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 We know that peer review is important and that journals which are not peer reviewed are often less highly regarded among scholars.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.

Choosing where to publish: not only journals

a wrench applied to a nail, and a hammer applied to a screw
Find the right tool for the job!

There are many factors that scholars will want to take into account, when choosing where they’d like to be published. I’ve blogged a simple list in the past, of 12 questions to ask when assessing the quality of a journal, but I want to provide a lot more detail (including a look at the impact factor which I deliberately left out in my questions – coming soon!). So I’m building a little series here, starting with a look at some alternatives to the journal article. Just because you have something to say or share with the scholarly community, doesn’t always mean that you have a journal article.

Co-authors: who chooses?

I have seen a tweet from an established academic who said that since he’d got tenure, the un-tenured co-authors on his papers got final say in where their articles were published. (Sorry, I didn’t record the tweet – bad librarian!) That sounds rather chivalrous: early career researchers have a very urgent need to build up their publication lists in a strategic way, while the senior academics might have different agendas.

I also know anecdotally that for many researchers, the opposite is true, and the senior authors choose. If there is even a little bit of influence that an early career researcher (ECR) can exert, then no doubt that ECR will want to make such influence count. So let’s start looking at the factors that could be of interest.

Is a journal article even the right output?

Maybe you’re not sure if you’ve got a scholarly journal article in the pipeline. Or maybe you’ve already got a journal article out and just have a little bit more to add to what you said back then: these channels are not always mutually exclusive, so it’s not always a case of “either/or”, but you may need to be careful of copyright.  With the right author agreements between you and your publisher, you could use many channels for the same piece of research, depending on which audiences you want to reach. My list is not comprehensive but it’s designed to give you ideas for other valuable communication channels.

Ten other places to consider

  1. Conference papers – this is a fairly traditional route to sharing research with other scholars, and some conference proceedings are just like journals. There are disciplinary differences: some disciplines take already published research to conferences, while others take unpublished ideas to conferences and use the conference rather like a first round of peer review, polishing the work afterwards for journal publication. There are many types of conference and they need evaluating. I’ve blogged about choosing conferences before.
  2. Poster /Infographic – posters might be presented at a conference, and could perhaps incorporate or indeed be an infographic, could be more widely shared online, for example embedded into a blogpost or on Instagram.
  3. Books – there are many options here, from the academic monograph to popular non-fiction and indeed fiction itself, which could be based on real science. Not forgetting the vital textbook for your field, but the key here is to think of who your audience is, and the appropriate type of book will become apparent. There are many pitfalls on the monograph route, but you can read of 7 mistakes from Laura Portwood-Stacer, who has been there & done it. And I found a very comprehensive look at self publishing for academics.
  4. Book chapters – maybe you’ve only got one chapter but you could draw on contributions from others, and so could pull together an edited book. This isn’t easy but I found some sensible advice on managing authors. Or perhaps you could keep your eye out for a “call for contributions” from other editors. Pat Thomson outlined the different work that a book chapter does, compared to a journal article.
  5. Guest blogposts – as a guest on someone else’s blog, your content might get a polishing by them, and you benefit from all the work they do to bring audience to your work. You might need to convince successful blogs as to why they should use your post though so I found a great blogpost on what makes a good guest blogger.
  6. Your own blog – this could be all your own work, or a group blog if you have a natural team to contribute to it. Emma Cragg has good advice on starting a blog. And I’ve also written about closing a blog, in case it’s a short-term undertaking for you!
  7. Data deposit – sometimes you have to do this anyway, alongside your journal article but it could be that your data can be deposited without the article. Here there are enormous disciplinary differences, but it’s worth noting that data can be cited.
  8. Practitioner journals – this is a great way to share your research findings among a community where it can have real world impact. Look out for professional associations linked to your field: they may have suitable publications.
  9. Slidedeck / teaching materials – if you’re at an institution where research-led teaching is expected, then maybe research findings can be incorporated into teaching materials – and perhaps shared in a learning objects repository or slidedeck sharing site.
  10. Wikipedia entry – you could become one of the many participants of the digital commons, and share your expertise through Wikipedia.

