Screening Guidelines You Need

Screening guidelines can save you a lot of time and effort. When manuscripts are submitted to your journal, you have important decisions to make, and some of those decisions can be harder to make without screening guidelines. Here’s an example:

Imagine that a manuscript is submitted to your journal where the entire article is one block of text. There are no headings that are clearly visible and the graphics are provided in a separate file with no explanation.

What do you do in this case? There’s a chance that the article is of great interest to the academic community. But there’s also a chance that the article requires significant work and may not even be publishable. How long will it take for you (or your team) to determine this? Between communication with the authors, waiting on emails, and trying to perform layout work, this could take days (if not weeks). Establishing screening guidelines can help to avoid these issues.

But what are screening guidelines? These are the rules/instructions that your team follows when dealing with manuscripts that have been submitted to your journal. They are not the instructions that are given to authors (these are generally called submission guidelines and are also very important)

Why screening guidelines matter

As you can see from the example above, there are cases where guidelines can save you days. They allow your team to expect a certain baseline for manuscripts and simplifies their workflow. If a manuscript is in good shape (though “good” is a bit flexible here), they can start to process the article. But if there are no guidelines in place, your staff might be wasting their time on articles you won’t (or can’t) publish. Setting clear guidelines will help your staff to understand the journal’s needs better (and keep them from getting stressed out).

When you train your staff, make sure you have clear guidance about what they should and should not do. But also make sure that there is an appeal process (see below).

What should your screening guidelines include?

As mentioned above, clear guidance is crucial. Here, we’ll go over three important things that you should consider when creating your screening guidelines.

  1. How closely do they align with your submission guidelines;
  2. How detailed are your guidelines;
  3. What is the appeal process.

These three things are by no means an exhaustive list, but they’re great things to start your guidelines with.

How closely do they align with your submission guidelines?

This is critical. Your submission guidelines and your screening guidelines must be in line with each other. Your submission guidelines are the instructions that you’ve provided to your potential authors. If your authors follow the provided instructions, yet their manuscripts are rejected for following the rules you set, this can lead to confusion and a negative reaction. Remember that your reputation is one of the most important elements that you need to protect.

Developing a reputation as “inconsistent” is something you don’t want. Make sure that both these documents align. If your internal documents say “graphics must be in .jpg”, but instructions for authors say “graphics can be in any format”, this can lead to a submission being rejected despite the authors following the exact guidance provided.

Take time to go over both sets of documents. Make sure that your submission guidelines and your screening guidelines are both saying the same thing.

How detailed are your guidelines?

This is a bit of a general question, as there is no “one-size-fits-all” solution to this question. You need to determine what works best for your company, and what helps your pipeline. While there are other ways to go about making your start-to-finish process faster, such as setting strict deadlines or using journal management systems, proper guidelines can help with this. A few things to consider are:

  • How many staff members you have;
  • How established is your journal;
  • How much you trust your staff’s judgement.

Broadly speaking, the amount of specificity in your guidelines needs to consider a lot of different things. First of all, if you have one person, it’s easy to consult and work on a case-by-case basis, and so your guidelines might not need to be very detailed. Broad strokes might be a better option in that case, and you can refine the guidelines over time.

A brief note on trusting your staff: There are many different kinds of management styles. Some might work better for you (and your team) than others. Importantly though, micromanaging your team is usually a recipe for disaster. It takes a lot of your time, a lot of your staff’s time, and decreases overall happiness. You’ve hired your staff, trust them to do the work you hired them for.

What is the appeal process?

This is another example of something that should match in both sets of guidelines. If a paper is rejected, by what method can the authors appeal the decision? Do they need to do revisions? Are rejections final?

As with many points we note, it is probably better to handle these issues on a case-by-case basis. But there are a few general ways that you can look at rejections to help you determine if they can be resubmitted at a later date. Let’s examine a trio of examples, “language issues”, “submission ready”, and “content or novelty”.

Language issues

While it might feel like this is an issue that never happens, it can be surprisingly common. Your journal’s reputation may have started to grow, and attract attention from scholars around the world. This can result in submissions being made to your journal that are not in the journal’s publication language. If your journal is published in English, but a submission is made it German, this clearly will not be able to be published. Guidance about situations like this should be in your screening guidelines.

Here, while you are rejecting the work, you might want to consider inviting the authors to resubmit the manuscript after it has been translated. While this is no guarantee that it will be accepted later, it is not closing the door on this author’s work.

Submission ready

As noted above, submission guidelines are important for authors so that they can submit manuscripts that are ready for the review process. But what happens if those manuscripts fall short of basic expectations? Here, you might have a variety of options, ranging from “rejection unless all criteria are met exactly” to “no big deal, we’ll fix it later”.

Informing your team of where you want to exist within this range is important. If you set extremely strict guidelines, manuscripts might be rejected for fairly trivial reasons. On the other hand, if your guidelines are very loose, you might wind up having situations where manuscripts that are destined to be rejected due to content have taken up a lot of your staff’s time. These cases might be very simple. Contacting the author and telling them the specific guideline points they need to address is usually enough.

Content or novelty

This is arguably the most important of the factors to consider. Manuscripts that are rejected due to content or novelty might be papers that you do not want resubmitted. Not all journals are the same, and standards are crucial. It is important to make sure that your staff are aware of papers that might be submitted that do not belong in your journal. Or any journal.

Some organizations conduct “stings” to determine if publishers have appropriate standards in place. Other manuscripts might be attempting to promote pseudoscience or incorrect ideas. There are other cases that are even worse. Making sure that these papers do not get published by your journal is critical.

These papers should be rejected, and it might be worth considering whether or not you’ll keep a blacklist. Having a list of banned topics and people can possibly save headaches down the road. Importantly, make sure your staff are very clear on how this list works and is updated. In these cases, obviously, the authors are not invited to resubmit their work.

Who makes decisions?

Ideally, your screening guidelines give your employees a clear understanding of expectations. This includes when they should make decisions, and also when they shouldn’t.

Importantly, this might vary from journal to journal. In some cases, an editorial board might have the final say in what is and is not accepted in a journal. Here, guidance for your staff should be to direct submissions to these board members. In cases where initial acceptance is handled by the journal staff, the basis for those decisions should be clear.

What else should you include in your screening guidelines?

This is a challenging question, and we will be diving into this further in future articles. Remember that what you include in your guidelines will help your staff to be more efficient. Remember also that your submission guidelines should be a living document. What is a living document? Documents that can be updated over time, or when changes are required can be considered living documents.

Make sure that you don’t limit your flexibility by never revisiting your guidelines after they have been written.

Armed with this knowledge, you’ll have a good foundation for your screening guidelines. We’ll come back to revisit this subject in the future, so stay tuned.

D.J. McPhee
23 January 2024Posted inSubmission
Post authorD.J. McPhee