What do I need to know to help start an electronic academic journal?
February 13, 2008 2:22 AM   Subscribe

My boss, the professor, has accepted the challenge of starting a new electronic academic journal to be self-published by the professional organisation that she currently heads. She is, understandably, very busy, so she has asked me to find out everything we need to do to make this happen, with, of course, a limited budget.

The first issue must appear on the organisation's website in early July. Happily the articles will be received by March because of a linked conference.

This is a helpful Askme. But I want more. Where do I start looking? What should I be looking for? What practice/product should we absolutely avoid? If I outsource the layout template, how will I know that the designer can handle it? What hasn't even occurred to me? Books, links, advice, please. Make me look good, or at the very least competent.
posted by b33j to Education (14 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
What kind of academic topic? In mathematics, there are a bunch of electronic journals (e.g., The Electronic Journal of Combinatorics). But my sense as an author who's published in a few of them is that a chunk of their costs are taken care of by the fact that since authors are required to use LaTeX to produce the articles, at least the typesetting costs are minimized, since it's on the authors to do the typesetting; the journal has its own style file that makes all the articles look nice. I don't know how it works in other disciplines.

Is the issue website production? or dealing with submissions? Is there money at least for a (part-time?) technical editor?
posted by leahwrenn at 3:47 AM on February 13, 2008

Response by poster: The field is a narrow one, but the organisation is a world leader in it. It has a professional website, which allows paid-up members deeper access, and I understand, this is where the journal will sit.

I think the biggest issue is starting from scratch, including choosing the software and layout, but there's also knowing things like registering for an ISSN, and preparing a system of submission and production that can be handed over to someone else with minimal training after a year or running it. How much money would a technical editor require? How much time would we require of the technical editor?
posted by b33j at 4:06 AM on February 13, 2008

You might want to contact some university units that handle this kind of stuff, for example the Scholarly Publishing Office at the University of Michigan. They've been looking at tools and may be willing to share what they've found out so far. Stanford University Libraries has Highwire Press, and they provide hosting and other services to professional organizations in your situation.
posted by needled at 5:55 AM on February 13, 2008

Best answer: is your professor going to serve as managing editor? your question seems to suggest you're asking about that sort of process. here are some considerations from that angle:

do you have an editorial board? this can be a great thing. in exchange for listening to their "input" when setting up the mission statement of the journal, they get the honor of being listed as a member of the editorial board. from the journal's perspective, this indebts each member of the board to muster their network of colleagues together to find an occasional referee to peer review "problematic" submissions. that same network will figure out that there's a new journal on the block, and perhaps some of them will dust off a paper or two and toss it in as a submission. former authors may even come to trusted referees down the line...this is an economy, an exchange system of sorts that you're building.

in terms of the technical bits, if writers are submitting in MSWord, start building some copy-editing macros. seemingly simple things, like "find any instance of [period] followed by less than [2 spaces], replace with [period + 2 spaces]. after just a few submissions you'll see patterns in human errors. macro-robots are good at fixing problems that occur in such patterns. meep.

which bring up another consideration: be as specific as you can in your "requirements for submissions" statement. which font? character limit on title? (so it'll fit on your table of contents without destroying the layout). ideal paper length (someone will send you a 60,000 word manifesto. it's helpful to have the option of rejecting based on deviation from style sheet. also can help if you end up getting sued for said rejection). which Manual of Style are you down with?

develop a rationally-designed filing system from day one. if you choose to go with 'author's last name' you'll soon discover 97 submissions from gals named "smith."

identify several book presses that you'd love to get free review-copies from. pepper them with a copy of the first issue (after it's out), and a nicely written note from the professor about your target audience and intentions to include detailed book reviews.

speak with the university librarians about abstracting for all the databases they have. what are the criteria for inclusion? if other scholars can't see the journal in a database search, how much impact can it have looking down the road?

who is going to own the copyright? do you have a policy for authors who want to use their article in an edited volume sometime in the future? you need a policy for that, in writting.

that's all i've got for the moment.

former managing editor speaking here. email's in the profile.
posted by garfy3 at 6:06 AM on February 13, 2008

such bad editing in a post about editing? oy vey. preview is my friend.
posted by garfy3 at 6:27 AM on February 13, 2008