Having explored these alternatives, maybe you’re sure that you really do have a journal article. Or maybe you would prefer to use one of these channels, but your research funder or institute is only interested in journal articles. So my next post will start to look at aspects of journals that you can evaluate.

Image credit: CC0, via Pixabay

Snowy Stockholm and Nordic Librarians!

Picture from Twitter
Picture from Twitter @Micha2508

Last week I attended Elsevier’s Nordic Library Connect event in Stockholm, Sweden. I presented the metrics poster / card and slide set that I researched for Elsevier already. It’s a great poster but the entire set of metrics take some digesting. Presenting them all as slides in around 30 minutes was not my best idea, even for an audience of librarians! The poster itself was popular though, as it is useful to keep on the wall somewhere to refer to, to refresh your knowledge of certain metrics:

https://libraryconnect.elsevier.com/sites/default/files/ELS_LC_metrics_poster_V2.0_researcher_2016.pdf

I reflected after my talk that I should probably have chosen a few of the metrics to present, and then added more information and context, such as screen captures of where to find these metrics in the wild. It was a very useful experience, not least because it gave me this idea, but also because I got to meet some lovely folks who work in libraries in the Scandinavian countries.

UPDATE 23 Nov 2016: now you can watch a video of my talk (or one of the others) online.

I met these guys... but also real people!
I met these guys… but also real people!

I particularly valued a presentation from fellow speaker, Oliver Renn of ETH, Zurich. He has obviously built up a fantastic relationship with the departments that his library serves. I thought that the menus he offered were inspired. These are explained in the magazine that he also produces for his departments: see p8 of this 2015 edition.

See tweets from the event by clicking on the hashtag in this tweet:

 

Quality checks beyond peer review? Retractions, withdrawals, corrections, etc

I often find myself reading/writing things about whether peer review is working or not, the opportunities for post publication peer review and about the changes needed in scholarly communication. An article in the THE earlier this year described a “secret dossier on research fraud” and the concerns it expresses are familiar, although I balk at the word “fraud”.  The THE article/its source claims that:

scientists and journals are extremely reluctant to retract their papers, even in the face of damning evidence

Perhaps the scientists don’t completely understand the processes that publishers use, nor indeed feel able to influence the consequences to their reputations which they must maintain in order to stand a chance of winning the next research grant and remain employed. I used to give workshops to budding researchers on “how to get published”, when I would explain something of the publishing process to them, and my final slide was all about corrections, errata and retractions: what is the difference between them, and why and how do they occur? (Quick answers below!) Even if the reason for retraction should bring no shame, but honour for admitting a mistake, researchers still don’t want to have an article retracted.

Perhaps in the days of print there was even more reason for stringency in avoiding post-publication alterations: after all, the version of record, the print article, would have been impossible to correct and researchers could only be alerted to any retractions or corrections through metadata records and, perhaps if they were avid readers of a journal then they might spot notices in later editions. However, I do wonder if, in the digital world, there is more room for post-publication alterations without shame, in the name of improving science. This is why it is important for researchers and publishers to work together to define the different categories of such alterations and what do they mean for a researcher’s reputation? There is a lack of clarity, which I think stems partially from a variety of practice with different journals, publishers or even database providers in how they describe and handle the various circumstances in which post-publication alterations are needed.

Corrections, corrigenda and errata are used by journals for minor corrections to a published work, eg name of an author was mis-spelled, or a title not properly capitalised, or also for a minor error in an amount mentioned, eg dosage. These are published in later issues in print, added to metadata records in the digital sphere, and also usually visible in the digital full text with a note in brackets after the corrected item. As a librarian, I’m interested in how this sort of information is transferred in metadata records: the U.S. National Library of Medicine website describes how these are usually all referred to as Errata in PubMed, and their page about this goes on to explain and categorise many different types of t

For me, these are a very good reason to ensure that you read the final published version of an article that you intend to cite: the green OA pre-print version of an article is useful for you to understand the work, but not the one I recommend citing.

