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A recent survey of 7,000 authors provided a unique opportunity for researchers to voice their thoughts on scholarly publishing. One of the most interesting questions asked was, “What changes would you like to see in the industry?” Here are the top three responses and ideas on how to address them.

Reduced publication delays

Author responses showed that they are frustrated with the length of time between submission and publication. Thirty-six percent of the respondents said publication delays are their most significant problem. Most of the problems seem to be in the length of time between manuscript submission and the editor’s decision to publish — or not. This could be due to procrastination on the editor’s or peer reviewer’s part, disagreements during the review process, or even an inability to find qualified reviewers. Unfortunately, this slows down research, which is especially crucial in health/medical research. However, wait times are significantly shorter in science and medical journals than in social sciences, which can take as long as two years or more.

The survey showed that there is a significant discrepancy between how long authors think it should take to publish and how long it actually does take. Researchers feel it should be about three months, but it’s often triple that time or longer.

  • One respondent commented, “I find that editor procrastination, reviewer procrastination, and the inability to convince suitable people to agree to review are the main things that hold a manuscript from being published in a timely manner.”
  • Another said, “Delayed decisions can wreak havoc in the careers of junior academics, and this should be addressed seriously by every journal worth its salt.”

Possible solutions for the publication delay include:

  • Setting a maximum time for a yes or no publishing decision
  • Publishing manuscripts in Open Access (OA) journals or repositories
  • Open peer review, where the author publishes the manuscript online with minimal or no peer review; researchers are then invited to review and comment

Improved peer review process and quality

In addition to the length of time peer review takes, researchers cited the process itself and the quality as the second most common change they want to see. They cited poorly designed manuscript submission forms, unqualified reviewers, unhelpful and insulting comments from reviewers, and even conflict of interest where a reviewer could sabotage an article or even steal the research.

One comment about problems with peer review processes was, “The peer review system is flawed in part because referees do not receive training for this, assuming it is an obvious job, and also because many journals do not present rules and a clear direction of points to observe during the opinion.”

Possible solutions for better review processes include:

  • Respondents said that journals should select reviewers more strictly and reward them.
  • Some think that the peer reviewers should be given feedback or even have their identities revealed, in an effort to make them more accountable.
  • Set a limit on the number of cycles of review and revision between author and reviewer.
  • Publishers should provide reviewer guidelines, rules, and points to consider.
  • Authors who submit papers should have to agree to peer review papers for that journal.

Reduced publishing costs

Respondents also complained about high article processing charges (APCs), paywalls, and other costs — these costs put researchers with little funding, such as those from developing countries or those just starting their careers, at a disadvantage.

Said one respondent, “Often the system is too expensive: either to publish in a way you can be sure your work will be seen and followed, or to get access to important papers about the study you have undertaken.”

Subscription costs make a lot of research unavailable for many researchers — even university libraries are struggling to maintain their high subscription costs. Paywalls for access to quality research also hinder scientific discovery and advancement because many authors can’t afford them.

One solution, and the direction in which scientific publishing seems to be heading, is Open Access. The problem is it still costs publishers to prepare, edit, review, and publish an article, so publishers pass the costs on to the author in the form of APCs, which can be high.

Often, funding agencies will pick up all or most of the cost, but new authors or those from poorer countries may have no other options but to pay the fee themselves.

Clearly, researchers have a lot to say about the state of academic publishing and the changes they’d like to see in the industry. Many of the problems are interconnected, so making improvements is neither easy nor quick. By bringing attention to their biggest pain points, researchers hope that those who have a stake in the industry can work together to make the desired changes.

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