Best answer: i have to say that five months from inception to publication is an extremely short time frame, even for an online journal.

garfy3 has some excellent suggestions.

i can't really help you with what product to use to manage submissions and database searching and stuff as i wasn't super involved with our online journals.

if yours is a field where people are familiar with latex, make it a requirement that they submit in tex, using your style files.

if not, create a locked word template to guide them. otherwise you'll get all sorts of weird shit that you have to spend time formatting instead of doing other more important things.
posted by misanthropicsarah at 6:49 AM on February 13, 2008

Is this of interest - Internet Archaeology?
posted by dance at 6:53 AM on February 13, 2008

Try this website for an example of a complete online journal Journal of Transport and Land Use. See if it is what your are envisioning including process, if it is then Mefi mail me and I will give you all the technical and process details.
posted by jadepearl at 8:24 AM on February 13, 2008

Dude, you need to check out Open Journal Systems. It automates everything. Forget July, you can have a fully-functioning journal by this evening.

posted by limon at 8:38 AM on February 13, 2008

Best answer: another trick to consider: i once set up an automated reminder email system in Outlook that would ping reviewers/referees every week or so with a friendly reminder. the psychology of this fascinated me--it seems academics *hate* getting reminders that they're past due on something. from humans, that is. reminders didn't seem to work in the form of personal notes. but when i clearly labelled these messages as automated reminder thingies, everyone started getting things in more quickly. less resentment for being "called out" i suspect(?).

since the internet(s) now seem awash with automated systems for managing the process, you might consider the "email reminder" business as a criterion in choosing a system.
posted by garfy3 at 9:14 AM on February 13, 2008

My friends on the development team for the Open Journal System that Limon linked to. He makes it sound like it's the best thing ever. It probably is.
posted by chunking express at 1:41 PM on February 13, 2008

Yes to OJS! We're starting an open access press at my academic library, and that's the platform of choice. I can put you in touch with someone who has worked directly with the implementation if you have specific questions, email is in my profile.
posted by donnagirl at 9:31 PM on February 13, 2008

Response by poster: Really appreciate all the helpful comments. This OJS, it seems like it would be accessible by all, not just members, which is, unfortunately, not what the organisation wants.

I'll examine all the links and suggestions carefully in the next couple of days and mark best answers then.
posted by b33j at 9:49 PM on February 13, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks very much. I went through all the answers and came up with this summary. It seems with our limited budget and lack of technical staff, we have to use the simplest of systems. This is why I marked the process answers as best. They're the best for my situation, not necessarily the best options for someone with decent budget etc.

Thanks again. Hugely helpful.

Scholarly Exchange Hosting: (first year free): other options include selling advertising if OJS (Open Journal System) is used.
Advantages: manages receipting system, allocates articles to editors, accessible, connected to major libraries etc, creates a template system, can be set to prevent open viewing
Disadvantages: Articles will eventually be open to public, necessary to have a web editor who understands php, mysql etc. Apparently buggy.

HTML & Indesign or Publisher > PDF
Advantages: Commonly used and easy to learn. Easy to link on site. Total editorial freedom.
Disadvantages: entire system of article processing must be created from scratch.
Note: Linux users would appreciate a Postscript version as well.

This is a document management system to make applying styles easier
Advantage: requires authors to present their work in a particular format which makes applying style guides very easy. There Linux and Windows versions available and they are freely downloadable.
Disadvantage: This software is appropriate for large quantities, but would at this stage of the journal’s development would probably exasperate authors unfamiliar with the system, while adding little gain.

JISC Collections, facilitates access for staff and students in universities, colleges and research councils in the UK only.

Other open source systems include DPubS, GAPworks, Hyperjournal, ePublishing Toolkit, OpenACS, SOPS, and TOPAZ (from Peter Suber's Open Access News). However, given the bare bones budget, and limited staff of this project, similar problems as with OJS arise.

A division of the Stanford University Libraries, HighWire Press hosts 1106 journals from over 130 scholarly publishers. HighWire Press charges for PDF versions of articles ($15). HighWire Press welcomes inquiries from publishers interested in placing their journal content onto their web platform.
posted by b33j at 3:30 AM on February 17, 2008

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