Retractions are when an article is withdrawn: this is something that you can do as the author, or indeed your institution could do it on your behalf (sometimes also called a withdrawal, see below), or the editor or publisher of a journal can retract an article. Reasons for retraction of an article include a pervasive (but honest) error in the work, or sometimes might be for unethical practice. I can’t recommend the RetractionWatch blog highly enough for examples and stories of retractions. Sometimes you also hear about a partial retraction which might occur when only one figure or part of the conclusions is withdrawn, whilst the rest of the paper is sound.

Withdrawals are when a paper is no longer included in a publication, often when it has accidentally been published twice. I am increasingly hearing of fees being charged to authors for a withdrawal. Publishers usually have policies about what they consider to be grounds for a withdrawal: see Elsevier’s explanation of withdrawals and retractions, for example.

My explanations are a very light-touch introduction to the subject: publishers’ guidance will give you more of an idea about what might happen to your own articles, but I do see a variety of terminology and practice. My advice to academics is to never make assumptions that work which has been corrected or retracted is necessarily suspect, nor that it should affect a researcher’s reputation unless the whole story is known. Just like the reason why we can’t take bibliometric or altmetric scores as the whole picture of an academic’s worth: we always need context. If we all did this, then there would be no reason for authors to resist retraction, but I know that that is an ideal. Hence the story in the THE which I began with…

 

 

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!

Rejections, revisions, journal shopping and time… more and more time

I read a great news item from Nature, called “Does it take too long to publish research?” and wanted to highlight it here. In  particular, I thought that early career researchers might relate to the stories of featured researchers’ multiple rejections: there is some consolation in hearing others’ experiences. (Recently rejected authors might also seek advice in a great piece from The Scientist in 2015: Riding out rejection.) Also, I wanted to write my reflections, identifying some reasons for rejection (these appear in bold, throughout, in case you want to scan for them).

Whilst I’m on the topic of rejection stories: a recent episode of Radio 4’s The Life Scientific featured Peter Piot, who described (if I understood correctly) how difficult it was to get his research on HIV published in the 1980s because it was so groundbreaking that reviewers could not accept it. He knew that his findings were important and he persevered. So that could be one reason for rejection: you’re ahead of your field!

(Peter Piot also described his time working for the United Nations, in what was essentially a break from his academic career: if you’re interested in academic career breaks then you could take a look at the Piirus blog!)

Anyway, back to the Nature news item, where I picked up particular themes:

