last time I looked at 10 alternatives/additions to the journal article. This post focuses more on journals themselves, and how you select the right one for your work. Remember that you should only submit to one journal at a time, and tailor your article to that journal.

A fairly recent piece in the THE “Want to be a successful academic? It’s all about getting published” focuses on 3 elements: impact factor, audience and rejection rates. But there are other elements to the decision that I don’t want to ignore. So I’m starting with a look at overall reputation and suitability, and then I’ll go on to look at rejection rates, among other topics in my next post.

Journal reputation

This is a really tricky topic! It is affected by other things which I’ll discuss in more detail in later posts, such as peer review processes and impact factors. However, you can also get a more instinctive feel or overall estimation for the reputation of a journal. It helps to read widely so that you can judge for yourself, and to be well networked and have lots of contacts whom you can ask. You may find review articles which rank journals in your field: do a literature search, and also see “Journal Quality Lists” in the St Johns University Library libguide. You can build a “wish list” of journals that you’d like to be published in. And then select the 3-5 most relevant to the research you want to publish now, to investigate further.

grape bunches hang from a vine
I heard it on the grapevine…

I also like Phil Davis’ Scholarly Kitchen discussion of a call for scientists to publish in journals that are linked to a scholarly society. His blogpost also points out that the journal brand matters to scientists and brands like “Nature, Science, The Lancet, JAMA, EMBO, PLOS, BioMed Central and many others” seem to function as a kind of recommendation for the work they present. So it matters which organisation(s) are behind the journal. You could start with an organisation that you know and trust, or if there’s a journal that you want to know more about then you could look at who is the publisher or commissioner, to see if you’re satisfied with their reputation and their approach. I found a lovely video on publishers that is part of the “Publish and Prosper” wikispaces tutorial.

Both societies and journal brands lend authority which is built from a long track record of quality. Longevity is a good sign, not only because quality processes and models that have developed through experience, but also because it means that the article stands a good chance of being available for posterity. However, longevity isn’t the only factor: innovation adds to quality too. Phil Davis calls for societies to learn from the commercial publishers and their journals. Being well-known and well-recognised is something that I think the commercial publishers have concentrated on. And if you already know of a journal then that will really help you to assess it’s suitability to your work. Which is why I started with the overall reputation of a journal.

Other signs of prestige include who is on the editorial panel, and who is already a published author with that journal: are these big names in your field? And of course, you should assess the quality of the articles published in a journal. I recommend my earlier overview blogpost with 12 questions to ask, if you’re not sure about the quality of a journal. The “Think. Check. Submit.” site has a great quick video, too.

Subject match/suitability

Also known as “relevance”, this is perhaps the most important criteria that you will consider! If your article isn’t a good match for the journal that you submit to, it will be rejected. And you don’t want to waste either your time waiting for that decision, or the journal editor’s time.

puzzle piece fits into the gap
Find the perfect fit

You know which journals you’re reading and citing yourself, and perhaps your contact network could also help, as I mentioned above. If you know someone who has already published with a journal that they recommend to you then they could be a source of really valuable advice about the publishing process.

If you know of key publishing houses for your discipline then it’s worth visiting their websites too: they often provide “journal finder” tools where you paste in your title and abstract, and their tool will suggest a journal or journals to you, which you can then investigate and consider.

Suitability is not always about the subject. It could be about the novelty of your work, or indeed that the journal specialises in negative findings or reproducibility studies, or some other kind of research. Sometimes suitability is about the style of your article in terms of the balance of words to diagrams, or the way you break down your work to fit in specific sections or headings. Don’t forget referencing style too: you need to be able to match the way that your journal of choice presents research articles. This is why familiarity with the journal can be an important critiera, because it will help you to match what they are looking for. You should at least read a journal’s aims & scope and descriptive materials, and preferably also any instructions for authors to be sure of what the journal’s expectations are.

