How many submissions did your journal receive last year? 500, 750? More? Overall Elsevier saw roughly 1.8 million papers submitted to our journals in 2018, an increase of 12 per cent compared to 2017 and one reflective of the overall growth in global research output. Note that we still talk about “papers”, but the reality is that all these submissions are received in electronic format. This is by no means surprising, of course. Academic publishing is an overwhelmingly digital operation and Elsevier’s approach has been informed by this evolution. Over the years, we have taken pains to ensure that we are not merely keeping pace with developments in publishing technology but are also proactively pushing boundaries in an effort to reduce the strain on our editors and reviewers and to afford a smoother (and faster) process for authors.
Too many papers, too little time
The increase in submissions means you have less time per paper but still need to ensure that reviewers are only asked to comment on articles that marry both relevance and quality. Part of our efforts to streamline the processes around the editorial workflow has therefore focused on making improvements to the submission systems that our journals use. We have thus announced various new features and functionalities, many of which have resulted in extremely positive feedback from you and your peers.
The challenge for editors when it comes to manuscripts is to carefully assess the quality of each individual submission before determining whether or not it should move into review. As noted above, you and your reviewers need to invest your time and efforts wisely. Technology can help to support editors in making fast but robust decisions and as a global information analytics company, Elsevier is in a unique position to leverage our considerable infrastructure and project bandwidth to invest in powerful new resources for our editors.
Harnessing the power of data science
The latest tool on which we’ve been working is a “manuscript dashboard”. The aim of this resource, which has been developed in partnership with the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, is to assist editors with the initial manuscript evaluation process by providing them with relevant information about a paper so that they can make the best, most well-informed decision. The dashboard works by examining a number of aspects of the manuscript at hand and providing editors with feedback about each category, specifying any area(s) that may suggest a need for improvement. In doing so, the tool means that editors spend less time interrogating other tools (e.g. Scopus) and more time in focusing on those areas of a manuscript that might require more careful inspection. The manuscript dashboard is currently limited to a few indicators such as scope match with journal and topicality, but we plan to expand this based on editor feedback.
As we continue to invest in technology to streamline the editorial and peer review workflows, we work carefully to ensure that innovations such as the manuscript dashboard will aid editors in the decision-making process yet will do not do so in a way that jeopardizes editorial independence. The dashboard is designed and intended as an adjunct rather than a solution and is, furthermore, an optional tool. In developing the dashboard, we have worked closely with several editors on journals in different fields and our productive collaboration has enabled us to maintain the right balance. What has also been reassuring – and rewarding – to see is the high level of engagement with the dashboard, not to mention a good deal of positive feedback.
It is very easy to use … Everything is very clear
– Coral Barbas, Journal of Pharmaceutical and Biomedical Analysis
Iteration and improvement
With the initial design and testing phase now complete, we will start evaluating this new dashboard more broadly, working with editors from 60 journals. We will assess how they use it and whether the information displayed is helpful in making decisions. Based on their feedback we expect to further improve the application, resulting in more relevant papers being sent to peer reviewers and ultimately in faster decisions for authors.
We hope that the above has whetted your appetite for this tool and illustrated how it could potentially assist you to engage even more practically, efficiently and effectively with submissions. Tools such as the manuscript dashboard will never replace the sound editorial judgment that you bring to peer review, but they can provide a “helping hand” in a complicated and data-heavy process. If you have suggestions for how the dashboard could be further developed or if you have any questions at all, please reach out or leave a comment below. Otherwise, stay tuned here and we look forward to making further announcements about the dashboard in due course.