  1. Authors will have been rejected a number of times before they are even peer reviewed: a “desk rejection”. One of the authors featured was glad to finally get revisions after so many rejections without explanation. Without explanation, we can’t know what the editors’ decisions were based on, but as I noted in an earlier post, editors might be basing their decisions on criteria like relevance to the journal’s readership, or compliance to the journal’s guidelines.
  2. Journals do report on time to publication, but that doesn’t always include the time you’ve spent on revisions. If you resubmit after making revisions then the clock is re-started at the resubmission date, at some journals. Likewise, I have read (or heard: sorry, I can’t find the link) elsewhere that the reported rejection/acceptance rates don’t count papers which are invited for re-submission with revisions, as a rejection. So you might feel rejected when you have to make so many revisions but in statistical terms your paper has not been rejected (yet!). There is still time for it to be rejected after you have resubmitted, of course, and that probably happens more often than you think. Some think that journals are not counting and reporting fairly and I think there is room for improvement but it’s a complex area.
  3. Top journals can afford to be more picky and so the bar seems to have been raised, in terms of requirements for publication (hence increased numbers of authors per paper, who bring more data between them). As the Nature news item says: “Scientists grumble about overzealous critics who always seem to want more, or different, experiments to nail a point.”
  4. Rejections could be as a result of the authors “journal shopping”, whereby they submit to top/high impact journals first and work down a list. This is possibly due to a reliance on the reputation and impact factor of the journal where an article is published by those who hire and fund researchers. Researchers who target journals in the middle range of impact factor seem to stand the best chance of a quick review turnaround, but it seems that researchers are taking the risk of rejection and slower publication in order to stand a chance of appearing in a top journal.
  5. Journal editors and publishers are trying to ensure that the publication process is not slowed down, wherever possible. I’d like to quote one nice example of such attempts: “In 2009, Cell also restricted the amount of supplemental material that could accompany papers as a way to keep requests for “additional, unrelated experiments” at bay.” However, the Nature News item also points out the increased volume of papers to be processed and additional checks that papers might go through these days, for example plagiarism screens, animal welfare reports, competing interest disclosures, etc. Plagiarism screens can be tough: I remember an author telling me about how his paper was rejected for what amounted to self-plagiarism.
  6. The peer review process does take time and at different journals this process might be quicker or slower, but even though (as I’ve previously blogged) there are pressures on peer review system, it is not taking longer than it used to, on average. Neither has the digital world sped it up. The News item goes on to recount some of the innovations around peer review that various journals and publishers are implementing.

This made me think that there’s got to be a project somewhere, for someone to classify the revisions asked for in peer review processes and then count which is the most common. Reasons in my list so far:

  • poorly/not succinctly written (i.e. not intelligible!)
  • too little explanation/text
  • abstract does’t reflect findings
  • ethical issues with the data presented
  • ethical issues with the method
  • method unsuited to question
  • conclusions are over-reaching
  • needs to be set in context of other (specific/non-specific) research & add citations

These could be areas to be revised or indeed, reasons for rejection. I’m sure that there are more issue types and that my list is not complete, so feel free to share some more in the comments.

I know that some authors take the revision suggestions and do not resubmit to the journal that reviewed their article, but withdraw their article from that journal and then submit to one lower on the prestige list, thereby perhaps side-stepping another rejection. And thereby apparently achieving publication more quickly, for the second (or fifth or fifteenth) choice journal could not know of the time that an article spent, awaiting the verdict of a different journal. Perhaps that is why journals prefer to count their publication time from the date of resubmission: they don’t know either, if an article will ever be resubmitted. And is it fair of an author to use a journal’s peer review process to polish their article, but not actually publish with that journal? A complex area, like I said already.

Well, if all this complexity has put you in need of cheering up, then I must recommend the Journal of Universal Rejection to you. If you don’t laugh then you might cry…

Publish then publicise & monitor. Publication is not the end of the process!

Once your journal article or research output has been accepted and published, there are lots of things that you can do to spread the word about it. This blogpost has my own list of the top four ways you could do this (other than putting it on your CV, of course). I also recommend any biologists or visual thinkers to look at:
Lobet, Guillaume (2014): Science Valorisation. figsharehttp://dx.doi.org/10.6084/m9.figshare.1057995
Lobet describes the process as “publish: identify yourself: communicate”, and points out useful tools along the way, including recommending that authors identify themselves in ORCID, ResearchGate, Academia.edu, ImpactStory and LinkedIn. (Such services can create a kind of online, public CV and my favourite for researchers is ORCID.) You may also find that your publisher offers advice on ways to publicise your paper further.

PUBLICISE

1) Talk about it! Share your findings formally at a conference. Mention it in conversations with your peers. Include it in your teaching.

2) Tweet about it! If you’re not on Twitter yourself (or even if you are!) then you could ask a colleague to tweet about it for you. A co-author or the journal editor or publisher might tweet about it, or you could approach a University press officer. If you tweet yourself then you could pin the tweet about your latest paper to your profile on Twitter.