A final thought on suitability

I’ve focussed on your work’s suitability to a journal, but you also need to think about the journal’s suitability to your research. This post doesn’t discuss open access (OA), but this is one criteria that could rule a journal out of consideration. If your research is funded then you may find that your funder, or even the institution where you’re based has a requirement for you to publish OA. So watch out for journals that can deliver the right kind of OA to match your funder or institutional requirements. More on that in a following blogpost, but for now I recommend the SherpaJuliet website to you.

Similarly, if there is a fee or cost to the author, for extra pages or for colour illustrations, or for open access, then you need to make sure that you can afford the fees.

The who factor

By now you will have noticed that I’ve bolded factors that are useful when you’re choosing a journal, and a few of these are to do with “who” is involved with a journal. While you’re busy checking them out on profile sites like ResearchGate and LinkedIn, why not try connecting with them? I can’t stress enough how useful contacts can be!  I wrote a quick and popular blogpost about 7 ways to make the first contact that you might also find helpful.

Also, look at where the researchers you admire are publishing, and which journals they are citing. After all, those are the researchers who you want to have read your article, so perhaps focus on journals that you know they read, based on their references lists.

In my next post, I’ll look more at peer review, rejection rates and time to publication.

Images: CC0 via Pixabay.

How do researchers share articles? Some useful links

This is a topic that interests me: how do researchers choose what to read? Where are the readers on our platforms coming from, when we can’t track a source URL? What are researchers doing in collaboration spaces? (Research processes are changing fast in the Internet era.) Is journal article sharing that is taking place legal and/or ethical? I’m a big fan of Carol Tenopir‘s work investigating readers’ behaviours and I think there’s much to learn in this area. Sharing an article does not equate to it having been read, but it is a very interesting part of the puzzle of understanding scholarly communication.

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Usage is something that altmetrics are displaying (the altmetric.com donut has a section for “Readers” which incorporates information from Mendeley), and it’s just possible that usage would become a score to rival the impact factor, when evaluating journals. It does often seem to me like we’re on a quest for a mythical holy grail, when evaluating journals and criticising the impact factor!

Anyway, what can we know about article sharing? In my last blogpost I highlighted BrightTALK as a way to keep up to date with library themes. The LibraryConnect channel features many useful webinars & presentations (yes, I spoke at one of them), and I recently listened to a webinar on the theme of this blogpost’s title, which went live in December 2015. My notes & related links:

Suzie Allard of the University of Tennessee (colleague of Carol Tenopir) spoke about the “Beyond Downloads” project and their survey’s main takeaways. These include that nearly 74% of authors preferred email as a method of sharing articles. Authors may share articles to aid scientific discovery in general, to promote their own work, or indeed for other reasons, nicely illustrated in an infographic on this theme!

Lorraine Estelle of Project COUNTER spoke about the need for comprehensive and reliable data, and to describe just how difficult it is to gather such data. (I can see that tracking everyone’s emails won’t go down well!) There are obviously disciplinary and demographic differences in the way that articles are shared, and therefore read, and she listed nine ways of sharing articles:

  1. email
  2. internal networks
  3. the cloud
  4. reference managers
  5. learning manager
  6. research social networks
  7. general social networks
  8. blogs
  9. other

Lorraine also introduced some work that COUNTER are doing jointly with CrossREF: DOI tracking and Distributed Usage Logging that are definitely worth further reading and investigation!

Wouter Haak from Elsevier spoke about what you can see about readers of your articles on Mendeley’s dashboard, as an author. He also spoke about a prototype they are developing for libraries, on which institutions could see the countries where collaborations are taking place from within their own institution. More intriguingly (to me), he talked about a working group that he was part of, whereby major scientific publishers are apparently agreeing to support sharing of articles amongst researchers within collaboration groups, on platforms like Mendeley, Academia.edu and ResearchGate, which he describes as “Scholarly Collaboration Networks”. Through such a collaboration, the sharing activity across these platforms could all be tracked and reported on. Perhaps it is easier to lure researchers away from email than to track emails!

