Issue-Based Publishing Workflow for Print and Online journals

Judy Connors, MA
Owner, Do It Write Editorial, LLC


Denise Kuo
Consultant, Origin Editorial
ORCID: 0000-0002-8156-5518

Editor’s Note: This is the second post in a series of 3 posts on different types of publishing workflows. The first by Lindsey Brounstein focused on Article-based Publishing. The third and final post, focusing on continuous publication, will be out in November.

Take Home Points:

  1. While digital publication has made great inroads in scholarly publishing, print publication is still relevant.
  2. Editorial office processes do not differ between print and online journals; the variances are seen in production and issue-release stages.
  3. Within digital publication, there are a variety of ways to produce content.
  4. Journal office performance can impact the author’s overall impression of the publication and the organization.



A journal’s workflow dictates how articles make their way through submission, peer review, decision-making, production and then, into an issue and the hands of readers. Whether a print publication or an online (digital) publication, the editorial office workflow is a critical component to compiling articles for an issue and how that issue is released.


The editorial workflow is a multi-step process which ensures accuracy and quality of published content. While the specifics may vary between platforms, the general steps of bringing an article to publication apply to both print and digital issues. Until recently, all journals were published according to a strict schedule, releasing a group of articles at regular intervals, collected into an issue and/or collection. Journals are published at fixed intervals of varying lengths including weekly, monthly, or quarterly but can also be published annually (1 issue / year) and everything in between (bi-monthly, bi-annually, etc.).


Issue-based publishing is considered the traditional workflow approach as it has existed since journals were first introduced. All editorial offices need to meet issue deadlines efficiently and effectively to provide consistent content for readers and consistent service to authors; individual journals and large publishers alike are continually looking for improvements to streamline the process. However, there is a lack of publicly available documentation for individual workflows and the efficiencies that can be implemented in the editorial office. The intent of this post is to share our collective experience working with issue-based journals; and we have divided the post into print and online (digital) publication editorial workflows as, during our careers, we have seen that systems and processes can vary between these two types of publications despite the end outcome being the same: publish relevant content on a timely basis while maintaining journal standards. We welcome you share your experience, tips, or suggestions for best practices in the comments section below.


What is Issue-based Publishing?

Journal issues, released online or in print, contain the final version of each article assigned to the issue and, upon issue release, article versions that appear in the issue supersede any previous iterations of the articles released publicly by the journal, such as an author-accepted version. Issues (to our knowledge) always include volume number, issue number, and page numbers as part of the citation at a minimum, although some journals include additional information.



Originally, all articles in an issue were released on the same date, called the issue date. With online publishing, other mechanisms are being employed to release articles online as soon as possible after acceptance. An author-accepted copy may be posted to the journal website prior to copyediting, or an article may be released as an “online first” copy posted to the journal website after copyediting is completed despite not yet being assigned to an issue. When the journal is following an issue-based publishing workflow, articles are not final until they are assigned to an issue. Next, we will discuss and highlight differences between print and online (digital) publications’ workflows.


Workflow Considerations for a Print Publication

For most print journals, the order of articles in an issue determines the page numbers. Ordering articles within the issue or finalizing the Table of Contents is one of the last steps in preparing the issue for release and is often done by the Editor-in-Chief based on the perceived impact of subject matter. However, some journals have the Managing Editor finalize the Table of Contents. Many journals in print are assigned an annual budget for page counts (less front matter, house ads, and paid advertising) that needs to be monitored throughout the year to avoid print-page overages, which incur additional per-page costs for the organization publishing the journal. To avoid the cost of page overages in a print journal, selection of articles for inclusion in the issue takes into consideration the length and number of pages per individual article.


The editorial staff should receive by late Q3 or early Q4 of each calendar year the production schedule with due dates for the following year’s issues; adhering to this schedule is expected to keep all processes running smoothly. If publishing companion or grouped articles in a particular issue, it is critical that they be accepted and sent into the production phase within the “issue window” (the cut-off date a publisher requires an article to be in production for a specific issue) to guarantee publication in the same journal issue. Compilations of this nature require close management of the editorial office in conjunction with the publisher at all post-acceptance stages.


Important reminders for the editorial office staff:

  1. The publication schedule is dependent on manuscripts entering the production phase by a “manuscript in” date. Manuscripts accepted after the “manuscript in” date cannot be included in the issue.
  2. Value-added online content such as podcasts, videos, graphical or interactive abstracts, Twitter threads, or Instagram posts are typically released with or very soon after the issue posts. Therefore, there is time after the manuscript enters the production phase (“manuscript in” date) before the issue is released during which all the added content can be completed.
  3. The issue is reviewed by the editorial office after all articles have been copyedited, proofed by the authors, and compiled in the order provided in the Table of Contents. Issue review should also include checking the cover and spine of the print journal, ensuring proper placement of house and paid advertisements, and reviewing each article’s header and formatting.


Workflow Considerations for an Online (Digital) Publication

In a conference proceeding published by Carol Tenopir and Donald W. King, entitled “E-Journals and Print Journals: Similarities and Differences in Reader Behavior,” their research, spanning three decades and completed in 2002, shows that between one-third and 80% of journal article readings come from electronic journals or digital databases, depending on the scientific field and place of employment.  Digital scholarly publishing is clearly a preferred way to get content. Regardless of that, scientists read widely from all kinds of scholarly journals, with the readings per person per year increasing in the last decade. However, many of these readings now come from electronic journals, e-prints, and downloaded copies. A greater percentage of readings are now of new articles; and readings from electronic journals are more likely to be of current articles.


