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Continuing to accelerate the acceptance-to-publication window

Three ways we are speeding up production (without jeopardizing quality)

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Having a paper accepted is great news for an author, but it’s not the end of the publication process. At Elsevier, we still need to create all the enrichment and linking that users see on our products, such as ScienceDirect, and also create a print product for those journals that need one. In this article, we provide an update to a previously-published piece on the services we offer to ensure an optimal turnaround and experience for our authors.

Proofing can be a bottleneck in the publishing process. It requires input from the authors: they need to read their articles carefully and make sure there are no errors in the text, figures or tables. When the proofs arrive as PDFs, this can take time, often resulting in authors putting off proofing until later (after all, they have a DOI already).

Unfortunately, this can have an impact on a journal’s average publication time (something that authors are aware of and a criterion which can be important to them when choosing where to submit). We have been working on several new approaches including the “fast proofing workflow”, our online proofing tool, and “centralised page composition” three ways we help make it easier for authors to check and correct their articles and get the final, citable article published as soon as possible.

Speeding up the acceptance to proof phase

Traditionally, it would take around 19 days for an author to receive typeset proofs of their article. This is because lots of editorial production tasks are going on in the background. After all, the whole cycle was set up to accommodate print publishing. Although everything is now digitized, we still deal with print to varying degrees, so we needed a way to improve speed and still produce all the final products the author (and user) expects to see.

To address this, we set up the fast proofing workflow: a project that reduces the time between acceptance and first proof to 24-72 hours. When we started the project, the average time from acceptance to proof was 19 days; now, that time is down to just 3 days, and we are still chipping away at it. We are busy rolling out the new workflow to a growing list of journals, with 1500 currently benefiting from faster production.

We have focused on making our administrative tasks more efficient. We have also relaxed the print layout rules a little, so, for example, we have more flexibility in terms of white space at the end of a column.

The problem with proofing

Proofing is an important part of the publishing process: by checking the article carefully, authors can pick up any small typos and mistakes that have slipped through the net. While it’s not an opportunity to make big changes or update the content of the article, it enables authors to make the article as high quality as possible.

Many years ago, authors would receive printed proofs of their article in the post, for them to mark up and send back. With digital technology, this is now done faster but there are still opportunities for typesetters to misinterpret an instruction.

Direct corrections mean fewer mistakes

To address these problems, we’ve introduced a new online proofing tool which lets authors look at their proofs and make changes directly in the text, reducing the opportunities to introduce mistakes, and ultimately speeding up the process.

Our online proofing tool enables authors to see their text, showing very clearly what the copy editor has changed, in html format. It’s a bit like the Microsoft Word layout of the article – you can clearly see headings, how tables are structured and the layout of the references. It doesn’t look exactly like the PDF version, but a PDF that resembles the final print can be created on demand so that authors can work offline if desired.

Creating the final PDF

Our rich XML format allows us to create html and print products from a single source file. Once the author has made their corrections in the html editing interface in our online proofing tool, we can quickly validate the final XML and run the file through our centralised page composition service. This means the citable article is available quicker. This service is live for 700 titles, and enables us to deliver the final, citable article quickly and consistently to ScienceDirect and many other products and customers.

Combined, the fast proofing workflow, online proofing tool, and centralised page composition are having a significant effect on the production time of articles, helping to speed up the time between acceptance and publication, and improving journals’ performance statistics (as well as raising the satisfaction rate for authors). For more information on any of these tools or to find out if your journal can be included, contact your publisher.

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