PRW 2023 Series Part 2: Transforming Editorial Performance and Communications Towards the Future of Publishing

Through our digital world, society has become accustomed to instantaneous communication and near-unlimited access to data. In scholarly publishing, effective communication and proactive performance measurement between stakeholders is paramount to success. However, many publishing platforms rely heavily on email correspondence, which can be cumbersome and unpredictable when it comes to message delivery. Additionally, users are often required to log into the system to retrieve information on their submission, review, or assignment, which can prove clunky and inconvenient. Moreover, these systems are primarily designed to track steps in the workflow and manage content rather than offer robust, comprehensive performance insights. These limitations not only hinder transparency and the ability to make strategic data-driven decisions, but also necessitate additional communication and performance analysis outside of the system, resulting in disjointed operations. In response, publishers are increasingly exploring development or integrations with various technologies to fill these gaps.

To explore the untapped potential in our own publishing workflow management solutions, Aries Systems consulted attendees of the new Discovery Roundtables session during our annual Editorial Manager User Group meeting in June 2023. An interactive workshop designed to help inform our product development roadmap, the Discovery Roundtables session included facilitated group conversations focused on three key topics. In honor of Peer Review Week (PRW) 2023, which is dedicated to the theme “Peer Review and the Future of Publishing,” we are highlighting discussions held on each topic at EMUG 2023 in a three-part blog series. In this second installment of the series spotlights if and how Editorial Manager® (EM) can transform from an email-based workflow management system to a notifications-based performance strategy system.

Through the “Empathy Map” workshop style, Aries staff facilitated conversation with multiple groups of editorial office staff to discover how communication and success metrics can be enhanced in Editorial Manager to drive effective workflows and research. Empathy mapping analyzes a particular persona by breaking down what influences their behavior, such as their surroundings, circumstances, thoughts, and feelings. Through this exercise, we shifted our mindset to an Author, Editor, and Reviewer perspective to outline and analyze what the user is doing/feeling about their goal, what pains they have in order to achieve their goal, and what they stand to gain from their goal. To fuel the discussion, the Aries team prompted groups to consider the following:

  • Do you share performance stats with Editors? In what forum are these conversations held? How often?
  • Do you have baseline metrics that you monitor and are they global or by Editor?
  • Are you transparent with Reviewers around their engagement with a journal or do you often have Reviewers reaching out for a summary of their efforts to include in their CV?
  • What feedback do you receive from Authors around the status of their in-progress work? (e.g., can they self-help or are they in contact often for status updates?)
  • If you could identify one key type of notification to improve, what would it be? (e.g., even if a status change does not occur, an automated notification goes out alerting the Author that their paper is still in process and under active review)

Beginning with the Author persona, attendees agreed that despite their eagerness to be published, Authors are often confused and anxious about the process. In addition to navigating steps such as which journal is the best fit or which Article Type is most appropriate for their submission, Authors also struggle to establish clear communication with the publication (even more so for non-English speaking researchers). As they expect frequent and timely status updates, dependence on email correspondence alone is not ideal, as emails may get lost or not periodical enough for their liking. Signing into the system directly provides limited insights with vague status terms, and it is not uncommon for Authors to forget their login credentials entirely. An inaccessible, unclear, or complex Author experience can lead to an increase in incomplete submissions/revisions, false assumptions on their manuscript status, and support queries to the journal. The groups then brainstormed potential solutions to these challenges to the Author persona, suggesting an auto-save feature, automatic push/text notifications in addition to email, accessible UI enhancements, leveraging available custom status term and custom instructional text functionality, simplifying login through single sign-on or other methods, and an application/dashboard for a set of journals.

