Trends in journal publishing: A panel discussion

By Elisabeth Leonard, Executive Market Research Manager, and Cynthia Nalevanko, Journals Editor 


In February, Florida State University invited us to participate in the panel, How do You Publish for Engagement and Impact? A Look at Trends in Journal Publishing as part of their symposium titled Publish or Perish: Conversations on Academic Publishing. Elisabeth Leonard, Executive Market Research Manager participated in the conversation by sharing some insight on practices at SAGE Publishing (view her presentation slides below). With help from Cynthia Nalevanko, Journals Editor at SAGE Publishing, Leonard discussed SAGE’s publication process, the shift to online publishing, how editors and publishers shape the research conversation, and emerging trends in academic publishing. See some notes from her presentation below.

1. The publication process

How do you (as a publisher) approach the publication process?

The process begins with the selection of an editor who is dedicated to the integrity of the peer review process and is informed about the issues surrounding this process. We direct the editor to COPE Guidelines and also provide one-on-one training between the Publishing Editor and the Journal Editor.

What types of reviews or checks do you do on manuscripts to determine if they are suitable for review, how do you select reviewers, etc.? What forms of quality control do you use? What happens behind the scenes that authors might like to know about but probably don’t know about — either at the point of submission or the point of publication?

Some of the SAGE-published journals utilize iThenticate, a software program which checks the manuscript for potential plagiarism. The journal editors perform an initial review of the manuscript to check for several things:  1) does the manuscript fits within the scope of the journal? 2) is the quality of the writing such that the editor won’t be wasting the reviewer’s time on a manuscript that is barely readable?

How do you select reviewers?

Reviewers are selected by the Journal Editor on the basis of their expertise in the subject, their ability to provide a timely review (i.e. if a reviewer is already working on several manuscripts, the editor will try to balance the number of review requests between several reviewers.) Sometimes the Journal Editor will invite a scholar outside the Editorial Review Board on an ad-hoc basis because that person has special expertise relevant to the manuscript’s topic.

What forms of quality control do you use?

The forms of quality control that are used are 1) knowledge, experience, and integrity of the editor 2) iThenticate software mentioned before 3) Reviewers Scores-the Journal Editor can assign a score to the review based on the quality of the review.

Some of the measures involved in the Reviewers Scores include: Does the reviewer provide constructive comments to the author in a professional manner? Does the reviewer suggest areas that could be developed in the manuscript and provide some pointers on how to do this? Does the reviewer help the author think creatively about how to improve the manuscript?

On occasion, a Journal Editor may bring in a methodologist to review the methods section of a manuscript if needed.

What happens behind the scenes that authors might like to know about but probably don’t know about — either at the point of submission or the point of publication?

Authors should keep in mind that Journal Editors and reviewers are conscientious but very busy people and they must guard their time carefully. They often encounter the following:

  • Authors who do not read the submission guidelines and submit manuscripts that do not fit within the journal’s scope
  • Authors who do not get informal reviews from their colleagues first before sending the manuscript in to the journal. Colleagues can catch some obvious errors or omissions prior to submission, thus saving  some precious reviewer time down the road
  • The quality and clarity of the writing. SAGE Language Services is available to the author for assistance in this area
  • Authors who submit a revised paper without addressing any of the reviewers’ concerns or explaining why they have chosen not to incorporate their suggestions

2. The shift to online publishing

How has the shift to online publishing affected your journal?

From the perspective of a publisher, online publishing has increased the numbers of people globally who can read the journal. Before online publishing, many journals had library subscriptions numbering in the hundreds. If the journal was established and owned by a prestigious society, maybe 1,000-1,500. Now, with SAGE’s reach into libraries around the world, SAGE Journals are available to over 8,000 libraries globally. This increase, in turn, has affected the potential author base. With more people exposed to the content of the journal, more scholars have the opportunity to submit manuscripts to the journal.

Has it affected how issues are built?

Most SAGE journals operate in an article-based environment as opposed to an issue-based environment. Articles are published ahead of print or in OnlineFirst and the editor selects from those articles to build an issue.

Has it affected the form/content of articles? What are your expectations for titles/keywords/abstracts?

In an online environment, titles, abstracts, keywords become very important so that readers can discover the content. SAGE offers advice to authors on how to craft these elements for search engine optimization in our Journal Author Gateway.

Has it affected the metrics that you use?

Online usage reports on an aggregate basis, both publisher-wide and journal-wide are important. We also look at individual article usage closely to identify trends for the Journal Editor.

What extra features are you offering due to online publishing (digital highlights, additional material)?

Online-only supplementary material such as data sets, tables and figures, video, audio podcasts, author PowerPoints, and Book Reviews are some of the additional supplementary materials that are being published with articles

3. The editor’s/publisher’s role in shaping the research conversation

How do new journals come into being?

There are several ways: 1) a SAGE Publishing Editor will identify a gap that’s not currently filled by a journal 2) a current SAGE society partner will approach SAGE with an idea for a new journal and an assessment of need will be made.

How do you address areas where there may be topical overlap between journals?

An analysis is undertaken to address this question. If we conclude that the topical overlap may mean that that there will not be enough manuscripts to support both journals, the decision will be made to re-define scope of the proposed journal or to decline to launch.

What guidance or assistance do you provide to editors and authors?

SAGE Publishing Editors draw upon many years of experience to inform editors and authors of new (launch) journals. Case studies of previous successes are provided along with advice on how to utilize networks and the information in Web of Science reports to encourage submissions to the new title.

4. Emerging trends

What changes has your journal(s) experienced in the last few years? What trends do you see in publishing?

Fewer print copies of journals desired. For example, a number of society partners have offered an online-only option to their members and we see that around 60% of the membership is choosing online-only. There are also more open access journals; our OA journals number over 60 titles. We also see a higher use of tools like Altmetrics and Kudos as well as the increased usage of video with articles. In addition, authors are more willing to take a proactive stance in helping promote their work.




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