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“I feel the need – the need for speed” How publication speed has become a key differentiator in attracting and retaining authors

August 26, 2022

Tom Cruise in Top Gun: Maverick

Tom Cruise in Top Gun: Maverick (Credit: Paramount)

Publication speed has become a key differentiator in attracting and retaining authors; here's what you need to know to help your journal soar to higher heights

For the cinemagoers amongst you, it won’t have gone unnoticed that this summer saw the release of the Top Gun sequel, Maverick. The original film is seen by many as a classic, with lines like “I feel the need — the need for speed” regularly quoted.

At Elsevier, “the need for speed” is something we pay very close attention to — publication speed, which has in recent years become crucial for attracting and retaining authors and their articles. Here’s what you need to know to help your journal soar to higher heights.

There are multiple reasons why publication speed matters, including:

Furthering scientific understanding and improving health outcomes

The need for faster dissemination of research is more evident than ever, as shown by the rise of preprints and accelerated publication of COVID-19 research. In the latter case, publication speed was critical in the quest to understand the disease, how it spreads, and how best to control and prevent infection. In fact, BioNTech(opens in new tab/window) Co-Founder and CEO Uğur Şahin credited an early article in The Lancet(opens in new tab/window) with helping him realize the severity of the outbreak, sparking him to start development of what would become the BioNTech-Pfizer vaccine.

Better serving the research community

Multiple surveys show that slow publication speeds are a pain point for authors and a particular burden for authors whose manuscripts are rejected. Many of them submit their manuscripts to multiple journals before their papers are ultimately published.

Since 1999, we have been running the Author Feedback Program(opens in new tab/window), a continuous survey of authors’ experience of publishing with us. More than 50,000 authors complete this survey(opens in new tab/window) every year, and they tell us that speed is among their top three considerations for choosing where to publish. This is particularly the case, for instance, for authors from China. where expectations on speed are high and slow speed is often a key reason for not submitting to a journal.

Market competitiveness

Many authors view publication speed as a factor when choosing where to publish their research. This is particularly true of newly launched journals that are not blessed with an Impact Factor or the quality/reputation that makes more established journals so attractive to authors. Improving publication times while retaining high-quality peer review helps journals attract more submissions from the best authors with the best content.

Three steps we are taking to improve speed and support for our authors

1. Optimizing turn-around times in Editorial Manager and developing technological infrastructure

Editorial Manager (EM) is a highly configurable workflow management system built to streamline editorial processes and communications, and most Elsevier-published journals use this platform. It offers a variety of options to help editors identify and evaluate, invite, retain and reward peer reviewers. We have been making a concerted effort to enhance these settings to improve publication speeds while supporting a first-rate author, editor and reviewer user experience. In 2021, over 200 journals adopted a best practice EM configuration, with additional support from journal managers to monitor workflows and help maintain timelines. We saw editorial speed improve by two weeks across these journals while maintaining rigorous peer review standards.

This year, we developed additional configurations, each with a group of optimized timelines and settings. These have been adopted by a further 500 journals, with plans to ensure as many journals as possible benefit from improved publication times in the future.

We have also improved our technological infrastructure by using state-of-the-art process-mining tools on these journals to map each step of the publication process, identify delays, and collaborate with editors to resolve issues.

2. Removing “legacy” practices

Where appropriate, we have been reviewing editorial and production practices that have been based on historical practices such as determine the running order of journal issues or delaying the publication of certain types of articles to influence impact factor (this is extensively researched, and there is no evidence that this practice influences the Impact Factor in a material way).

Over the last few years, we have been working to reduce the number of corrected proofs that have not yet been assigned to an issue, as we have seen that some journals keep a stock of these articles for no particular reason. All authors benefit from having their article published fully citable as soon as possible after acceptance and no longer have to wait at this stage, where the article does not have a definite volume and page (or article) number yet. Articles using a workflow that bypasses this stage reach final publication within two weeks after acceptance, while authors whose article sit as corrected proofs have to wait on average more than three months.

We are also helping journals to eliminate the requirement of editors checking covers and prelims and full issue proofs after issue compilation, which often delays publication and can also be done beforehand if required.

3. Implementing Article Transfer Services

To facilitate smoother and faster publication, we have introduced various Article Transfer Services for our journals, in which article submissions are transferred between related journals in a more systematic fashion. This approach helps authors find the right journal for their manuscript, where they are most likely to be accepted for publication quickly and easily. Not only does this save the author time and effort, but it also reduces the amount of work required by others during the editorial process. By guiding submissions to suitable alternative journals, Article Transfer Services ensure we are saving authors time while also consolidating the efforts and expertise of editors and reviewers.

As your publishing partner, we welcome the opportunity to discuss publication speed with you in more detail. Please reach out to your Publisher at Elsevier, who can help your journal provide rapid dissemination for your authors while maintaining the highest standards of peer review.