New Measures Aim to Ease Editor Workload

5 initiatives to help editors

"The automatic reminders are prompting reviewers to respond as well as get overdue reviews done." Editor, Journal of Molecular Graphics and Modelling

We know that journal editors have witnessed a substantial increase in their workloads over the past few years, largely due to the rise in submissions.

However, with authors now actively seeking journals promising a quick turnaround of papers, offering a fast publication process has never been more vital.

With help from journal managers, publishers within Elsevier have launched a program of initiatives providing our editors with the tools and best practices to help them achieve that goal.

These initiatives are based on the wealth of knowledge and experience of our extensive network of editors. We believe that they can be of use to you and your colleagues, as well as to authors and reviewers.

If you would like to explore any of the initiatives in more detail, please do not hesitate to give your publisher a call.

1. Moving traffic

It is clear from the feedback we have received that many of you spend a large proportion of your time on administrative activities, such as checking the status of papers. In response, we have developed a regular 'traffic light' email and best practice that focus on five key steps in the Elsevier Editorial System (EES) editorial process. According to our data, these steps cause the largest variation in publishing times between journals. They are:

  • Initiate review (invite reviewer and agree to review)
  • Under review
  • First decision
  • Author revision
  • Revision to decision

The traffic light email

Figure 1: The email codes manuscripts green, amber or red, with red indicating that the manuscript requires urgent attention. The email is a powerful means to help editors prioritize their work.

A best practice document is available to help editors get the most out of the traffic light email. It outlines the tips and tricks of editors of Elsevier journals that EES has identified as having the fastest turnaround times for these steps.

We expect this document could be of particular interest to new editors, but its contents may also inspire more experienced editors to revisit their procedures.

Results so far

While it is still early days, the first positive results have been reported. For example, the editors of the Journal of Molecular Structure have managed to reduce the editorial time for the ‘revision to decision’ step by 47%. Comments from editors using the traffic light email make it clear that it helps them to swiftly identify which actions are needed first.

2. Article-Based Publishing

Traditionally, academic articles have been published in journals, issue by issue. With the onset of digital publishing, articles have become available sooner as articles-in-press, however, there is still an average wait of 15 weeks before they are assigned an issue and receive a full and final citation (still preferred by authors in place of the DOI number, according to our observations).

To address this, we have introduced Article-Based Publishing, a contemporary publication model assigning final citation data on an article by article basis.

“Article-Based Publishing is a key part of Elsevier’s efforts to find new ways to speed up and enhance the publication process,” explains Martin Tanke, Managing Director of Science & Technology Journals for Elsevier.

Article-Based Publishing, what does it mean?

  • Articles immediately receive a page number and are published one by one in an Issue in Progress.
  • If multiple volumes are available for a journal, multiple Issues in Progress can be opened and filled with articles simultaneously. Final articles will appear online sooner which allows for faster citations (see figure 2).
  • Article-Based Publishing has already resulted in reductions in publication times of up to seven weeks for final articles.
  • This change in process reflects the industry shift from print to electronic publishing.

Figure 2: Article-Based Publishing - what you see in SciVerse ScienceDirect

Since its introduction, more than 280 journals have implemented Article-Based Publishing, and another two sets of 50 journals were due to join the program in November and December this year. Professor René Janssen, Editor of Organic Electronics, comments: “Article-Based Publishing is a major step forward which I really like. Now the article is in its final form just a few weeks after acceptance and this will give the journal an important advantage compared to others. I am sure that our authors will like it too. As far as I am aware, Organic Electronics is now one of the very few journals with rapid publication of full papers.”

3. No need to remind yourself to remind reviewers

As an editor, you can probably identify with the time-consuming task of reminding reviewers of deadlines, and chasing late reviews. Did you know that EES can do this for you? In an effort to reduce your workload, EES provides an Automated Reviewer Reminders tool.

Editors who have already implemented the reminders report that the tool has helped them to reduce reviewing times, which our studies indicate is an important factor for authors when deciding which journal to submit to. An editor on Journal of Molecular Graphics and Modelling says: “Aside from the traffic light and best practice, what has helped me are the constant reminders to individuals who have not responded to the review invitation request as well as past due reviews. The automatic reminders are prompting reviewers to respond as well as get overdue reviews done.”

4. Making the best use of your reviewers: rejecting without peer review

While it is important to give all authors a fair chance, we do recognise that not all submitted papers are suitable for peer review. Such papers should be rejected upfront by the editor.