Shifting to the Reviewer persona, the groups raised a series of shared challenges. These include unclear instructions/expectations, lack of recognition for their contributions, too many or unfit requests to review (either through misaligned expertise or a conflict of interest), difficulty requesting extensions on their assignment, and clunky login/email experiences. Additionally, publications and Editors experience their own hurdles in this area, including lack of diversity in Reviewer pool, difficulty locating and securing qualified candidates, and missed deadlines. These risks can lead to confusion, burnout from overburdened workload, diminished review quality, delays in publication, and decreased engagement/willingness to participate in the future. Many of the solutions proposed for an enhanced Author experience also apply for Reviewers, such as using the existing custom instructional text feature, adding push/text notifications to supplement email, introducing an auto-save feature, UI accessibility enhancements, and simplifying login. However, groups at EMUG suggested additional ideas for Reviewers including the ability to pause push notifications/reminders as needed (e.g. on weekends), an effortless way to request an extension from their mobile phone (e.g. “a single click from this link in an email to confirm/change deadline” or “reply to this text to confirm/change deadline”), a universal dashboard to see all their review assignments across sister publications, the integration of advanced Reviewer search tools/databases, automated Reviewer COI check, and the ability to transfer reviews between systems particularly for manuscripts that have not been formally submitted to a journal (e.g. preprint server submissions).

Then groups mapped the final persona – the Editor. As editorial office staff are committed to publishing the best scientific research that fits the scope of their journal, they face increasing pressure to reduce their “time to make decisions” on submissions. Leveraging customized workflows, effective communication, and relevant metrics is key to supporting their productivity. While Editors have the same needs as Authors and Reviewers in regard to clear workflow steps and advanced methods of notifications, they have a far stronger need for performance metrics. In addition to email and the suggested push/text notifications, groups proposed additional communication styles for Editors including in-system pop-up notifications and chatbots/instant messaging with other users beyond the existing discussion forum functionality in EM. To better inform their strategies, publications would like to expand their visibility and access to important metrics and insights. Most Editors utilize EM’s Enterprise Analytics Reporting (EAR) suite, but expressed the need for additional guidance in creating customized reports. Additionally, simplifying and customizing the reporting interface into a cross-publication dashboard would greatly streamline analysis and improve user experience.

Performance metrics regarding Reviewers was flagged as an area for improvement by workshop attendees. Many publications want to go beyond pulling data from EAR (for reports such as turnaround times) and EM-based Reviewer ratings. It was noted by the Aries team that integrating with some Reviewer search databases can provide additional performance insights for candidates, which can then be pulled in EM if invited. Editorial office staff shared important Reviewer performance metrics that would enhance their strategy include:

  • How many reviews is the Reviewer currently working on across all publications?
  • When was the last time the Reviewer completed a review for this publication or another publication in the publisher’s portfolio?
  • What is the overlap between the Reviewer’s previously published work and declared areas of expertise and this submission?
  • What is the average rating for the reviews that this Reviewer has completed?

Lastly, groups expressed interest in gaining the ability to measure their journal(s) against benchmarks from other journals in the same field.

“It was extremely insightful to hear from editorial staff on how user performance and communication can be better leveraged in the system at our recent user group meeting,” stated Eric Graham, Aries Technical Product Manager. “As we consider the unexplored value in EM/PM, conversations with our super-users help us look at the structure and processes of the system from a new perspective. Aligned with this year’s theme for Peer Review Week, challenging the status quo in editorial and production workflows is what drives future modernization in publishing.”

“Publishing is a rapidly changing industry, and we at Aries recognize the need push the boundaries of innovation to deliver solutions that support the ever-evolving research landscape,” continued Caroline Webber, Aries Senior Product Manager. “As part of the Aries Product Management team, it is our responsibility to not only adapt to customer needs, but to anticipate them through our own analysis of trends. Gaining valuable insights from those in the scholarly community from events such as EMUG and Peer Review week are imperative to making a positive impact on the future of publishing.”

For Editorial Manager/ProduXion Manager users unable to attend EMUG 2023, we invite you to please share your thoughts, ideas, and feedback with us on this topic to contribute to our strategic product roadmap!

Peer Review Week (PRW), an annual, community-led global event, explores topics related to current trends, advancements, challenges, and opportunities related to peer review as part of the larger publishing and research ecosystem. Held September 25-29, PRW 2023 will celebrate “Peer Review and the Future of Publishing,” earning the top vote through a worldwide poll of the scholarly community against proposed themes. Aries Systems is a proud member of the PRW Steering Committee. Follow along with our three-part blog series this week!


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*Suggested solutions and enhancements generated from the EMUG 2023 Discovery Roundtables workshop offer valuable input towards Aries’ strategic vision, but are not guaranteed to be implemented on the product development roadmap