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Archive for October 13th, 2015

Digital Technologies in Academic Publishing: Thoughts of a Journal Managing Editor

AlisonFox13 October 2015

I have just completed my year mandate as the managing editor of the UCL Journal of Law and Jurisprudence. Those who know me are aware that I dip my toes both in academia and the tech startup world. And that gives me a rather unusual perspective on both. If one would ask “What were the two things that made you most proud at the journal?” I would simply say switching to open access and developing a social media presence. Both bring the powers of the digital in the service of research, making it faster, more relevant, and more connected to the outside world.

The switch to open access was made in collaboration with UCL Press, dubbed the first fully open-access university press in the UK. We implemented the Open Journal Systems (OJS), which means the submission, editing and publishing processes are now transparent, scalable, and above all else, incredibly quick. We are done anonymising manuscripts, sending dozens of e-mails and docs back and forth, or doing DTP. The work of the academic editor or the reviewers’ has suddenly been simplified and all that could be automated is now automated. We receive dozens of submissions per month now, and we are not snowed under anymore. We are accepting less than a third and keeping the journal high quality.

But the advantage of OJS was not just for us, on the inside. This sounds grand, but it is a great progress for the scientific advancement of knowledge. With this kind of system, it does not take years to get an article published. The slow and cumbersome review process often made research and publications obsolete. This is now a story of the past. It now takes just a few months from start to finish. But what’s even more important, it is open access. Anyone can read it. You don’t have to be in education or pay thousands of pounds for access. You can do so for free, from the first second of it being published by us.

For my clients in the London tech startup environment, it takes me two months to conduct dozens of qualitative interviews and to get quantitative data on millions of users. And it takes me a few days to prepare and present a report. In academia, that kind of research could take half a decade to gather and present to the public. This is completely unacceptable and needs to change. Some visionary initiatives, like Academia.edu, sought to change this. We did it too, at a smaller level, but it works. And it feels damn good.

In addition to open access, using social media to communicate with our audiences only contributed even more to bringing academic research in the now. We are among the most active UK academic journals on Facebook and Twitter, and we used that to keep everyone posted on the latest research available.

With open access and social media, the academic publishing world is changing. This is our chance as researchers to become relevant again, by regaining dynamism.

About the Author

Diana Richards is currently finishing a doctorate at UCL Laws and has been consulting in the digital sector since 2010. More info at http://www.dianarichards.co.uk. The UCL Journal of Law and Jurisprudence can be found online at http://ojs.lib.ucl.ac.uk/index.php/LaJ.

This post was originally posted in UCL Press news in October 2015.