In their blog, KriyaDocs cites that the digital transformation in the last few years has driven a great deal of change in the publishing industry, helping accelerate the publishing lifecycle and simplifying the experience for all the stakeholders involved. 


Editorial office workflows for online publication vary from journal to journal and can often depend on whether it is an online-only journal, online with a print version, and/or an online-only, open access journal.  Add in other components like size of the organization and publication department, number of staff, annual submissions, and software used in the editorial office and the digital publication process can widely vary. Some processes for online journals are standard. We will discuss a few below.


Online journals undergo the same typeset, copyedit, proofread, and author review as do print journals; the main difference is that once the author reviews and approves his article, the editorial office does not do a further review. The article is set for immediate posting. Likewise, there is no issue to review as articles are posted as production is completed and there is often no “online first” option.  However, online journals and even online, open access journals also have options for posting ahead of an issue (i.e., when an article needs to be posted at a specific date/time because of a simultaneous conference presentation or a simultaneous press release).


While most online journals still publish issues, how articles get published varies. Typically, there are no page count budgets in online publications, so as much content as the editorial office and the publisher can produce is published. This can result in an uneven number of articles being published from one issue to the next, resulting in an inconsistent number of articles published year over year. Another model has online articles assigned to an issue, as is done in print journals, assuming that all the articles are with the publisher and in production in time. This mode of publication ensures a certain number of articles for each issue. It also requires the editorial staff to manage the issue at hand as well as pushing along the other articles for upcoming issues, managing peer review and production for two sets of documents simultaneously. Some offices assign different editorial staff members to handle these different functions.


Instead of “curating an issue,” articles can be sent to the publisher upon completion, and publication is done on a rolling basis. The publisher posts articles as they are completed until the issue cycle closes. When that compilation of articles closes, the issue number is assigned. Since the articles appear as posted, the most recent one is on top when the issue closes; articles can be rearranged after closing by the publisher, so the postings resemble a standard issue order. This is often referred to as continuous publication and will be discussed in more detail in a future blog post.


One of the benefits of online only publishing is that the author can usually expect a speedier time to publish than in a traditional workflow of a print journal, which means the article is submitted sooner to indexing services, including PubMed, and is eligible for citations quickly. If an author needs proof of publication for a tenure interview or a promotion, the publisher can assign a DOI as soon as the article enters production and provide it to the author.


Overlaps Between Print and Online (Digital) Publication

Regardless of which type of publication an editorial office is producing, there are certain standard procedures and policies they should expect to follow. Collecting conflicts of interests, funding , ethical, and AI usage disclosures, and required checklists are industry standard practices that apply broadly. 


The submission through peer review process is almost identical, although the level of anonymity (single, double, etc.) and number of reviews required varies based on journal policy, not type of publication. Digital products, whether online only or an online version of a print journal, are easily reproduced and reprinted, creating complex rights management issues. The editorial office and publisher should have copyright policies in place, and they should be easily accessible.


Both print and online publications have experienced an increase in production costs; however, the costs for print tend to be fixed while online publication costs can fluctuate. The costs of print and online publishing differ significantly. According to a guide by The WAC Clearinghouse, printing costs are higher than those involved in online publishing because of actual paper and printing costs.


Importantly, workflow plays a key role in the total experience of authors when they submit to any journal. This customer experience, and do not forget they are our customers, creates an impression on them of the journal and its organization. The journal process should be seamless and the editorial staff accessible and helpful throughout the entire editorial process.


Collaboration: Keys to Success

Finally, publishing an article is only one part of driving readership and working closely with in- and out-of-organization teams is especially important to ensure deadlines are aligned. For example, if your publication department relies on marketing to provide social media support for an issue or a particular article in an issue, they will require lead time to develop feeds for X (formally known as Twitter), Facebook and Instagram. If your publisher posts video abstracts and podcasts to the journal website they, too, need adequate time to schedule these into a busy calendar. These due dates should be included on the annual production schedule. Providing as much information to the support groups, such as X handles for authors and their institutions, helps immensely.  Building a Good Relationship between Editorial and Production is an excellent resource on collaborative efforts and is available with your ISMTE membership here. Frequent and clear communication with other supporting teams, such as news media, public relations firms, outside marketing and website/digital vendors is especially important to keep all aspects of issue publication running smoothly and for the journal to increase visibility, readership, downloads, and citations.



Issue-based publishing looks very different since journals moved online. Scientists are reading from a broader range of journals than in the past because of access to full text online collections. For journals that appear online (with or without a print version) there are many options available for shortening the time to publication compared with the more traditional approach of collecting articles and assembling them into print issues. While this process continues for many journals, the usefulness of assigning an issue number to a collection of articles that were accepted for publication within a specific time period is being reconsidered by many organizations. Although the scholarly journals system has changed dramatically in the past few decades, one thing that has not changed is the high value scientists place on the content they read in scholarly journal articles, whether electronic or print.


Technology and its advances alone will not determine the future. In a white paper originally published by Sheridan Press and reprinted with permission by The Journal of Electronic Publishing (JEP), entitled, “Digital Workflow: Managing the Process Electronically,” the authors believe that relationships, economics, and behavioral patterns, combined with technological advances, will impact the publishing process in different ways and at different times.  It is incumbent on us as publishing professionals to continually educate ourselves, realize that inherent change is the “new normal,” and be innovative and flexible in our approach to scholarly publishing to secure a successful future for the science, industry, and ourselves.



Conflict of Interest:

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