EASE Council Post: Sylwia Ufnalska on our campaign "Help scientists save time"

Our latest EASE Council post in our blog series sees our Author Guidelines Editor, Sylwia Ufnalska discussing the development and application of our new Quick Check Submission Table, and several other initiatives and proposals journals might adopt to make the submission process a more efficient experience, and to help scientists save time for research.



Earlier this year, after a discussion on our Forum, EASE developed a new resource: the EASE Quick-Check Table, based on a proposed universal framework for more user-friendly author instructions, published in European Science Editing. It was intended to make life easier for both authors and editors, by helping scientists find basic information needed for submission of their manuscripts to a journal. The initiative was promoted on our website and via our social media, but also by our sister organizations, like the International Association of Scientific, Technical and Medical Publishers (STM), Mediterranean Editors & Translators (MET), and Association of Earth Science Editors (AESE).

To facilitate adoption of this idea by journal editors, we uploaded MS Word files with the blank and complete table on our website. A general note at the beginning of emphasizes that manuscripts should be COMPLETE, CONCISE, and CLEAR (as explained in EASE Guidelines for Authors and Translators, available in >20 languages). Below, the table presents examples of basic information for initial submission: word limits, title page information, the structure of body text, end matter, and references, as well as notes on submission and journal policy. In version 2 of the table, we added a brief introduction to the table, to explain that journal editors can adapt it to their needs, e.g. by deleting or adding some rows whenever necessary.

Our initiative inspired others to share their suggestions for further steps towards making the process of manuscript submission more efficient. For example, Jaime Teixeira da Silva in our journal in July recommended elimination of pre-submission formatting and cover letters. He emphasized that such “requirements imposed on academics by journals or editors during initial manuscript submission may waste precious time, energy, and financial resources, especially if a paper is desk-rejected, and even more so when there are multiple rejections”. Consequently, EASE Council decided to issue a simpler version 3 of the table in August, to promote simplification of editorial requirements for initial submission.

In an article in the journal Publications, Hans Oh called for an even more efficient submission process. Firstly, he recommended elimination of unnecessary requirements and suggested the creation of centralized websites that serve many journals, allowing for swift resubmissions from one journal to the next (e.g. based on the Manuscript Exchange Common Approach initiative), or simply universal adoption of a format-free initial submission policy. Secondly, Oh proposed that user experience research could identify the most common errors made by researchers during submission, which could be avoided by software improvement, e.g. well-placed check boxes or radio buttons, drag-and-drop features (to make uploading and ordering files easier) as well as auto-population of required metadata by extracting information directly from the uploaded files. Thirdly, Similarity Check reports could be routinely used to prevent submission of manuscripts that overlap significantly with other publications. Finally, Oh drew attention to the exorbitant global cost of wasted time and effort due to unnecessary submission requirements, but also to enormous societal costs of delaying important publications due to technical barriers.

In September, Thomas A. Lang in European Science Editing reviewed “Instructions for Authors” in various journals and showed many examples of unsupported, unclear or unusually specific requirements concerning initial manuscript submission. His article, as well as user experience research, may aid journal editors in revising their requirements effectively. This would greatly reduce the excessive bureaucratic workload of scientists and leave them more time for research.

To help spread the word about the urgent need for simplification of submission processes in science journals, we have asked a team of volunteers to translate a slightly improved version 3.1 of the table into many languages. As a result, its translations are already available on our website in Dutch, German, Korean, Romanian, Slovenian, Spanish, and Turkish, while Bosnian and Polish translations will be finished soon. Volunteers who would like to translate the English version into other languages should first contact EASE Secretary (secretary@ease.org.uk), to avoid duplication.

We hope that our new campaign will help increase the efficiency of scientific communication worldwide and reduce research waste.
This is of vital importance in our current situation, with many of our usual processes and routines disruptred and aggravated continuously due to the pandemic, any attempts to save time and efforts are welcome. The initial extra effort of journal editors (linked to the revision of current requirements) is worth it, as the more streamlined process of manuscript submission is likely to decrease the risk of common errors made by researchers and limit the number of manuscript revisions.

Last but not least,
this campaign may also aid in limiting the spread of COVID-19, thanks to faster publication of crucial scientific findings about it.


Sylwia Ufnalska
EASE Council member, freelance science translator and editor
PoznaƄ, Poland

 

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