 

[Photo credit: Got Credit]

How to speed up publication of your research – and impress journal editors

In my last blogpost I looked at the time it takes to get published, and this led to a brief Twitter chat about how editors’ time gets wasted. Of course there are things that researchers can do to help speed up the whole system, just as there are things that publishers are trying to do. If you’re interested in how to write a great journal article in the first place (which of course, is what will increase your chances of acceptance and therefore speed things up) then you could take a look at some great advice in the Guardian.cards

I’m not looking at writing in this blogpost, rather at the steps to publication that researchers can influence, sometimes for themselves and sometimes more altruistically. I imagine that a board game could be based on the academic publication process, whereby you get cards telling you that you must wait longer, or you get rejected, and sent to the start. Very occasionally you are told that a peer has sped things up for you in some way so that you (and your field) can move on.

Do what you’re told!
It sounds simple, but it’s amazing how many editors report that many authors appear to have not read guidelines before submitting. Wrong word counts, line spacing, no data supplied, wrong reference formats, etc could all result in a desk rejection, thus wasting everyone’s time. A good reference managing tool will ease and expedite reference style reformatting, but even so, matching each journal’s style is a lot of work if you submit the same article to many journals, so perhaps this begins with choosing the right journal (see below).

Also, authors who are re-submitting need to ensure that they respond to ALL the editor’s and reviewers’ recommendations. Otherwise, there might be another round of revisions… or a rejection, setting you back to square one.

Be brief and ‘to the point’ in your correspondence with journal editors
First question to authors: do you really need to write to the editor? Writing to check if their journal is a good match for your article is apparently annoying to journal editors, especially if your email looks like an automated one. If you have a question, be sure that you can’t find the answer on the journal’s website: this way you can save editors’ time so that they use it to make the right publishing decisions. If you want to make a good impression on an editor or seek their opinion then perhaps find a way to meet them personally at a conference. (Tip: if they are on Twitter then they might announce which conferences they are going to!)

Choose the right journal to submit to

I have no magic formula but these steps might help you to decide:

  1. Look for a good subject match. Then whether the type, scale and significance of your work fits the type of material usually published in that journal. In other words, read some of the content recently published in the journal you intend to submit to. Check their calls for papers and see if you match them. And read their guidelines (see above).
  2. Listen to experienced authors. If you know someone with experience of publishing in a particular journal, then perhaps ask them for advice: getting to know the journal you are submitting to is important in helping you to target the right one.
  3. Use bibliometric scores with caution. I have blogged here previously about 12 signs of quality for a journal, and note that I don’t mention the impact factor! My number 1 is about peer review, and I expand on that in this post, below. My number 5 is whether the journal is indexed on Web of Science or Scopus: this is not all about the impact factor either. What it means is that the journal you are considering has passed selection criteria in order to be indexed at all, that your article will be highly discoverable, and that it would contribute to your own h-index as an author. If you really want to use a bibliometric, you could look at the article influence scores, and since this blogpost is about speeding things up, then you could also consider the immediacy index, which indicates how quickly items are cited after publication.
  4. Can’t I just take a sneaky peak at the impact factors? I think this is a last resort! Some people see them as a proxy for a good reputation but after all I’ve read about bibliometrics, I’d rather use my twelve signs. In my last blogpost I reported on a Nature News item, which implied that middle-range impact factor journals are likely to have a faster turn around time, but you’ll have to dig a bit deeper to see if there’s anything in that idea for your discipline. In ny view, if everyone is targetting the top impact factor journals, you can be sure that these journals will have delays and high rejection rates. You might miss the chance to contribute to a “rising star” journal.

Choose a perfect peer reviewer!
At some journals, you may get an option to suggest peer reviewers. I don’t imagine that there are many experts in your field who are so good at time management that they can magically create time, and who already know about and value your work, so you will have to balance your needs with that is on offer. Once again, you should be careful to follow the journal’s directions in suggesting peer reviewers. For example, it’s no good suggesting an expert practitioner as a peer reviewer if the journal explicitly asks for a academics, and you probably can’t suggest your colleague either: read what the journal considers to be appropriate.

