Crowdsourcing information about journals

Crowdsourced surveys of the experience of authors with journals are useful, but I have found only a few. For now, I propose a simpler survey of information gleaned from journal websites.

I was recently alerted by @melchivers (via @thesiswhisperer) to the existence of a blog by SUNY philosopher Andrew Cullison (@andycullison) that includes a set of journal surveys for the field. As Cullison explains in an overview post, the surveys consist of Google Docs spreadsheets, one for each journal, and a form interface that academics fill in with data on their experience of submitting to that journal. The information requested includes:

  • the time taken for initial review
  • the initial verdict of the journal (acceptance, rejection, revise and resubmit, conditional acceptance, withdrawn)
  • the number of reviewers whose comments were provided
  • an assessment of the quality of the reviewers’ comments
  • the final verdict if the paper was revised
  • the time from acceptance to publication
  • an overall rating of the experience with the editors
  • Some basic demographic data

This survey covers 180 journals in philosophy. The data is collated and various statistics are calculated, such as the average review time and acceptance to publication time and the average acceptance rate. Here are couple of examples: the British Journal of Philosophy of Science and Philosophy of Science.

This kind of survey could be a valuable resource for authors in a particular field who are trying to choose a journal. They are crowdsourced, so they do not rely on only one or a few people to gather data. They also provide real data on how fast journals are in practice, which might differ from the statistics or promises provided on journal websites. However, they have limitations: as pointed out in comments below one of Cullison’s posts, they suffer from reporting bias. This is important given that for many of the journals surveyed there are fewer than ten responses.

I haven’t seen any surveys like this in any other field of academia, and certainly none in biology or medicine. I would be very interested to hear if others have seen any. In biology a similar survey would probably only be useful if divided up into smaller fields, such as plant cell biology or cardiovascular medicine. Or it could focus only on the general journals that cover large areas of science, biology or medicine.

A simpler journal survey

Alternatively, or as a first step towards full surveys of journals in biomedicine, a crowdsourced survey of the information presented on journal websites could be useful. This could include information such as the promised submission to first decision time and acceptance to publication time, licensing details (copyright, Creative Commons and so on), charges, article types and length limits. This would involve only one small dataset per journal, which could fit on a single line of a spreadsheet rather than data for individual papers, so would be more manageable than Cullison’s surveys.

I have made a start on such a survey, and you can find it on Google Docs here. I have used the same set of 98 journals, derived from the UK Medical Research Council  list of journals popular with MRC authors, that I used for my open access charges spreadsheet. For every journal, the spreadsheet now contains the name of the publisher, the main journal URL, the URL for the instructions for authors, whether the entire journal is open access or not, and whether there is an open access option. There are also columns for the following information: what the website says about acceptance to publication time; whether the accepted, non-edited manuscript is published online, and what the website says about submission to first decision time. I have filled in some of these fields but haven’t yet checked all the websites for all this information.

The spreadsheet is editable by anyone. I realise that this risks someone messing up the data or adding spam text. For the columns that I don’t want you to change, I have included a partial safeguard: these columns are pulled in from a hidden, locked sheet of the spreadsheet. Please try not to delete data in any cells – just add data in empty cells. If you have any other suggestions for how to allow information to be added but not deleted, or otherwise to avoid problems, please add a comment below.

Now it’s your turn

Would you like to contribute information to this survey? If so, please go ahead and edit the spreadsheet.

If you could publicise it that would be great too.

And do you have any comments on this process, suggestions for improvement and so on?

Other questions

Have you used Cullison’s surveys and found them useful (or less useful)? Have you come across any surveys like the philosophy one for other fields? Or like my survey?

Journals that charge authors (and not for open access publication)

Among the discussion of open access recently, there have been a few comments about the level of charges for open access publication. But of course many journals charge authors even without making their articles freely available. I think these charges are worth highlighting so that you can make an informed choice of journal.

Frequently these charges are to cover the cost of colour printing, which seems reasonable given that nowadays printed journal articles are a bonus not standard. But not all: some journals have submission fees (which I’ll cover in a future post), others have page charges, and I found two that even charge for supplementary material.

I’m not going to comment here on whether I think these charges are justified. But I suggest you take the charges into account when choosing a journal, and think about whether they represent value for money. If they go towards supporting a scientific society that you would like to donate to, for example, or if you feel that your paper will have its full impact only if printed in colour, you might be happy to pay. Also, if you can afford these charges, why not consider spending the money on making your article freely available instead?

Colour charges

In the past, print journals often charged authors for printing their article in colour, as colour printing was (and still is) more expensive than printing in black and white. With online publication there is no difference in cost, so it doesn’t make sense for journals to charge authors for colour for the online version of an article. But some journals are still charging for colour printing.

