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Helping authors find the best home for their article

How article transfers make life easier for authors, editors and reviewers

© istockphoto.com/Jane_Kelly
© istockphoto.com/Jane_Kelly

After months, or even years of work, an author reaches a critical point in their research cycle: submitting their manuscript to a journal. No journal has a 100 percent acceptance rate, however, so that means authors can expect rejection from at least one journal. But if they don’t quickly find the right home for their paper, one rejection could turn into two, three or more.

The cost of rejection

From the author’s perspective, this is of course detrimental to morale: rejection is never pleasant, even if expected. But there is much more at play in this situation. Every separate submission means a significant investment of time from a number of people: the author has to spend time reformatting and resubmitting; the editorial team has to receive, process and review the submission and potentially send it out to referees; the reviewers have to read and assess the submission and send the editor a report; and the editor has to make a decision based on the reviewers’ recommendations.

This can happen over and over, as the manuscript bounces from journal to journal, trying to find the right place to publish. Even one rejected submission following review could take the time investment to hundreds of hours in total.

Article transfers

This is part of the reason Elsevier has put its publishing expertise into developing a system to help manuscripts find the right journal faster. If an editor rejects a submission, they can do so with a recommendation that the author transfers the submission automatically to a more suitable journal, often with no need to reformat.

With 59% of its submissions coming through transfers, one year old iScience relies on this service for its content. While that will likely change over time, Editor-in-Chief Dr. Stefano Tonzani believes there are many benefits. “Transfers are a wonderful service to authors,” he said. “By transferring articles, journals are improving outcomes for their authors, rather than just sending plain ‘rejection’ letters, offering authors good advice and new venues to publish research that they would be rejecting anyway.”

Why transfer an article?

According to Dr. Damia Barcelo, Editor-in-Chief of Science of the Total Environment, the idea behind transfers is an interesting one. “Not all Editors will have the same opinion about a given paper,” he commented. “If two different editors evaluate a submission, the outcome will be positive for all of us – the scientific community, publishers, editors, authors and reviewers.”

Regardless of whether there is a transfer system in place, most submissions will likely find a home eventually. Transfer lets editors guide the submissions, helping improve them and place them correctly. As Dr. Tonzani notes, “Most papers will be published anyway, whether the editor likes them or not. Through transfers, we have a way to shape the literature, by sending good papers to a good venue which will do serious peer review.”

There are many reasons to transfer an article – almost as many as there are to reject one. The submission may have too narrow or too broad an application, it may be the wrong type of article, such as a case study or method, or it might be too basic or too applied for one particular journal, for example, and would fit better in another journal.

For receiving journals, transfers can help bring in more of a particular type of article, or, more fundamentally, can help a journal take off. “Article transfer is of great help for Editors handling new journals without an impact factor yet,” said Dr. Barcelo. “The first few years of a new journal are very difficult, and journals like Science of the Total Environment, with a very high flow of manuscripts, can be of great help to newcomers with a similar scope.”

How transfers work

Transfers reduce editor and reviewer workload by making use of the editorial effort already invested in the paper. A journal joins a cluster of journals, within which articles can be transferred. If an editor rejects a submission to their Journal, different transfer options are available.

In the most common kind of transfer, the editor can recommend that the author transfers their submission to another journal in the cluster. The submission system provides the editor with a list of journals to choose from, making the decision faster and simpler. The author then has a certain number of days, depending on the journal, in which to accept or decline the offer to transfer their article. They will receive an automated reminder email if they haven’t responded before the deadline. If the author accepts, the submission is transferred to the chosen journal, along with any reviewer comments, providing the reviewer has opted to share them, thus saving the work of an additional review process. Even if the paper has not yet been reviewed, the editor can offer – and the author can accept – a transfer, saving the effort of “manual” resubmission.

If the submission has been reviewed and found to be unsuitable for the original journal but ready for publication in another journal in the cluster, the editor can combine in one decision letter a rejection from one journal with an offer of acceptance from the other. The author can then choose to accept or decline the offer, and generally only minor revisions will be necessary. This type of transfer is called “Transferred Acceptance” or “Direct Accept”.

Benefitting all

The opportunity to transfer an article is available to authors, but it has a wider purpose. Executive Publisher Stewart Bland has seen a number of impacts across his portfolio: “Transferred Acceptance benefit users across the portfolio: authors, reviewers, editors and readers,” he said. “Authors and readers benefit from rapid publication, reviewer workload is reduced by removing the need to review the same article multiple times, and editors are able to provide an alternative publication option that suits both the feeding and receiver journals.”

Through these kinds of article transfer, journal editors are not only supporting the author and saving reviewers time, but also supporting research more broadly, by helping ensure papers find suitable journals more quickly.

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