Is it the right peer review mechanism?
There are many variations of peer review, and some innovative practice might appeal to you if your main goal is speed of publication, so you could choose a journal that uses one of these modern methods.

Here is a list of some peer review innovations with acceleration in mind:

  1. You may have an option to pay for fast tracked peer review at your journal of choice.
  2. Seek an independent peer review yourself, before submission. The same type of company that journals might turn to if they offer a paid-for fast track peer review may also offer you a report that you can pay for directly. The example I know of is Rubriq.
    You can also ask colleagues or peers for a pre peer review, if you think that they might be willing.
  3. Take advantage of a cascading peer review” gold open access (OA) route, at a publisher which offers that. It’s a shame that OA often appears to be a lower quality option, because publishers say to authors the equivalent of “you’re rejected from this top journal but are invited to submit to our gold OA journal”. Such an invitation doesn’t reflect well the publishers either, because of course gold OA is the one where authors pay a fee or “Article Processing Charge”. However, if your research budget can cover the cost then this can be quicker.
  4. Open reviews: there is a possibility that reviewers will be more thorough if their reviews are publicly seen, so I’m not sure that this will necessarily speed the process up. But if you’re looking for explicit reasons why you’ve been rejected, then such a system could be helpful. PeerJ is a well known example of a journal that does this.
  5. Publish first and opt for post publication peer review. The example often given is F1000, which is really a publishing platform rather than a journal. Here, the research is published first, and labelled as “awaiting peer review”. It is indexed after peer review by places like Pubmed, Scopus, the British Library, etc. F1000 also has open peer review, so the reviews as well as the latest version can be seen. Authors can make revisions after peer review and at any time. An alternative to F1000 is that you can put your draft paper into an open access repository where it will at least be visible/available, and seek peer review through publication in a journal later. However, there are disciplinary differences as to whether this will be acceptable practice or not when you later submit to journals (is it a redundant publication because it’s in a repository?), and indeed whether your pre-print will be effective in claiming your “intellectual territory”. In some disciplines, the fear is that repository papers are not widely seen, so others might scoop you to reach recognised publication. In the sciences this is less likely, since access to equipment and lengthy experiments are not likely to be duplicated in time.

Be a peer reviewer, and be prompt with your responses
I have three steps you can follow, to accelerate even traditional peer review:

  1. When invited to carry out a peer review that you cannot find time for, or you are not the right person then you can quickly say “no”, and perhaps suggest someone else suitable. This will speed things up for your peers and make a good impression on an editor: one day this might be important.
  2. If you say “yes” then you can be prompt and clear: this will support your peers but may also enhance your reputation. Larger publishers may track peer reviewers’ work on a shared (internal only or publicly visible!) system, and you can claim credit yourself somewhere like Publons. (See an earlier blogpost that discusses credit for peer review.)
  3. Are you setting the bar too high? By raising standards ever higher, the time it takes for research to be shared is lengthened. Of course this is also about meeting the quality standards of the journal and thereby setting and maintaining the standards of your discipline. Not an easy balancing task!

Finally, remember that publication is only the beginning of the process: you also have to help your colleagues, peers and practitioners to find out about your article and your work. Some editors and publishers have advice on how to do that too, so I’m sure that it will impress them if you do this!

Keeping up to date with bibliometrics: the latest functions on Journal Citation Reports (InCites)

I recently registered for a recent free, live, online training session on the latest functions of Journal Citation Reports (JCR) on InCites, from Thomson Reuters (TR). I got called away during the session, but the great thing is that they e-mail you a copy so you can catch up later. You can’t ask questions, but at least you don’t miss out entirely! If you want to take part in a session yourself, then take a look at the Web of Science training page. Or just read here to find out what I picked up and reflected on.

At the very end of the session, we learnt that 39 journal titles have been supressed in the latest edition. I mention it first because I think it is fascinating to see how journals go in and out of the JCR collection, since having a JCR impact factor at all is sometimes seen as a sign of quality. These supressed titles are suspended and their editors are informed why, but it is apparently because of either a high self-cite rate, or something called “stacking”, whereby two journals are found to be citing each other in such a way that they significantly influence the latest impact factor calculations. Journals can come out of suspension, and indeed new journals are also added to JCR from year to year. Here are the details of the JCR selection process.

