On my recent submission of a manuscript to the Journal of Memory and Language (an Elsevier journal), I was faced with the unexpected task of having to provide  “Research highlights” of the submitted manuscript.  Elsevier describe these highlights here, including the following instructions:

  • Include 3 to 5 highlights.
  • Max. 85 characters per highlight including spaces…
  • Only the core results of the paper should be covered.

They mention that these highlights will “be displayed in online search result lists, the contents list and in the online article, but will not (yet) appear in the article PDF file or print”, but having never previously encountered them, I was (and am still) a little unsure about how exactly they would be used (Would they be indexed on Google Scholar? Would they be used instead of the abstract in RSS feeds of the journal table of contents?)  The thought that kept coming to me as I rephrased and reworked my  highlights was “they already have an abstract, why do they need an abstract of my abstract?”

Having pruned my five highlights to fit the criteria, I submitted them and thought nothing more of them. .. until tonight.  I checked the JML website to see if my article had made it to the ‘ Articles In Press’ section and rather than seeing my own article, saw this:

This was my first encounter of Research Highlights in action.  I was impressed.  I’m not too interested in language processing, so would never normally have clicked on the article title to read the abstract, but I didn’t need to. The highlights were quick to read and gave me a flavour of the research without giving me too much to sift though.  I guess that’s the point, and it’ll be interesting to see whether that  is maintained when every article on the page is accompanied by highlights.

It’s hard to tell if the implementation of research highlights in all journals would improve the academic user-experience.  No doubt, other journal publishers are waiting to see how Elsevier’s brain-child is received by researchers.  But there is another potential consequence that could be extremely important.  In the example above, I was able to read something comprehensible to me on a field a know next-to-nothing about.  In the same vein, maybe these highlights will be the first port of call of popular science writers looking to make academic research accessible to laymen.  If the end-result of the research highlight experiment is that a system is implemented that helps reduce the misrepresentation of science in the popular media, then I would consider that a huge success.

A recent submission to the Journal of Memory and Language, an Elsevier journal has made my hyper-aware of how the way a manuscript’s progress through the Elsevier Editorial System (EES) is indicated.  For future reference, I’ve summarised the story-so-far for a recently revised and resubmitted manuscript.  (The worst thing for a compulsive checker like me is that you’re not e-mailed about changes in status, you have to login to the EES and check to see whether the ‘Status Date’ or the ‘Current Status’ has changed.  Every few weeks you get that variable-ratio reinforcement that just reinforces your maladaptive checking behaviour!)

I’m not sure if the ‘Current Status’ stages I list below are universal for all Elsevier journals, or even for all manuscripts within the the Journal of Memory and Language, but here’s what I’ve been through so far.  (Elsevier have a few more details on some of these statuses here: http://support.elsevier.com/app/answers/detail/a_id/160/~/paper-lifecycle-from-submission-to-publication)

Submission

  • “Submission Being Processed” – 16/11/2010: The manuscript is submitted and an e-mail is sent to the corresponding author with EES login details.  The manuscript is assigned to an editor by the journal office staff.
  • “With Editor” – 18/11/2010 (estimated): Presumably an editor makes sure the thing is worthy of being sent out for review and identifies appropriate reviewers.
  • “Under Review” – 24/11/2010: The peer review process starts.
  • “Required Reviews Completed” – 24/12/2010: The manuscript is sent back for an editorial decision.
  • “Revise” – 1/1/2011: E-mail sent to the corresponding author indicating the editorial decision.

Revision 1

  • “Revisions Being Processed” – 20/1/2011: The manuscript is resubmitted and another e-mail is sent to the corresponding author
  • “With Editor” – 20/1/2011: Presumably the editor makes sure the thing is worthy of being sent out for review again…
  • “Accept” – 5/2/2011: or accepts the revised manuscript without a second peer-review.
  • Completed” – 8/2/2011: I don’t know what this stage means.  Maybe it’s an acknowledgement of my receipt of the decision letter.  Incidentally, there are now two additional visible columns: “Date Final Disposition Set” (Feb 08, 2011); and “Final Disposition” (Accept).

Publication

At this point the submission gets closed on the Elsevier Editorial System and gets moved onto an author tracking system (http://authors.elsevier.com).  One of the most important developments is the assignment of a DOI – it’s doesn’t go live until the proofs have been created, but it ‘s assigned and can be used to link to the article in the future. From now onwards, e-mail notifications seem to arrive with every change in status.

  • Expected despatch of proofs notification – 10/02/2011: A date for receipt of manuscript proofs (the journal-formatted pdf) is assigned.
  • Return of “Journal Publishing Agreement”, “Funding Body Agreement” and “Order Offprints” forms requested – 10/2/2011: A link to these forms is e-mailed and they can be completed and submitted online.  This makes a great change from the procedure of having to get snail-mail signatures from all authors, which is a real pain if collaborating with people at multiple institutions.  Once submitted, the status comment changes to…
  • Status comment changed to Publication date not yet known – 10/2/2011
  • Uncorrected Proofs made available and return with corrections requested within 48 hours – 18/2/2011 (Consistent with the tracking system information): This was done through the elsevier.sps.co.in/authorproofs/ website.
  • Status comment changed to No further corrections can now be made – 19/02/2011: ‘Proofs returned’ row also added, with the same 19/02/2011 date.  DOI link still dead and manuscript is still not yet available on the ‘Articles in Press’ section of the JML section of the ScienceDirect website.
  • PDF made available as an ‘Articles in Press’  – 02/03/2011: But the DOI link still doesn’t work.
  • DOI link made functional – 08/03/2011.
  • Article published in print journal – 05/2011.