With the ever-increasing number of journals out there, it can be tough to determine where to submit your research. Ben Mudrak, scientist and Strategic Accounts Manager at Research Square, spoke to us recently about how JournalGuide may be able to help.
Q. Can you tell us about JournalGuide? When, how and why did it come about?
A. JournalGuide is a free tool that helps researchers match their manuscripts with relevant target journals. Users enter search terms into JournalGuide (either a title and abstract from a manuscript draft or a set of keywords of their choosing), and the site compares the input to text from recently published manuscripts. This process produces a ranked list of potential target journals that have published similar papers. JournalGuide was initially created in response to feedback from customers of our other Research Square brands, American Journal Experts and Rubriq. As we were assisting these researchers with preparing or evaluating their manuscripts, we continually received requests to help choose a journal for submission. At the same time, we were building an internal journal database to support our services, and it made sense to make that resource public so we could assist all researchers, not just those who purchase Research Square services. The site was soft launched in the fall of 2013, with marketing efforts beginning in March 2014.
Q. What problems does JournalGuide solve for users?
A. The main problem JournalGuide is designed to solve is the difficulty in discovering the best journal matches for a new research manuscript. This process is becoming increasingly difficult as more and more journals are launched. Early career researchers may be searching for new options related to their primary research focus, but even highly experienced researchers sometimes want help finding a good journal for a manuscript that diverges from their typical work. While a number of article search systems are well known to researchers, JournalGuide organizes results by journal so users can easily identify journals that have published similar work, not just similar articles. Each JournalGuide profile page also presents important information (publisher, journal website, contact information, aims & scope, cost, acceptance rate, timeliness, etc.) in a standardized layout, helping authors avoid scouring journal web pages to find what they need.
Another major issue that JournalGuide is tackling relates to the existence of questionable publishers and journals. With thousands and thousands of journals, and many with similar names, no individual author can be expected to keep track of them all. We’ve introduced a new designation called “Verified” for journals that have been accepted into internationally renowned indexes with rigorous acceptance criteria (such as PubMed or Web of Science). We are not evaluating journals ourselves, but we are assembling the hard work done by other groups in a central location to help authors identify established journals. There’s much more about this feature on our blog.
Q. How do you feel authors typically find journals to publish in?
A. Based on our conversations with researchers (and the experience of many of us at Research Square who came from the bench), many authors simply submit to journals that are familiar to them. In many cases, a researcher’s former advisor focused on a handful of journals that fit his/her line of research, and these journals become the main targets for the researcher as she begins her own career. Unfortunately, such a cycle can lead to tunnel vision when it comes to potential journals, even as a large number of new journals are launched each month. In addition to prior experience, researchers find journals from articles they discover in search tools like PubMed or Google Scholar and from learned societies that they are members of. Many also look at where their colleagues publish and find new potential journals in the references of papers they are reading.
Q. JournalGuide allows users to rate journals based on their publishing experiences. Does this make JournalGuide somewhat akin to a Yelp or Tripadvisor for journals?
A. We had initially described JournalGuide as having the potential to be a Tripadvisor or Consumer Reports for journals, and this was met with mixed feelings. While many recognize the value in collecting feedback about journals, others feared that the ratings would devolve into complaining, potentially tarnishing a journal’s reputation based on a few bad experiences. In addition, many researchers have expressed little interest in taking the time to rate their experience, having so little time on their hands already. We’re still in the process of figuring out what form the community feedback will take, but it’s important to note that the feedback will be displayed in an anonymous and aggregated manner, making it quite different from Yelp, for example. Of course, we will ensure that journal representatives can respond to any rating information that is posted publicly. We believe that features such as the “Verified” status can help users evaluate journals in ways besides reading reviews or ratings.
Q. What has been the response to JournalGuide thus far?
A. Overall, the response from researchers has been very positive. While there is always room to improve our coverage and journal list, the vast majority of users report discovering a new journal that would be good for their work alongside a handful of journals that they expected to find. The second most common response is curiosity about the business model. One of my colleagues just returned from the Charleston Conference and said that she kept being asked, “What’s the catch?” No catch – JournalGuide is free to authors and journals, and we intend to keep it that way. We have also received a lot of helpful feedback from publishers and the scholarly publishing industry as a whole. In particular, we are honored to have been selected as the recipient of the 2014 ALPSP Bronze Award for Innovation in Scholarly Publishing, with the committee citing JournalGuide’s potential to help all researchers make informed decisions about where to submit their work.
Q. JournalGuide is in beta at the moment. What’s next for JournalGuide and when will it launch officially?
A. We have a long list of new features that we’d like to roll out on JournalGuide, but first up is an infrastructure overhaul that will ensure the future stability of the site and the underlying database. Along with upgrading behind the scenes, we will be allowing users to follow journals and rolling out a new layout to make the user interface cleaner and easier to use. We expect this new version of JournalGuide to roll out by the end of the year. Journal editors will also be able to edit their profile data in place as part of this re-launch (instead of visiting a separate site), along with making announcements on their journal profile pages. We’re constantly working to expand our sources of metadata and other information as well, with a growing list of new publisher feeds and more open access policy details on the way. Finally, we’re looking to add more of our own metrics and designations like the Verified status. We know that researchers value the discoverability of journals and the strength of their reputations, so we’ll be tackling those topics in the coming months.