The training session began with a look at Web of Science: they’ve made it easier to see JCR data when you’re looking at the results of a Web of Science search, by clicking on the journal title: it’s good to see this link between TR products.

Within JCR, I like the visualisation that you get when you choose a subject category to explore: this tells you how many journals are in that category and you can tell the high impact factor journals because they have larger circles on the visualisation. What I particularly like though, is the lines joining the journals: the thicker the line, the stronger the citing relationship between the journals joined by that line.

It is the librarian in me that likes to see that visualisation: you can see how you might get demand for journals that cite each other, and thus get clues about how to manage your collection. The journal profile data that you can explore in detail for an individual journal (or compare journal titles) must also be interesting to anyone managing a journal, or indeed to authors considering submitting to a journal. You can look at a journal’s performance over time and ask yourself “is it on the way up?” You can get similar graphs on SJR, of course, based on Elsevier’s Scopus data and available for free, but there are not quite so many different scores on SJR as on JCR.

On JCR, for each journal there are new “indicators”, or measures/scores/metrics that you can explore. I counted 13 different types of scores. You can also explore more of the data behind the indicators presented than you used to be able to on JCR.

One of the new indicators is the “JIF percentile”. This is apparently introduced because the quartile information is not granular or meaningful enough: there could be lots of journals in the same quartile for that subject category. I liked the normalised Eigenfactor score in the sense that the number has meaning at first glance: higher than 1 means higher than average, which is more meaningful than a standard impact factor (IF). (The Eigenfactor is based on JCR data but not calculated by TR. You can find out more about it at Eigenfactor.org, where you can also explore slightly older data and different scores, for free.)

If you want to explore more about JCR without signing up for a training session, then you could explore their short video tutorials and you can read more about the updates in the JCR Help file.

12 Questions to ask, for basic clues on the quality of a journal

When choosing where to publish a journal article, what signs do you look out for? Here are some questions to ask or aspects to investigate, for clues.

1 – Is it peer reviewed? (Y/N and every nuance in between) See the journal’s website.
2- Who is involved in it? The editor & publisher? Are they well known & well thought of? Who has published articles there already: are these big players in your field? Read the journal!
3- Is it abstracted/indexed by one of the big sources in your field? (The journal’s website should tell you this. Big publishers also offer their own databases of house journals)
4- What happens when you search on Google for an article from the journal? Do you get the article in the top few results? And on GScholar?
5- Does it appear in Web of Science or Scopus journal rankings?
6- Take a look on COPAC: which big research libraries subscribe?
7- have a look at the UK’s published RAE2008 / forthcoming REF2014 data and see if articles from that journal were a part of the evidence submitted, and rated as 4*
8- Do the journal articles have DOIs? This is a really useful feature for promotion of your article, and it will mean that altmetric tools can provide you with evidence of engagement with your article.
9- Is there an open access option? (See SherpaRomeo) This is a requirement of many research funders, but it is also useful for you, when you want to promote your article.
10- Is it on the list of predatory OA journals? You might want to avoid those, although check for yourself. Note that some journals on the list are disputed/defended against the accusation of predation!
11- Is it listed on the ISSN centre’s ROAD: http://road.issn.org/ What does this tell you about it?
12- If you have access through a library subscription, is it listed on Ulrich’s periodicals directory? What does this tell you about it? Note the “peer review” symbol of a striped referee’s shirt: if the shirt is not there, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the journal is not peer reviewed: you may have to investigate further.
FURTHER NUANCES…
– What type of peer review is used? Is it rigorous? Is it useful to you, even if you get rejected?
– Time to rejection/acceptance: how soon do you need to be published?
– Acceptance/rejection rate
– Journal Impact Factor/ SJR score(s) /quartile for the field

Open Access (OA) and all that jazz!

