Streamlining the Open Access Publication Process: 9 Ways Research Publishers Can Support Authors
OA policies are increasingly being mandated by many academic organizations and OA publications are still showing strong growth. Many researchers are publicly supportive of OA, but have reported barriers to putting their work in OA publications, citing issues such as article processing charges (APCs) and the perceived legitimacy of OA publishing. Publishing is already a complex and lengthy process for authors, so how can research publishers assuage these concerns and support them to ensure a smooth and satisfying OA publication experience?
Here, we will explore some best practices that publishers can adopt to streamline the OA publication process, with examples of how publishers are implementing innovative solutions to enhance author services.
1. Give clear submission and pre-submission guidelines
Dealing with multiple, conflicting requirements from journals can be difficult. Publishers should provide clear, concise, and consistent guidelines that cover all aspects of the submission process, such as manuscript formatting, referencing style, data availability, ethical compliance, and conflict of interest disclosure. Offering template files in common formats, such as Word and LaTeX, with comments on how to prepare the file is a simple way to facilitate submissions. MDPI offers branded templates with plenty of guidance for each of their journals.
Some authors prefer to leave journal formatting to an editing service. Publishers such as Elsevier are offering in-house or outsourced pre-submission services, such as language editing, plagiarism checking, and technical support to help authors prepare their manuscripts for submission.
2. Appropriately communicate about the peer review timeline and process
Peer review is a crucial component of academic publishing. However, it is also a source of anxiety and uncertainty for authors, who may not know how long it will take, what criteria will be used, or how to respond to reviewers’ comments.
To address these concerns, publishers can clearly explain the peer review process, by informing authors upfront about the expected duration of peer review, the number and qualifications of reviewers, peer review style (e.g., single-blind, double-blind, or open), and the possible outcomes (e.g., accept, reject, or revise). Publishers can also use technology to facilitate peer review, including online submission systems like ScholarOne, which can help both reviewers and authors communicate in a timely, hassle-free manner.
3. Establish quick communication channels for authors
Authors may have questions on their submission status, peer review feedback, publication fees, or post-publication issues. It is important that authors can easily contact the editorial team and receive timely and helpful responses, including through web forms and direct email.
While they are unlikely to replace humans in high-level decision-making, AI chatbots are becoming a useful way of answering simple requests and routing complex queries to the appropriate team.
4. Be transparent about publication fees and funding options
Publication fees are a common barrier for authors who want to publish in OA journals, especially those from low- and middle-income countries. Authors may not be aware of the fees involved or may not be able to afford them. Moreover, some journals may have hidden or variable fees that can surprise or discourage authors. This can lead to authors seeking out alternatives, including non-OA publishing.
Thus, publishers need to disclose all publication fees upfront and make them consistent with comparable journals. Publishers can also offer waivers or discounts for authors who cannot pay or who belong to underrepresented groups. As one example, Oxford University Press offers both developing country waivers and discretionary waivers across all their OA publications. Additionally, publishers can provide guidance on how to find and apply for funding sources for OA publishing, such as grants, institutional memberships, or sponsorships.
5. Offer rapid online-first publication
Online-first publication means that accepted articles are published online with a unique digital object identifier (DOI) before they are assigned to a journal issue or volume. This allows authors to disseminate their work faster and reach a wider audience. Online-first publication also benefits publishers by increasing their citation rates and visibility.
To implement online-first publication, publishers can optimize their production workflow to reduce the time between acceptance and online publication. This means ensuring that articles are automatically properly indexed and searchable by major databases with persistent links.
6. Make copyright and licensing management easy
Copyright and licensing are essential aspects of OA publishing, as they determine how authors and users can share and reuse the work. However, navigating these legal topics can be confusing for authors, who may not know their rights and responsibilities or how to choose the best option for their work.
To simplify this process, publishers can offer clear and standardized copyright and licensing policies that allow authors to retain ownership and easily grant users permission to use the contents under certain conditions. Creative Commons licenses are well recognized and make it easy for publishers and authors to choose the most appropriate license. Finally, publishers can display the license information prominently on each article. The OA giant Frontiers includes a license statement with explanations of what it implies with each article.
7. Author-Focused Promotion and Visibility
Promotion and visibility are vital for OA articles, which have to compete for attention in an increasingly crowded landscape. However, this can be challenging for authors, who may lack the time, skills, or resources to market their work effectively.
Thus, publishers need to offer guidance for authors on how to promote their research, such as using Mendeley, academic profiles, or conventional social networking sites to drive traffic. Elsevier provides a good, concise page with many links to appropriate tools and articles. Additionally, publishers can offer social media posts, podcasts, or videos to highlight the key findings and implications of articles, which can make a publisher more attractive as an option.
8. Provide post-publication support
Post-publication support comprises the various services that publishers can offer after their work is published.
Citation metrics are useful for authors who wish to understand the impact of their work. Several companies, such as CrossRef and Altmetric, offer metrics including citation numbers and more holistic bibliography to measure research impact. There are also regional and national initiatives, such as the Korean Citation Index, which offers a suite of analytical tools used by several publishers.
Publishers should also have clear and consistent policies and procedures for handling corrections or retractions, and inform authors of any changes to their articles through automated email systems.
Publishers may also wish to enable and moderate the comments or feedback section on articles and encourage authors to engage with their readers, which has been implemented by PLOS.
9. Welcome feedback
Author feedback can help publishers improve their services and meet the needs of their authors. Soliciting feedback can also foster trust and loyalty between publishers and authors, aiding the credibility of OA journals.
Publishers can conduct regular surveys using various free and paid services such as Microsoft Forms or SurveyMonkey to streamline the feedback and analysis processes. Naturally, publishers need to analyze and act on their feedback and communicate the results and actions taken to the authors.
Streamlining OA publication can help make it more attractive to authors, aiding the growth of your journal. By adopting these best practices, publishers can provide a seamless and satisfying OA publication experience for authors, contributing to the advancement of knowledge and science.