By the time you read this issue of SPE Journal, the electronic peer-review system at SPE will have begun the transition to the Scholar One/Manuscript Central system from Thomson Reuters. The Scholar One system currently is used by more than 2,800 journals, including journals published by Elsevier, Blackwell Science, the Society of Exploration Geophysicists, and the European Association of Geoscientists and Engineers. SPE staff members who have evaluated the alternatives are convinced the change will be beneficial to authors and editors and that the transition will be relatively easy. An online help system with video tutorials will be available to help new users learn the system. Of course, if you have been participating in the peer-review process as an author or as an editor, you will recognize that the conversion from one electronic review system to another is just one of many changes that have occurred in the past several years.
In 2001, when I became an associate editor, the success of the peer-review system relied heavily on the organizational skills of the editors, most of whom maintained their own spreadsheets documenting the status of manuscripts for which they were responsible. At that time, most of the information transfer was electronic and recommendations were typed into forms, but we still had editors who did not use email. It was quite possible, indeed likely, that a few manuscripts would get buried on an editor’s desk and forgotten about for years.
The initiation of an electronic peer-review system for SPE J. approximately 6 years ago occurred while Lincoln Paterson was the journal's executive editor. It was a huge step forward, enabling editors to check online for the status of manuscripts, to initiate correspondence, to archive that correspondence, and to generate reports identifying problems. Recommendations and decisions could all be completed online. The likelihood of misplacing manuscripts was greatly reduced with the new system, but the introduction of an electronic peer-review system did not solve all of the problems.
I have discussed SPE J.'s enviable impact rating, which makes it a preferred journal of publication of high-quality research results. On the other hand, the review process has not always been as timely as we would prefer. This is a factor that authors might weigh when considering which journal to choose for submission. Part of the problem can be attributed to the sheer number of manuscripts that enter the peer-review system and the number of authors who identify SPE J. as the preferred journal for their manuscripts. The editors and staff have recognized for some time that it has probably been too easy for authors to request peer review once a manuscript has been accepted for presentation at a conference. In an attempt to weed out the frivolous submissions, we started requiring that authors provide a justification for submission to the journal. Unfortunately, a significant number of authors have provided justifications such as "SPE J. is a good and advanced journal," which I tend to believe is true but is not a very compelling reason for us to review the manuscript. In the new electronic review system, the process of submitting a manuscript for journal review will be separate from the process of submitting a paper for presentation at a meeting. It will make our process more similar to those of other societies, many of which only require extended abstracts or short papers at the conference. A serious author, whether he or she works at a company or at a university, will not be deterred by the need to submit a manuscript through the Scholar One system.
Advantages that we should see with the new system include the automation of email reminders to editors and reviewers. The content and timing of the letters can be customized for individual journals. Because the process will be separated from the conference proceedings submission process, we expect a reduction in frivolous submissions that bog down the peer-review system. Finally, the ScholarOne system will allow us to make peer-reviewed manuscripts available "online first," thus reducing the time to publication. We believe that ScholarOne will speed up the peer-review process and improve communication with authors regarding the status of manuscripts in the review process. This will be good for authors and editors alike.
In the meantime, SPE is attempting to reduce the backlog of papers that have been approved for publication but are waiting in the queue. A typical issue of SPE Journal has 12 papers--this issue contains 20. Happy reading!