Why you should prioritize configurability

The advantages of using peer review software over manual processes are obvious, but are all platforms created equal? In this post we address the concept of configurability in peer review systems – and why you should prioritize it.

 

In this day and age, most scholarly journals have turned to journal management software systems to steer their submission, peer review and editorial process. The use of a good software system for an online journal can facilitate the entire journey of the manuscript from submission to decision and reduce both administrative costs and time to publication. Additionally, good software should make the user experience more positive for all stakeholders involved.  

Configurability in setup & editorial workflow

It is a simple fact of scholarly research life that all journals are not organized in the same way. Journals operating within the same academic discipline can have very different sets of requirements or internal workflows. While many journals have the classic setup with one administrator, one editor-in-chief and two or more associate editors, there are just as many journals with a different setup or slight variations in workflow: 

  • Perhaps the journal administrator performs tasks on behalf of the E-i-C 
  • Perhaps there are 2 E-i-C’s that share decision-making
  • Perhaps the Associate Editors make final decisions once appointed 
  • Perhaps the EiC is runs the show alone at a new start-up journal

No matter which internal setup your journals have, no matter what the idiosyncrasies of the journal workflows, the platform you choose needs to be configurable enough to accommodate. Without this flexibility the new system will only irritate editorial staff and meet resistance instead of providing value.  

Configurability in the author’s submission process

Configurability is equally important where the author submission process is concerned. Though the primary function of the submission is to deliver a new manuscript to a journal for consideration, it is also the process by which the journal gathers all of the necessary information surrounding that manuscript.

Again, one set of standards does not serve all journals. Some open access journals need to gather funder and agreement information at the submission stage while others do so at a later stage. Some journals require keywords to be selected upon submission, while others like to gather information on suggested reviewers. All journals have their own list of required files for submissions vs. resubmissions, and the list goes on. 

While administrative staff for the journal will be happy with a submission process that can be tailored to capture all necessary information, it is equally important to keep the submission process easy and user-friendly for authors. Afterall, a cumbersome submission process could be a deterrent for future submissions. Striking the proper balance between keeping the process user-friendly and meeting all the journal’s administrative requirements is an art, and a system that is highly configurable will be able to rise to the occasion, curating that process to meet both sets of needs.

Configurability in the review process

Similarly, the review process must be curated with two sets of stakeholder needs in mind. Editors request reviews to inform their decision-making process. Expert reviewers, also known as ‘referees,’ give invaluable feedback on manuscripts submitted to the journal, yet this work is usually performed pro bono and out of sheer benevolent interest in furthering research in the field. The process of providing the review must be user-friendly in the same way that the author submission process is user-friendly, to keep it light and easy for the reviewer. 

However, the platform should also provide additional features that allow the journal to customise their interactions with reviewers, and maintain a good relationship with each of them. Having software that, for example, can idicate which reviewers are available when; allow personalisation of reviewer invitations or allow administrators to extend reviewer deadlines when necessary, could prove invaluable in maintaining good relations with these valued contributors instead of irritating them with irrelevant or confusing interactions.

Simultaneously, if the reviewer evaluation form is configurable, that form can be set up to ask exactly the questions the editors need answered in order to facilitate decision-making. Having a highly configurable system can, in short, serve both the reviewers and the editorial staff, keeping the review process effortless, providing valuable information and preserving appropriate timing and messaging in the journal-reviewer relationship.

Configurability provides longevity in your peer review system

In short, all peer review software might appear to be created equal, but is not quite that simple. While price point is an important parameter and a good user experience is always the goal, without the configurability of the more sophisticated peer review software systems, the needs of the journal stakeholders and, therefore, the needs of the journal cannot not be fully met. Considering how configurable the new system will be when considering adopting a new system. A highly configurable system will not only provide added value from the start by being able to adapt to journal needs, but it will provide the ongoing value of being adaptable as the journal grows into the future.

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