Next week I’m due to visit Humboldt University’s IBI in order to participate in a students’ seminar about Open Access. I’m very much looking forward to it and thought I’d do a bit of reading to keep me up to speed on the OA themes that are trending at the moment.

A recently published article has come to my attention through a LinkedIn group I belong to: Opening Doors, by Rob Virkar-Yates

It describes some of the technical issues that need to be solved, in order to support OA, both at the “upstream” end, where articles are processed for publication, and “downstream” where articles are discovered and read by researchers. Here are a few of the issues raised in the article, along with my comments and thoughts!

1) Direct author-publisher transactions are not part of existing submission processes.
I noticed this when working at the University of Warwick Library: we had to chase both authors and publishers to get Gold OA Article Processing Charges (APCs) paid in time to spend the money allocated to Warwick by HEFCE, and the authors and departmental administrators found the processes rather frustrating and onerous, to the point where at least one author decided not to bother with Gold OA.

The article states that “the majority of academic institutions remain unclear as to how to integrate APCs into their workflows” and I’m sure that many institutions are still working it out: classic issues would be whether to handle OA financial transactions centrally or in departments, whether to use an intermediary service (see the recent RIN report on that topic), and how to ensure a fair and effective distribution of the money.

2) “Open Access is driving some exceptionally contentious changes to the peer review process.”
Virkar-Yates gives eLife and F1000 as examples of OA journals who are innovating peer review by bringing in more transparency about the way an article has been reviewed. I’m interested in the possibility that peer review might evolve as access to content is opened up, but if peer review in its traditional guise is working for academia, then it can work for OA journals just as easily as for subscription ones. That seems to be the conclusion of the Open Library of Humanities project (OLH) in a recently published UKSG e-news article. I’m cautious of worrying academics that the peer review system is under threat, because it’s contentious enough to consider a switch towards OA itself, never mind causing worry that existing, established methods for ensuring quality are about to be abandoned by publishers!

OA publication models do tend to favour bulk publishing, and in a scenario where there are more articles and more journals out there, researchers will need ways to differentiate amongst all the articles, to find the highest quality: they need to do this fairly quickly and efficiently as their time is limited. I think that the existing signs of quality, such as journal impact factor, prestige of the editor and authors, peer review practices, established position in the discipline, etc are likely to remain important for the time being at least. Even PLoS publishes journals that are tailored to disciplines, have lower acceptance rates and achieve higher impact factors than the bulk, cross-disciplinary journal, PLoS One, and OLH seems to be proposing overlay journals, on the bulk of content.

I can see why Virkar-Yates included this aspect, though: publishers of OA journals may find that there are opportunities to develop other aspects of their journals alongside the move to OA, and if you know that quality filters are important in an OA world, then you might want to find ways to add those in: instead of or as well as the traditional peer review.

3) Different formats for content.
The article says “It is now not uncommon for articles to be published with their associated data sets (or links to the data held in OA data repositories), supporting video, animation and other textual resources.” The electronic age has long since allowed publishers to experiment with the format of the journal, or the journal article. Indeed this has been happening with some titles I’ve bookmarked on Diigo, and there have long been disciplinary differences in journal article length, referencing styles, etc: the electronic journal has the capacity to be very different from the traditional print one, but the issue as Virkar-Yates points out, is how to support the different types of output, file formats, etc, on the same platform.

I wonder if the answer is not to offer more specialised types of publication, for different disciplines. I’m a big fan of the e-Crystals repository, and I’ve often wondered what we might do with data repositories, because they seem to me to be most discipline specific types of output, and most useful when they have metadata schemas designed around a specialist type of data and data need. I believe that, in a world of vast amounts of free content, it will be the way that researchers are enabled to handle that content that makes a product worth paying for, and I think this could require an element of specialisation. It’s an interesting space to watch: in Virkar-Yates own explanation of Green OA he points out that “Forty-one percent of all repository usage is through the University of Cambridge’s DSpace@Cambridge platform” and I know that its a repository that has long had a policy of taking all kinds of content, across all kinds of disciplines: is this a model for publishers to follow or should they concentrate on offering something different than repositories?