3) Open it up! Add your paper to at least one Open Access repository, such as your institutional repository (they might also tweet about it). This way your paper will be available even to those who don’t subsribe to the journal. You can find an OA repository on ROAR or OpenDOAR. Each repository will have its own community of visitors and ways in which to help people discover your content, so you might choose more than one repository: perhaps one for your paper and one for data or other material associated with it. If you put an object into Figshare, for example, it will be assigned a DOI and that will be really handy for getting Altmetrics measures.

4)Be social! Twitter is one way to do this already, of course. but you could also blog about it, on your own blog or perhaps as a guest post for an existing blog with a large audience already. You could put visual content like slides and infographics into Slideshare, and send out an update via LinkedIn. Choose at least one more social media channel of your choice, for each paper.

MONITOR

  1. Watch download stats for your paper, on your publisher’s website. Measuring the success of casual mentions is difficult, but you can often see a spike in download statistics for a paper, after it has been mentioned at a conference.
  2. Watch Twitter analytics: is your tweet about your paper one of your Top Tweets? You can see how many “engagements” a tweet has, i.e., how many clicks, favourites, re-tweets and replies, etc it accrued. If you use a link shortening service, you should also be able to see how many clicks there have been on your link, and where from. (bit.ly is one of many such shortening services.) This is the measure that I value most. If no-one is clicking to look at your content, then perhaps Twitter is not working for you and you could investigate why not or focus on more efficient channels.
  3. Repositories will often offer you stats about downloads, just like your publisher, and either or both may offer you access to an altmetrics tool. Take a look at these to see more information behind the numbers: who is interested and engaged with your work and how can you use this knowledge? Perhaps it will help you to choose which of the other possible social media channels you might use, as this is where there are others in your discipline who are already engaged with your work.

 

Ultimately, you might be interested in citations rather than engagements on Twitter or even webpage visits or downloads for your paper. It’s hard to draw a definite connection between such online activity and citations for journal papers, but I’m pretty sure that no-one is going to cite your paper if they don’t even know it exists, so if this is important to you, then I would say, shout loud!

Ensuring quality and annotating scientific publications. A summary of a Twitter chat

Screenshot of twitter conversation
Tweet tweet!

Last year (yes, I’m slow to blog!), I had a very productive conversation (or couple of conversations) on Twitter with a former colleague & scientist at the University of Warwick, Andrew Marsh, which are worth documenting here as a way to give them a narrative, and to illustrate how Twitter sometimes works.

Back in November 2015, Andrew tweeted to ask who would sign reviews of manuscripts, when reporting on a presentation by Chief Editor of Nature Chemistry,  Stuart Cantrill. I replied on Twitter by asking whether such openness would make the reviewers take more time over their reviews (thereby slowing peer review down). I wondered whether openness would make reviewers less direct and so therefore possibly less helpful as more open to interpretation. Also, whether such open criticisim would drive authors to engage in even more “pre-submission”, informal peer reviewing.

Andrew tells me that, at the original event “a show of hands and brief discussion in the room revealed that PIs or those who peer reviewed manuscripts regularly, declared themselves happy to reveal their identity whereas PhD students or less experienced researchers felt either unsure or uncomfortable in doing so.”

Our next chat was kick-started when Andrew pointed me to a news article from Nature that highlighted a new tool for annotating web pages, Hypothes.is. In our Twitter chat that ensued we considered:

