Diving Deeper into Your Submission Data

Fast Facts:

It is essential to keep a log of significant events relating to your journal. This information can help you more accurately interpret your submission data at year’s end. For example, many journals will often see increased submissions as a result of specific conferences or related to special issues they publish. Worldwide events, such as the COVID pandemic, also caused changes in submission volumes for many journals.

For submission changes not related to specific events, it is helpful to determine if there is a change in any particular aspect of the journal’s submissions, for instance, increases in a particular manuscript type or from certain countries.

Since submissions with more revisions can dramatically influence the overall time to final decision for your journal, it is good practice to monitor the submissions by revision number to ensure that the number of submissions reaching a higher revision number is not increasing.

December 22, 2021 

By: Sherrie Hill and Kristen Overstreet

As we approach the end of the year, editorial office staff are beginning to think about their journals’ 2021 submission volume and how it compared to previous years.  Submission volume for a journal can be a critical indicator of a journal’s health, but the actual submission number is just the surface information.  We can dive deeper into the data and find trends that can be used to steer a journal in new directions.

The trend of the submission volume is of particular interest.  Everyone wants to know if the submissions are trending upward, staying relatively flat, or decreasing.  However, keep in mind any special circumstances that occurred in that year.  Were there an unusual number of special issues?  Were more conference presenters invited to submit manuscripts? Or were all conferences for that year canceled due to COVID?  In 2020, did your journal experience a significant increase in submissions due to researchers having more time to write because they were working from home or was there a significant decrease because clinical researchers were working overtime on COVID-related issues?  It is imperative to keep a log of significant events and changes to journal policy and strategy to better inform journal data.

You might choose to present two submissions charts: one that includes all submissions and one that excludes all special issue or invited submissions or non-peer reviewed submissions. The latter will provide a more direct comparison of your regular, peer-reviewed submissions from year to year. You may have a long list of article types that you want to exclude; this list is specific to each journal.

In the example above, when the special issue submissions were filtered out (bottom chart), the increase in submissions was actually more substantial than it appeared when all submissions were included (28% increase vs 36% increase).  If a filter is applied, be sure to note it somewhere on the chart to eliminate any confusion for the viewer, now and in the future.

If we look at submission numbers by manuscript type, those data can give us insight into other trends that are occurring.

Suppose that your journal prefers to publish research articles over case reports.  If your submission numbers have increased overall, but case reports are a larger percentage of those overall submissions, the increased submission volume might not be as promising as it initially appeared.  Conversely, if the submission volume decreased slightly, but the percentage of case reports was significantly reduced, the fall in overall submissions might not be as negative as it initially appeared.  Reviewing submissions by manuscript type can also allow the journal to make policy changes that influence the makeup of the types of manuscripts received and ultimately accepted.  To use our previous example, if you see case report submissions increasing, your editors could be instructed to reject more case report submissions without peer review.

Depending on the breadth of the subject area your journal covers, breaking down submissions by subject (or topic or category) can reveal interesting insights. Is your journal trying to maintain a balance of the subject areas or would the editorial board prefer some areas be more prominent?  Breaking down submissions by category can show how the journal’s content is changing over time. These data can then influence immediate reject policies or inviting content from influential authors in underrepresented topic areas.

Diversity is an important topic.  Showing submissions by country of submitting/corresponding/first author can show progress toward increased diversity.  As you record efforts made by your journal to increase regional diversity, over time you can determine if these efforts are having an impact.

Another way to look at submissions is by manuscript version.  This can help the journal understand the true workload of the editors.

The journal can use rounds of revision data to determine if an initial screening editor is needed to try to weed out low quality submissions prior to peer review.  The data can be filtered to show if submissions from particular topic areas are more prone to high numbers of revisions.  A filter can also be applied to show the average number of revisions by country.  Your journal might find that recommending a language editing service upon initial decision would reduce the number of subsequent revisions needed to reach a final decision

Regardless of your journal’s goals for the future, submission data can be highly instrumental in uncovering underlying trends and informing your policies in your efforts to meet them.

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