There are four main benefits to these so-called ‘desk rejects’:

  • For Editors: There is no time and effort wasted on finding reviewers for, and reminding them about, papers that are highly likely to be rejected anyway.
  • For Reviewers: They receive only those papers that are worth spending their limited time on.
  • For Authors: They are informed of the reject decision at the earliest possible stage, allowing them to submit elsewhere.
  • For the journal: It is likely that the Impact Factor, the most visible label of the journal’s reputation, will improve with only the best quality papers making it through the process.

We have gathered together best practice tips and tricks from editors whose journals have a well-established process in place for this initial screening of papers. Your publisher will be able to provide you with a copy of this document.

5. Language editing

Because more and more papers are submitted by authors whose native language is not English, editors spend an increasing amount of their time on language editing. This leaves them less time for the actual management of the review process.

However, it is Elsevier’s policy that the author is responsible for language editing and that this should happen prior to submission. Our advice to editors is that they should refer authors to a language-editing agency, or to a colleague who is a native English speaker. Elsevier also offers language editing services directly to the author via the Author Webshop. Other services available include SPI and Asia Science Editing. In exceptional cases, the journal may pay for the language editing. Your publisher can give you more information.

Author Biographies

Angelique JanssenAngelique Janssen
Angelique works in the Strategy and Journal Services department in Amsterdam. She is responsible for projects that deliver tools and services to both internal and external Elsevier audiences. Since joining Elsevier in 2002, Angelique has worked in various positions, such as Associate Publishing Editor. She has a Master’s degree in Language Didactics from Utrecht University and is certified as a PRINCE2 Practitioner.

Angelique JanssenAndrea Hoogenkamp-O'Brien
Andrea joined Elsevier in 2009 and works in the Strategy and Journal Services department in Amsterdam, where she is part of a team responsible for developing new initiatives to improve services for authors, editors and reviewers. She joined Elsevier from FEMS in Delft where she had worked as the Editorial Coordinator, responsible for managing the publications unit, which publishes five FEMS Microbiology journals. Prior to that, Andrea held the position of Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the University of Amsterdam.

Archived Comments

derek clements-croome says: December 13, 2011 at 7:26 am

I am glad you are thinking about Editors as I have found more and more work is pushed our way much of it admin which sucks up the time we have for more creative work. Please continue to help us.

Prof. Dr. Donald Huisingh says: December 15, 2011 at 11:05 pm

I am delighted to learn more about each of these tools. As Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Cleaner Production, I would like to explore the implementation of these tools in my journal. Please inform of the steps we can take to do so. Of course we need to inform the subject editors and other things, but what can we do and how can we most effectively implement them? How long before we can implement them?
Prof. Don Huisingh

Angelique Janssen, Project Manager says: December 20, 2011 at 2:03 pm

Dear Prof. Huisingh, thank you for your positive reaction to these initiatives. We have forwarded your comment to the publisher and project manager, who will be in contact with you in due course.

Fabrizio Sebastiani says: January 10, 2012 at 5:12 pm

Dear Madams/Sirs,

I am a member of the editorial board of an Elsevier journal, and as such I am often requested to peer review papers submitted to the journal.

One aspect that makes my work more difficult than it should be is Elsevier’s insistence that authors do not embed tables and figures within the text of the submitted manuscript but place them all on separate pages at the end of the article. This policy may well be justified for the final, camera-ready copy, but I find little justification for it when we are talking about the submitted manuscript to be forwarded to the reviewers. In such a way, the reviewer must continually flip back and forth from the paper to the appendix, and this makes the reviewer’s work more difficult; ultimately, it is the quality fo the review that will suffer.

My suggestion is that Elsevier allows (actually: encourages!) authors to embed tables and figures within the text of the submitted manuscript. I know that the Editor-in-Chief of the journal completely agrees with me.

Best regards Fabrizio Sebastiani

Danilla Grando says: January 11, 2012 at 11:50 pm

I totally support Fabrizio’s comments. As both a reviewer and an author I see it from both sides. I have prepared a manuscript with tables and figures embedded for my co-authors. It seems ridiculous that this manuscript can’t be submitted as prepared. I will be quite happy to submit in desired format once reviewers cooments have been received.

Prof. Colin Wraight says: January 10, 2012 at 5:49 pm

While I am sympathetic to the issues facing non-native English speakers, I think more should be demanded of authors to attend to grammar and syntax (this is also true for sloppy writing by native English speakers). Increasingly, papers are becoming hard to read and to discern the authors’ meaning. Papers published in such a state represent completely wasted effort on everyone’s part.

Jaana Tähtinen says: January 12, 2012 at 7:35 am

I agree with Fabrizio and would wellcome very much such a change in the instructions for authors.

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