  1. Are such annotations a kind of post-publication peer review? I think that they can work alongside traditional peer review, but as Andrew pointed out, they lack structure so they’re certainly no substitute.
  2. Attribution of such comments is important so that readers would know whose comments they are reading, and also possibly enable tracking of such activity, so that the work could be measured. Integration with ORCID would be a good way to attribute comments. (This is already planned, it seems: Dan Whaley picked up on our chat here!)
  3. Andrew wondered whether tracking of such comments could be done for altmetrics. Altmetric.com responded. Comments on Hypothes.is could signal scholarly attention for the work which they comment on, or indeed attract attention themselves. It takes a certain body of work before measuring comments from such a source becomes valuable, but does measuring itself incentivise researchers to comment? I’m really interested in the latter point: motivation cropped up in an earlier blogpost of mine on peer review. I suspect that researchers will say that measurement does not affect them, but I’m also sure that some of those are well aware of, eg their ResearchGate score!
  4. Such a tool offers a function similar to marginalia and scrawls in library books. Some are helpful shortcuts (left by altruists, or just those who wanted to help their future selves?!), some are rubbish (amusing at their best), and sometimes you recognise the handwriting of an individual who makes useful comments, hence the importance of attribution.
  5. There are also some similarities with social bookmarking and other collaboration tools online, where you can also publish reviews or leave comments on documents and publications.

And who thought that you couldn’t have meaningful conversations on Twitter?! You can also read responses on Twitter to eLife‘s tweet about its piece on the need for open peer review.

The best part of this conversation between Andrew and me on Twitter was the ability to bring in others, by incorporating their Twitter handles. We also picked up on what others were saying, like this tweet about journal citation distributions from Stephen Curry. The worst parts were trying to be succinct when making a point (and wanting to develop some points); feeling a need to collate the many points raised and forgetting to flag people sometimes.

Just as well you can also blog about these things, then!

 

Who was at the Frankfurt book fair?

Many international publishersI recently wrote about three particularly German things that I spotted at the Frankfurt book fair, but there was so much there so here is another blogpost full of pictures… Here is a quick run-through of who I spotted at the book fair, with photos!

Of course, the Frankfurt book fair is huge: the exhibition space is much bigger than Online Information, or the UKSG conference, which is the closest thing to it that I’ve attended in the past. And it is more properly called the International Frankfurt Book Fair! Some international publishers were to be found in the halls for their country, where you could hear their language being spoken all around, whilst others were scattered in other halls matching their content rather than their nation, like this one in the academic publishing hall.

Specialist book publishers
Specialist book publishers

There was a great deal of variety of types of book represented at the fair, and all things book related. Those seeking something special could find beautiful facsimiles, or antique works, but the section of the fair dedicated to antiquities was guarded by extra security: you had to leave coats and bags behind to go in, so I didn’t: after all, I’m not in a position to invest in or be guardian of such treasures, and there was so much else to see.

Another area of the fair that had extra security was a hall that was apparently new for this year, where literary agents gathered for pre-booked meetings only. I wonder what was going on behind those screens? Agents selling books to publishers and negotiating terms, I imagine. The whole fair has the atmosphere of high-stakes deals, and people going about important business, not just in the exhibition halls but all around the site. There were publishers doing deals with libraries and bookshops, and technology providers with services for the publishers or with products for readers directly. There were education tool providers, and also companies who sell all the extras that you can find in bookshops like stationery and gifts: many of these stalls were making individual item sales at the book fair, too, so you could pick up a present for your loved ones.

Not just books: gift providers, too
Not just books: gift providers, too

I spent most of my time in the hall for scientific and academic publishing, but I did walk through other halls, and spotted many art publishers and stalls for children’s books and comic books which had some highly creative and attractive displays: these were really inspiring and made me feel proud to be a part of this information world, with just a little pang of regret that the academic world is so much less aesthetic and so much more serious looking! Ah well, the academic information world is full of really interesting challenges, and I was really pleased to see that a German Library school was amongst the stalls in the education area, recruiting students to degree programmes in librarianship and information science.

Publishers of children's books
Publishers of children’s books

There was so much to see, across so many different enormous conference halls that it was quite possible to be lost in the indoors world of the exhibition centre, and to forget the world outside… sometimes it seemed as though the whole world was at the Frankfurt book fair!

 

A rare glimpse of the outside world, from within the Exhibition centre at Frankfurt.
A rare glimpse of the outside world, from within the Exhibition centre at Frankfurt.