Authors are at the center of the scholarly publishing system and serve as the primary conduits in creating and consuming research papers. However, their perspectives are often overlooked in discussions about improving the scholarly publishing process. Gaining insights into authors’ views and woes can help publishers better understand author perceptions and engage with them. Understanding author concerns can also help publishers stay updated with the changing research landscape and make scholarly publishing practices more efficient and streamlined. Here are some key points that concern authors:
1. Communication gap between authors and journals
Authors often face difficulty in complying with journal submission guidelines. Correspondingly, a common problem encountered by publishers is authors’ failure to adhere to their specific guidelines, leading to desk rejections and delays in the overall publishing process. A study that delved into common reasons for manuscript rejection reported that 9% of the papers they analyzed were rejected because of non-adherence to the journal’s formatting guidelines. This shows a disconnect that exists between authors and journals. In 2018, Editage published a large-scale global survey exploring the problems authors face in academic publishing. Almost 7,000 respondents from over 100 countries took part in this survey, with the top 10 countries corresponding to the top research producing countries in the world. In the survey, 49% of the respondents indicated that they hesitate to contact journal editors for pre- and post-submission inquiries. They perceive the journal editors as unapproachable or are uninformed about the means available for communicating with journals. Non-native English speakers especially found manuscript preparation to be challenging. They also tend to lack confidence in their English language skills and hesitate to contact journal editors, fearing repercussions for their submissions. This presents the need for journals to make it easier for authors to find and use available communication channels on their websites.
2. Problems with peer review feedback and process delays
Peer review is one of the most time-consuming parts of the publishing process. A study reported the average time taken for the first response is 13 weeks, which can vary based on the field of research. The time-taken is further extended with multiple rounds of peer review and extensive revisions required by authors. About 47% of the Editage survey respondents expressed conflicting comments from different reviewers as a pain point and 46% felt that reviewers at times requested authors for additional research to be done, which may not often be feasible. Publishers and editors can play a crucial role in making this process more efficient. Some suggestions include diversifying the reviewer pool by inviting more reviewers from across the globe and involving more ECRs, and acknowledging and crediting reviewers. Initiatives such as setting guidelines or providing training for peer review focusing on objectivity, scope, transparency, and accountability can also help in alleviating some peer review-related challenges. Offering systems for authors to provide feedback regarding their experience and the quality of peer review may also help publishers gain more insights into improving this process.
3. Lack of clarity on publication timelines
The survey showed longer turnaround time for publishing as one of the most urgent concerns that needs to be addressed. Timely publication of research is crucial for dissemination of information; in some cases, delays can also cause the final published article to be outdated. Prolonged publishing timelines can also affect scholarship applications, further burdening authors’ academic careers. “Scooping” by competitors is another concern that plagues authors. While the time taken to publication can depend on a variety of factors, journals and publishers can identify gaps in their processes and take steps to mitigate delays. Journals can not only regularly check the efficiency of their processes but also maintain transparency in informing authors about the time it will take to get published in the journal. This will set the right expectations and help authors plan better. Publishers can also provide regular updates about changes in manuscript status, thereby keeping the author in the loop during the publishing process. To further assist authors, journals can provide information about common queries around publishing delays and timelines.
4. Issues related to submission requirements
Preparing manuscripts for submission can be an arduous task, notably for non-native English speakers. Providing comprehensive, simplified guidelines and explainer videos may help in making this step easier. Typically, every journal has its own set of author guidelines and authors must often rework on their manuscript to comply with them. This process can be repetitive, redundant, and eventually time-consuming while resubmitting the same manuscript to a new journal. A suggestion would be for publishers to standardize submission guidelines across journals to make the resubmission process easier for authors. Simplifying journal requirements and guidelines can go a long way in improving authors’ experience with the publishing process. Authors are important stakeholders in the publishing system and an author-friendly attitude can better represent their interests