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Demystifying the Scholarly Journal - 12/3/2014 -


Demystifying the Scholarly Journal

Hereís why (and how) your organizationís scholarly journal and other publications should forge a deeper, more collaborative partnership.

By Rachel Detwiler

Scholarly publications should serve as a hallmark of organizational excellence, establish a groupís thought leadership in the community and live in perpetuity in "the literature.Ē But how can a scholarly journal truly benefit your associationís communications team?

Attendees to the Association Media & Publishing Chicago Conference on November 18 at the American Dental Association had the opportunity to delve into numerous ways to forge relationships and collaborations between association journal teams and their membership publication or communications counterparts.

Nan Hallock, director of publishing for the Society for Laboratory Automation and Screening, and Mary Beth Schaeffer, managing editor for the Annals of Internal Medicine, led a discussion of what makes peer-reviewed journals different from membership publications and shared examples of how the twain can meet.

Hallock opened the session by asking the audience to name two ways in which their associationsí scholarly journals contribute to the success of the member publications, and two ways in which their member publications contribute to the success of our journals. For most attendees, these questions elicited more head scratching than solid answers.

To help out, Hallock outlined how scholarly journals differ from member publications and even conference presentations:

  • Authors are not paid ó in some cases, the authors actually pay the association to publish their work.
  • There is an established, formal process for submitting and evaluating manuscripts.
  • Manuscripts must be original and previously unpublished.
  • Manuscripts are rigorously peer reviewed.
  • Peer review relies heavily on the involvement of volunteer members rather than paid staff.
  • The association staff manages the process and the business of publishing.

Schaeffer then described the peer-review process at Annals of Internal Medicine:

  • The author submits a manuscript to the journal.
  • The editor screens the manuscript for appropriateness.
  • The editor solicits three external peer reviewers, who evaluate the manuscript for originality, timeliness, appeal to the journalís readership, and experimental methodology. Each reviewer recommends whether to reject, ask for revisions, or accept as is.
  • The editors discuss the reviews in weekly meetings.
  • A manuscript may be returned to the author for revision more than once. However, if the revisions continue to be unsatisfactory, a manuscript may be rejected.

Reviewersí feedback is constructive and specific, Hallock says. Authors are required to respond to their comments, but are not required to agree with all of them.

Schaeffer notes that scholarly journals directly fulfill the mission of the organization. To do so, they must have editorial independence. At Annals of Internal Medicine, this means that advocacy items from the association must undergo the same process of peer review as technical manuscripts. This in depth, formalized review is crucial because journals may be more widely known than the organizations that publish them, and they live in perpetuity because they are indexed and archived in databases.

Perhaps the most widely used measure of a journalís quality is the impact factor, which is announced each June by Thomson Reuters. Schaeffer used the example of Annals of Internal Medicineís impact factor for 2013:

  • Annals of Internal Medicine published a total of 327 citable papers in 2011 and 2012. (A citable paper is one that has at least 20 references.)
  • Of these, the papers that were cited received a total of 5,266 citations in 2013.
  • Impact factor = 5266/327 = 16.104
Within an association, the journal publishing team and the member publications team may be divided by a lack of understanding of each otherís work, as well as a lack of communication. However, Hallock maintains that they can be compatible partners; after all, both teams want to present the same association or society in the best way possible. In addition, they have the same mission and the same readership.

An association journalís high-quality, scientific content benefits the societyís members, explains Schaeffer, by reinforcing the societyís credibility, making headlines, guiding the editorial direction, providing fodder for the societyís social media, and feeding the editorial content.

An often overlooked strategy, however, is how member publications can assist journals in this effort, notes Hallock. For example, they can:

  • Showcase achievements by writing about them.
  • Reinforce the credibility, value, and success of the journals.
  • Enhance engagement with the journal through online viewership, manuscript submissions, citations, and subscriptions.
  • Cross-promote journal papers, such as by profiling authors on the website.

Journal papers may be picked up on social media, adds Schaeffer. In addition, journal content may be repurposed for other media, such as videos for the website.

The bottom line, say Hallock and Schaeffer, is that an associationís member publication and journal teams should seek opportunities to work together, focusing on ways to leverage scholarly publishing content in member communications.

Rachel Detwiler is editor in chief at Precast/Prestressed Concrete Institute. Association Media & Publishing sincerely thanks her for covering this session at the AM&P Chicago Conference for our members who were unable to attend.


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