A few examples (with links to the relevant page) are:

  • The Journal of Neuroscience (Society for Neuroscience) charges US$1000 per colour figure, but offers free colour when it is judged essential by the editors and when the first and last authors are members of the society.
  • J Biol Chem charges US$150 per colour figure (with discounts for society members).
  • Evolution (Wiley-Blackwell) charges $500.00 per printed figure. FEMS Microbiology Letters (also Wiley-Blackwell) offers free colour provided that the colour is deemed essential for interpretation of the figure, whereas another Wiley-Blackwell journal, Proteomics, charges €500 for one colour figure up to €1664 for four.
  • FASEB Journal charges US$350 per colour figure.
  • BMJ Journals all seem to charge £250 per article for colour printing, but the BMJ itself (pdf) does not.
  • Of Oxford University Press journals, Bioinformatics and Human Molecular Genetics charge £350/US$600/€525 per colour figure, whereas Journal of Experimental Botany charges £100/US$190/€150.
  • Some Springer journals charge for colour printing, but I wasn’t able to find out which ones.
  • Similarly, some Nature Publishing Group journals charge for colour printing, but I wasn’t able to find out which ones. As far as I can tell, Nature and its sister journals with the word ‘Nature’ in the title have no charges.
  • Elsevier’s author site seems to imply that all their journals have colour charges.

Journals that do not charge for colour printing include:

Page charges

Page charges seem to be almost as common as colour charges, but there isn’t much logic as to which journals charge for what. Only one journal that I could find, Journal of Neuroscience, has publication fees per article (US$980, or US$490 for Brief Communications) – all others charge per page, sometimes over a certain limit. For example:

  • FASEB Journal charges US$80 per printed page for the first 8 pages and $160 per page thereafter. Articles containing eight or more figures and/or tables cost an additional $150 per figure or table.
  • J Biol Chem charges US$80 per page for the first nine pages and $160 per page thereafter (with discounts for society members).

The charges don’t seem to be consistent within each publisher.

One publisher is consistent – none of the BMJ Journals or BMJ (pdf) have any page charges.

Fees for supplementary material

I had never heard of the idea of charges for supplementary material until I was researching for this post. But FASEB Journal charges for supplemental ‘units’ (presumably files) at $160 each (up to four units are allowed), and Proc Natl Acad Sci USA charges US$250 per article for up to five pages of SI (US$500 over six pages). I haven’t come across any other journal that does this.

Your experience

Have I missed any important biomedical journals that have particularly striking charging policies (not including open access charges)? What do you think about these fees? Journal editors, what is the rationale for how much your journal charges for what? Do also let me know if can expand on any of the incomplete parts of in this post.

Choosing a journal III: practicalities

In this series I am looking at various aspects of choosing a journal: so far I have covered getting your paper published quickly and getting it noticed. In this third post I look at a few practical issues that might affect your choice of journal.

Do they copyedit?

If your paper is read by lots of people, any errors in it will be noticed and will reflect badly on you. Most journals use copyeditors (freelance or employed) to edit papers after they are accepted. They ensure that papers are clearly and grammatically written and query obvious potential errors with the authors; they also ensure that there is a consistent house style. Some, but not all, journals also use proofreaders for a further quality check after the authors’ corrections have been made; others rely on the authors for this.

Notable examples of journals that do not use copyeditors for their research papers are PLoS One and BMC series journals; instead, they recommend that authors use an editing service.

You may feel that you won’t make any errors, so your paper will be the one that won’t need to be edited or proofread. In my long experience of editing, however, I have not once found a paper that needed no changes. You know what you are talking about; this means it is easy to miss the omitted explanation without which your methods will be incomprehensible to some readers. Everyone needs someone else to edit their writing, even professional writers.

So if you do choose a journal that doesn’t copyedit their papers, for your reputation’s sake make sure you hire an editor (perhaps me!) to check it first.

Policies on data publication and supplementary material

If you have a large dataset, what mechanisms does the journal have for publishing it? Do they encourage supplementary material?

I know of one journal, Journal of Neuroscience, that does not allow supplementary material. Another journal, GigaScience, is set up specifically to publish very large datasets. And there are many journals with policies between these two extremes.

Also, does the supplementary material get checked or copyedited? For many journals it does not. Bear this in mind when preparing it.

Costs of publication

If the journal is open access, how much does it charge authors?

Some ‘hybrid’ journals allow authors to choose whether their article is open access or not: a list of the author charges for such journals is on SHERPA/RoMEO (updated July 2011 when I viewed it). The average charge is around US$2500.

I haven’t been able to find an up-to-date table of author charges for journals that are completely open access, but a table from 2009 is at openwetware. The average charge for these journals then was about $2350, but the difference may be just because of the time difference.

Some closed access journals have page charges or charge for colour printing.

If the journal doesn’t copyedit papers after acceptance, you will also need to factor in the cost of getting your paper edited.

Ease of use of online submission system

Nowadays, if a journal does not have an online submission system it is unusual. The systems use vary a lot. Check out the experience of other authors with submission systems and find out whether the system is easy to use. Given the many other factors to consider, however, an online submission system would probably have to be really bad to make a difference to whether you would submit your paper there.

Previous experience with the publisher/journal

If you have published with the journal before, or with others from the same publisher, you might be tempted to stick with what you know. In particular, if you know an editor on a journal this might make you more confident in submitting there. I would recommend investigating alternatives first, however.

Recommendations from other authors

Do you know anyone who has published with the journal or with others owned by the same publisher? Whether or not you have a personal recommendation, search online for comments (good or bad) from others who have published there. Some publishers (e.g. BioMed Central) have surveyed their authors to see how satisfied they are).

Your experience

How important are each of these factors in your choice of journal? Do you know of any journal publishers that have particularly good or bad online submission systems or supplementary material policies? Do you know which other journals copyedit papers or do not?


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