Should your peer review move online?
When is an online editorial management system necessary?
Many academic journal editors struggle with the question of whether it is necessary to convert to a web-based peer review system. While it’s no secret that the peer review process can be heavy on administrative work and that an online editorial management system can help alleviate this burden, which factors determine whether the conversion makes sense for your journal? Is the decision to go online simply a no-brainer? Or does converting ever not make sense?
Technology-driven efficiency reduces ‘time-to-publication’
In an effort to answer this question thoroughly, one might delve into the history of the online peer review and familiarize yourself with the academic world’s historical shift toward online manuscript management over the past 25 years. What brought this about in the first place?
Prior to the mid-1990’s, most scholarly journals were still using paper-based courier-employing peer review practices. As universities and journal editorial offices began to experiment with internet platforms, it became obvious a web-based solution would not only improve efficiency in the peer review and revision process, but speed up the whole process to such a degree as to dramatically reduce time to publication. Shorter publishing time would mean an overall increase in dissemination of scholarly works. Academia was hooked and a number of commercial peer review services became available. Today an estimated 75% of peer reviewed academic journals operate with a web-based editorial management system. The increased speed of communication should come as no surprise, but why are online peer review platforms considered to be so effective? What sorts of features do they offer that facilitate the workflow?
“Today an estimated 75% of peer reviewed academic journals operate with a web-based platform. The increased speed of communication should come as no surprise, but why are online peer review systems considered to be so effective?”.
‘Role-based’ means easy functionality for all
A platform that provides easy-to-use interfaces for the roles of authors, reviewers and editors is of paramount importance to ensure that all ‘buy in’ to working in an online environment. Most web-based systems will offer a fairly standard set of features including role-based functionality that is configurable to the journal’s needs. This kind of functionality increases transparency, sets accurate expectations and automates as many processes as possible. As a resort, there is typically a shorter time-to-publication, which is in the interest of all stakeholders in the process.
Features to look for
- An online submission form for authors to submit manuscripts with metadata.
- A dashboard for editorial staff to track submissions at various stages of review and revision.
- A reviewer database with various capacities for optimizing content and contacts.
- An integrated email system coordinating the entire process of manuscript review amongst authors, editors and reviewers.
- Online evaluation forms for the reviewers/editors
- A customizable interface in general, where parameters can be set by the administrators.
- Access to up-to-the-minute reports and statistics to help editorial staff improve processes over time.
The 3 key benefits
First, tracking a manuscript through the review process using spreadsheets or a paper workflow requires constant attention as every change in review status or relevant piece of information needs to be manually logged and organised.
The typical time for processing a manuscript using a spreadsheet or paper based workflow is around 4 to 5 hours. Typically, from beginning to end of the decision process with any single submission, there will likely be approximately 35-40 pieces of correspondence sent from the editorial office as a manuscript is passed between the various reviewers and decision makers.
Even the most basic online system would be helpful by automatically tracking a manuscript through the review process, ensuring the manuscript is presented to the right people at the right time, and thereby cutting administration to around ½ an hour per manuscript.
2. Professional prestige
Second, the prestige. Switching to a user-friendly online peer review system will not only appear more professional, but offer a better user experience to the reviewers, authors and editors with whom you work. This, in turn, brings a good reputation to your journal, however new or small-scale.
Third – the bottom line – a saving of 3 to 4 hours of administration time per manuscript can quickly pay for the subscription cost of an online peer review service.
As a rule of thumb, at approximately 30 or more manuscripts per year, it becomes much more cost effective to adopt a peer review system than to employ an administrator to handle the process manually.
So, is a web-based peer review system necessary?
The quick answer: Look at your yearly submissions volume!
Over 30 Submissions per year
If your journal receives OVER 30 manuscript submissions per year, a switch to a web-based peer review solution is not only a necessity that will allow you to stay organized with your submissions and keep pace in today’s world of academic publishing, it’s a financial no-brainer that will allow you to stay firmly in control of your review process, make peer review work more enjoyable for those involved and increase the prestige of your journal.
Under 30 Submissions per year
If your journal receives UNDER 30 manuscript submissions per year, the workload could potentially be handled “the old-fashioned way,” for a similar cost. However, the journal would forego the other outstanding benefits of online peer review.