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DIY Publishing

Ashley Dawson clearly captures some of the tensions that exist between traditional forms of journal and book (paper) publication and on-line publications. We have discussed some of the possible benefits to on-line publishing, including the potential for immediate commentary, identifying possible collaboration on future projects by linking individuals who are interested in a singular topic in a single location.

Unfortunately, the world of academia and larger funding structures (including the government) are resistant to change and what “counts” for those who are on tenure track, at least in the world of Public Health and most other social sciences, are peer-reviewed publications.

In a traditional peer review publication, an author or group of authors write a manuscript in accordance with the publication that they are submitting to, and then wait 2 weeks to 1 year while the editor of peer-reviewed journals identify 1-3 individuals who  are both experts and available to read publications. The author(s) then enter a cycle of receiving feedback, submitting responses until the manuscript gets denied (and then enters the whole process with another journal) or gets published. All of which is usually a very long process.

A journal that I look at occasionally is the JMIR (Journal of Medical Internet Research), founded in 1999 they describe themselves as: the first open access journal covering health informatics, and the first international scientific peer-reviewed journal on all aspects of research, information and communication in the healthcare field using Internet and Internet-related technologies; a broad field, which is nowadays called “eHealth” [see also What is eHealth and What is eHealth (2)], which includes mHealth (mobile health). For comparison, I’ve included their process for their editorial processes and speed of peer review:

Editorial Processes

When JMIR receives a manuscript, the Editor and/or Assistant Editor will first decide whether the manuscript meets the formal criteria specified in the Instructions for Authors and whether it fits within the scope of the journal. When in doubt and before rejecting a manuscript on the basis of initial review, the editor will consult other members of the Editorial Board. The editor may assign a section editor to the manuscript, who will guide the manuscript through the peer-review process.

Manuscripts are then sent to an external expert for peer review. The number of peer-reviewers depends on the complexity of the manuscript, but we typically approach 4 peer-reviewers, expecting 1-2 peer-reviews back before we make a decision. Authors are required to suggest 2 peer reviewers during the submission process, but it is at the discretion of the editor whether or not these reviewers will be approached.

JMIR reviewers will not be anonymous (unless they explicitely request this). Names of reviewers will be stated below the article when it is published. Authors and reviewers should not directly contact each other to enter into disputes on manuscripts or reviews.

After peer review, the editor will contact the author. If the author is invited to submit a revised version, the revised version has to be submitted by the author within 3 months. Otherwise, the manuscript will be removed from the manuscript submission queue and will be considered rejected.

 Speed of Peer Review

Internet research is a fast-moving field, and we acknowledge the need of our authors to communicate their findings rapidly. We therefore aim to be extremely fast (but still thorough and rigorous) in our peer-review process. For example, the paper “Factors Associated with Intended Use of a Web Site Among Family Practice Patients” (J Med Internet Res 2001;3(2):e17) was reviewed, edited, typeset, and published within only 16 days. Including the two weeks’ time authors needed for revision, less than 1 month passed from first submission to final publication. (Please note that actual times to review and edit papers vary and primarily depend on the quality of the paper upon first submission.)

We can not provide any guarantees on the speed of peer review or publication – except if a paper has been submitted under the fast-track option, in which case, we guarantee an initial editorial decision within a certain number of days and publication of the article within a certain number of weeks after acceptance.

My provocations follow:

  • Given the opportunity to be part of a shift towards on-line, DIY publishing that functions beyond what the blogosphere can offer,  that is, in a peer-reviewed fashion what do we want that to look like?
  • How do we want these on-line forms of publication to be different , or remain the same, from traditional paper publication?
  • How can we mitigate some of the issues that come up for publishers loosing revenues from paper publications? Do they have a new role in the on-line publication world?
  • How is peer review by “experts” conducted, if at all, in on-line publication?
  • And finally, how can we get the academy to recognize these digital forms of publication to be seen as valuable contributions to our fields that should count towards the tenure track?


For further discussion of this topic, you may consider attending…

Planned Obsolescence: Publishing, Technology,
and the Future of the Academy

Thursday, March 29, 6:00 pm Newman Vertical Campus, Room 14-270 Please RSVP to Communication.Institute at

What if the academic monograph is a dying form? If scholarly communication is to have a future, it’s clear that it lies online, and yet the most significant obstacles to such a transformation are not technological, but instead social and institutional. How must the academy and the scholars that comprise it change their ways of thinking in order for digital scholarly publishing to become a viable alternative to the university press book? This talk will explore some of those changes and their implications for our lives as scholars and our work within universities.

Kathleen Fitzpatrick is Director of Scholarly Communication of the Modern Language Association, and Professor of Media Studies (on leave), Pomona College. She is author of Planned Obsolescence: Publishing, Technology, and the Future of the Academy, published in 2011 by NYU Press and previously made available for open peer review online, and of The Anxiety of Obsolescence: The American Novel in the Age of Television, published in 2006 by Vanderbilt University Press. She is co-founder of the digital scholarly network MediaCommons, and has published articles and notes in journals including the Journal of Electronic Publishing, PMLA, Contemporary Literature, and Cinema Journal

Posted in Motivations.

4 Responses

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  1. Amy says

    Nice thoughts all! I think in terms of peer review — whether it’s online or not, or for an open-access or not an open journal — we still need to find ways to improve the peer review process. I’ve heard some people complain that our peer review system has gotten much more lenient — so is there a way to ensure the rigor of the peer-review system, and add on top of that an efficient, transparent and smooth process?

  2. Janice says

    The questions that Sonia raises and the Jacob elaborates on are truly key to assuring that we kep a clear focus on to where and how we want the academy to unfold (regardless of the content area).

    Sonia gave an overview of the time involved in a “good” peer review. Reading through I rolled my eyes and noddd with impatience (thinking about being on the receiving end), but the question is, does it NEED to take what seems a lot of time for peers to take a serious, qualified, and in-depth look at an offering, in order to assess its merit and offer recommendations for its improvement? And, does having on-line interface somehow guarantee getting good quality evaluation with the gift of a quick turn-around?

    Or, is it that we are looking for something different than what the traditional in-depth and lengthy process has until know provided?

  3. ria banerjee says

    Nice synopsis and provocations, SKG! Mine follow above, repeating some of what you said, and offering another online journal example to think about… :]

  4. Jacob Lederman says

    I think asking these kinds of questions is really important to moving this debate forward. On the one hand, I am sympathetic to the critique of peer review in the digital age but I think we need to think carefully about what we replace it with. Yes it is slow, clumsy, and does not take advantage of the ability to generate instant feedback and critique based on more “open” digital platforms. Yet in each of these cases, isn’t there a reason that it was set up this way? How should a more open/horizontal/accessible process operate and how do we ensure that scholars are being provided with feedback from others in their field? How do we allow for trenchant critique if reviews are not anonymous? How do we speed up the process while still providing thorough and useful feedback?

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