Transparent Publishing

By Katrina McFerran

The world of online publishing is always evolving. For many of us, it represents a political stance about the rights of all persons to be able to access information, rather than having those rights afforded to the privileged few. This is true of the Voices team, and many of the authors, reviewers, translators, and editors are willing to significantly extend themselves in order to meet the challenges that this commitment produces.

To recite a stand for justice and equity is one thing, and that is worthy in itself, but to action it takes effort and persistence from many people. This was demonstrated in response to our recent author survey, where many authors praised the dialogical reviewing process that marks the Voices approach to publishing, but also demanded faster publishing times, and even more interaction.

In response, our reviewing community renewed their commitment to responding to even shorter timelines for reading and critiquing articles, whilst also engaging in increasing communication.

Since all aspects of our online publishing process are voluntary, this is a gesture of goodwill and generosity. Until now, there has been no way for reviewers to be recognised for the hours of work that they do, as demanded by the tradition of anonymous review, so there is little external incentive to contribute.However this month our editorial team is considering a new and more transparent approach to the reviewing process and are about to enter into dialogue with our community yet again about further evolution and change.

Peer review is one of the bastions of academic publishing. It is used to ensure the quality of publications by asking experts in the topic of a manuscript to make a judgement about whether the authors have reached a sufficient standard to represent the issue at hand. Typically, reviewers have been invited to participate in an anonymous process, where two experts read a manuscript without knowing who the author is and give feedback to the author, who does not know who they are.

This is thought to achieve a level of objectivity, so that the standing of the author does not bias reviewers who assumedly do not recognise the work of peers. It also provides some safety for the reviewer, whose role it is to provide critical feedback. Since no one enjoys hearing that their manuscript is not perfect, this protective element allows reviewers to say what they think is necessary, not what will make the author happy.

This process has been in place for hundreds of years and therefore needs review itself. A strong movement has been building in academia about the value of open reviewing and the need to reconsider what has previously been standard practice.

The Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE) has provided a brief and useful paper that outlines a number of issues and different models and there is a large amount of online commentary. Sources as diverse as the largely unreviewed Wikipedia on the one hand (see "Scolarly Peer Review" described on Wikipedia) and the esteemed, highly ranked, objectivist science journal, Nature, on the other (see the Nature web debate on peer review).

There is no doubt that the time has come to reconsider the reviewing process. A revolution is already in process.

In the new, inclusive approach to reviewing, each journal will adopt a particular approach that suits their focus and scope (see Voices Focus and Scope), rather than accepting the claim that one singular reviewing process is right for all journals.

Voices promotes dialogue and open access, and both of these positions align with values of transparency, collaboration, and interaction in reviewing; although until now we have always subscribed to the accepted view of double blind, anonymous peer reviewing for our research articles (we have used a single blind, anonymous review process for other articles, such as those in our Reflections on Practice, Case Stories, and Reports sections (see Voices Peer Review Processes).

This editorial marks the beginning of an open discussion about what position best matches the needs of our community, from authors to reviewers, editors to translators, and importantly, our readers. In reviewing the categories proposed in the COPE report, our current reviewing process could be described as Interactive or Collaborative. We have been rightly proud of the possibility for dialogue between authors and reviewers that occurs in our reviewing processes, carefully facilitated by our editorial team to ensure that anonymity is maintained.

The COPE report presents another idea that we think may also suit our journal, the notion of Transparency. This suggests that some degree of openness is integrated into the process, but that it occurs only if the manuscript is accepted for publication.

We invite the Voices community to consider our suggestion of publishing the names of reviewers’ if/when the manuscript is published. This would be a small step, but would allow us to foster open dialogue between authors and reviewers following publication, as well as the editor-monitored dialogue that occurs in the process of review. It would also allow you, our readers, to know whose opinions have influenced the development of an article and for you to determine whether that meets your own objective and/or subjective expectations.

At this time, we are not proposing to publish the reviews themselves, nor will be publishing reviewer names if the article is rejected or not published.

There are advantages and disadvantages of any model, and as part of our commitment to open dialogue, we invite you to comment below (login required) or email us with your opinions and experiences of the open reviewing process.

As the accepted view changes, so will the expectations of everyone who accesses scholarly information, so this may not be a singular decision. It may be the first in a series of debates that we enter in to as a community. We look forward to sharing that discussion with you along the way and to hearing your feedback on the process of evolution.

Announcement: Dr Melody Schwantes Appointed as Copy Editor

One of the arguments made by those involved in the reviewing process is that there is little recognition of the efforts made by reviewers who invest time and energy in maintaining the high quality standards of scholarly journals (see the list of Voices reviewers and editors). This is also true in relation to the effort of our editorial team.

This month we identified one way to more formally recognise one of the largest and least apparent editorial roles in our team, which is that of copy-editing. Copy-editing is the final stage of the editorial process and involves carefully and systematically working with every word of the article to ensure an almost perfect presentation of the authors’ ideas.

Dr Melody Schwantes has been our chief Copy Editor for the past year, and in October we acknowledged that enormous contribution by making this title official and transparent on our webpage.

Along with our editorial team, our authors are the ones who are most aware of Melody’s hard work as she communicates with them about the details of their manuscripts in the final weeks leading up to publication. This can be a taxing moment for authors, who are usually excited to see their ideas published and of course, also hoping that there will be no more work to do. For this reason, Melody’s gentle but detailed style has been particularly important to the quality of both the published work and the dialogical process behind it.

We are thrilled to celebrate Melody’s ongoing contribution in this way, along with other editorial duties, and congratulate her on this moment of recognition.