by Gary Natriello - September 13, 2000
The task of screening journal submissions
Publishing an online academic journal will entail a number of changes from the publishing practices that we have become accustomed to over the years. A key element of journal operations that will change for the online environment is the review process, the heart of the peer review system.
All materials submitted for tcr Online will be reviewed online. What do we mean by this? A reviewer will first be contacted via e-mail and invited to review a submission to the journal. If an individual agrees to prepare a review, he or she will be directed to a particular page in a password protected area of our website where the submission will be presented. The reviewer will be asked to read the material online and submit comments in a field at the end of the article. These comments and those of the others asked to review the material will be sent to a page accessible only to the editor who will then view the submitted material along with the comments. The editor will then prepare additional comments for the author summarizing the results of the review process. At this point the author will be sent an e-mail notification that the review process has been completed and directions for accessing the comments of the editor and the reviewers on another secure web page.
We are moving the review process online for three reasons. First, we believe that handling reviews online is the only way that we can meet our aggressive goals for turn around time. We believe that authors want turn around times on the papers they submit to be substantially shorter than they are for most journals, including our own print journal. We aim to complete the review process for research notes within two to three weeks, and we hope to complete the review process for commentaries in a matter of days. Using surface mail to move materials back and forth to reviewers will not allow us to operate within these time frames. Our system of posting submitted materials to secure web pages and inviting scholars to review the materials offers the best opportunity to expedite the entire review process.
Second, we believe that handling the external review process online will result in substantial savings in staff time and mailing expenses in the processing of materials submitted for consideration. Although a number of journals now charge a processing fee for each item submitted for consideration, we charge no such fee at present and hope to continue processing materials without a submission fee in the future. We must realize every possible economy if we are to accept materials freely and still maintain modest subscription prices. Moving the submission and review process online will allow us to keep processing costs down.
The third and most important reason for using an online review process has nothing to do with either efficiency or economy. Because we will be maintaining and, indeed expanding, our print journal we will not be developing tcr Online primarily as a repository for our print collection. We intend the material we publish online to be read online. This means that reviewers will need to be particularly mindful of how material might be read in the online environment. The criteria for forming such judgements will need to evolve over time as we publish more material online and receive feedback from our readers.
Helping reviewers become sensitive to how materials are read online is the primary reason we are asking reviewers to access commentaries and research notes online at a private web site. Reviewers may become appreciative of particular ways of organizing materials that make them more accessible or more effective when read online. Similarly, reviewers may become intolerant of overly long submissions that will be difficult to read while looking at a computer screen. Thus, the most important aspect of reviewing materials online is judging their suitability for online reading. Reviewers will no doubt differ in their own online reading habits, but if a particular piece does not lend itself to online reading, that should become apparent.
Although reviewers and editors can play a major role in selecting the content that we will publish, and although they will surely be instrumental in developing additional criteria to judge the suitability of materials for online presentation, we always welcome comments and responses from readers. Moving forward with tcr Online we anticipate and hope that readers will play an increasing role in shaping our publication as they become the ultimate online reviewers.