4) Lack of authentication when access is open
“A signed-in user is a known user, so publishers need to get more consumer-savvy and work out ways to incentivise registration under OA.” Good point, but I think that a lot of publishers have got this covered with their alerting services, saved lists of references and saved search history options that researchers need to sign in for. Joining this sign-in process together with other social media authentication would probably be better for researchers than signing in through institutional logins, and with many platforms the publishers don’t know so much about researchers other than what institution s/he belongs to after authentication, in any case. But perhaps that is precisely what they need to know, so that they can tell Libraries what an invaluable product they are subscribing to!

5) Optimisation for Google by removal of paywalls
Well, this makes sense to me, even though I am a Librarian. I don’t think we’ve been burying our heads in the sand, as the author claims that we have: we’ve simply been trying to point out to researchers that Google doesn’t access all the content that they need, and that there are more powerful ways of searching than the simple keyword that Google uses, when it comes to scholarly content. That doesn’t mean that we would be against Google indexing that scholarly content, if it did it well. In fact, Librarians have also been trying to teach researchers how to get the most out of Google and Google Scholar.

6) Multiple & portable devices
“…all content platforms, and particularly Open Access platforms, need to face up to the very real and pressing technical challenge of how to seamlessly deliver content across multiple untethered devices.” Says it all, for me!

7) Hybrid journals where some content is OA, some is behind a paywall
I’ve never been a fan of hybrid journals as an OA solution, because there isn’t a way for our researchers to know when an article is available to them as an OA one, when their institution doesn’t subscribe to that particular journal. One of the things I used to tell researchers to do when they wanted an article, was to search Google for an OA version. It’s one of the things that I used to have to check document supply request forms for, and frequently found, even some years ago. Hybrid is better than no OA at all, but as Virkar-Yates points out, there is a real issue around the metadata at article level, to make sure that open access content is in fact accessible!

Virkar-Yates’ article prompts much thought and that touches on some very important issues, but there are more that I’d like to consider:

a) Monographs
This topic is suggested in Virkar-Yates’ article, when he discusses output format variety, but monographs seem to me to be a specific issue. OLH are investigating this topic over the next few years, Open Book Publishers have just won an award and the Wellcome Trust have just announced plans to extend their OA policy to include monographs and book chapters, according to this Times Higher Education article, although I note that this extension does not include the CC-BY (Creative Commons Attribution) requirement that exists for journal articles.

b) Copyright
One of the hurdles for OA is to differentiate between access by a reader and access that allows further copying: five years ago, when I was establishing Warwick’s repository, WRAP, it seemed clear to me that the priority was to allow readers to have access. Every item in WRAP had a cover sheet explaining that the copyright remained with the publisher or author and that copying of the repository item was not granted by the repository. Allowing Creative Commons licences to be attached to items was a development that I would have liked to have added (and I know that Loughborough University’s repository has always asked for one), but I knew that there were already a lot of hurdles to deposit and that frankly, a requirement to add a licence that the author had never seen before and quite often did not understand would be one hurdle too many.

I expected that WRAP could overcome it in time and indeed I can see amongst the latest additions to WRAP that some do have cover sheets explaining that a CC licence applies. The RCUK OA policy expects the copyright issue to be addressed, as they have followed the Wellcome Trust in making requirements for not only OA, but also CC licences. A large national body like the RCUK has a way of reaching and influencing researchers that a new repository manager does not have!

c) Platinum OA
This was described in an Information Research article from 2007, and it’s essentially where researchers publish OA journals for themselves. It doesn’t quite fit the remit of Virkar-Yates’ article, in the sense that most researchers won’t be able to do this and be at the cutting edge of technology in publishing practice! But in the rise of OA, there has been a rise in the number of OA journal titles (as evidenced by the reported titles listed by the DOAJ, which the Virkar-Yates refers to), many of which originate from the research community.

My final thought is that I should read the recent JISC/RLUK survey report, on the attitudes and behaviours of researchers, which apparently reveals their reliance on open access… but that’s too much for one sitting!