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Development of an Online Journal

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Margaret Doheny, Ph.D. R.N.
Linda Thede, Ph.D., R.N.


This article describes the historical development of an electronic nursing journal, (OJIN), from inception to reality. Planning focused on a needs analysis for an electronic journal, audience and marketing concerns, editorial board membership, and financing of the journal. Included are recommendations for those considering starting an online journal.

Citation: Doheny, M., Thede, L., "Development of an Online Journal" Online Journal of Issues in Nursing Vol 5 No 3. Available:

Key words: Online journal, Internet Service Provider (ISP), bandwidth, hosting, connection, journal design, online journal costs, professionalism, planning


"I have some bad news," was the opening remark at a faculty meeting. "We are again going to have to eliminate some of the journals that we have in the library. The budget just cannot keep up with the need."

This type of statement is made too frequently today. As knowledge increases, particularly in areas of specialization, the number of journals needed to keep professionals informed also increases. However, the number of subscribers for each is limited, which results in price increases every year. A backlog of information waiting to be published is not uncommon. The time lag between discovery and publication in many cases now exceeds a year; and due to financial and space limitations, many good articles are not published at all. Although this problem was starting to surface in the 1980's it became very evident in the 1990's.

At this same time many of the faculty at the Kent State University College of Nursing (in Fall of 1999 the School of Nursing was officially designated a College of Nursing) were becoming "Internet Savvy." Mailing lists, or Listservs, had become well known and the World Wide Web (WWW) was becoming accessible to all. Many faculty were also starting to use web resources for teaching and research.

The problem of diminishing library resources combined with the rapid increase, and difficulty of prompt dissemination, of new knowledge led to the idea of an online journal. Why couldn. t Kent State University College of Nursing start one? It seemed so simple; the University had a web site, word processing documents could easily be put into HTML, the language of the Web, and using the Web would mean no delay between the acceptance of an article and publication. The following is an historical account of how Online Journal of Issues in Nursing (OJIN) became a reality. Recommendations are included for organizing the process needed to develop an online journal.

Labor Begins

In September, 1995, believing that this could be reality, a core group of faculty who were interested in pursuing this idea began to meet on a regular basis. With the confidence born of naiveté we decided that we could have the first issue online by January of 1996 (a thought that was dispelled shortly!). But then reality struck. Writers were needed, and more importantly, a way to ensure a quality publication that had "staying power". If people were to agree to write for the journal it was necessary that it be regarded as a peer reviewed, scholarly effort by those who read the article as well as by those who make promotion decisions. Print journals carry with them a promise of quality by having articles peer reviewed and they carry the reputation of their publisher and their editorial board. So that writers for OJIN would receive the exposure that their efforts deserved, the journal needed to be recognized not only by Web search services, but by the nursing index services.

With the above realizations, needed tasks were identified and were delegated to various persons who were responsible for them. Fortunately, the group was composed of faculty with diverse talents. One member, who later became the first editor, had much experience in publishing journals, another, who produced the first few issues, had experience in using HTML, and others had knowledge of marketing. Even more important was the fact that each of us had different networks in the world wide nursing community. These networks proved invaluable in achieving our goals

Journal Focus

A focus for the journal was needed. First thoughts ran to an all purpose journal, but after consideration the idea of an "issues" journal was discussed. We realized that nursing literature is not generally read by the media or others when health care issues are discussed. We believed that nursing issues impact on health care and an online journal with high quality articles could provide nurses, health professionals, and the interested public a chance to gain insight into the issues affecting the nursing profession, health care, and nursing. s clients. This journal could provide a timely and thorough discussion of health-related issues, through multiple points of view from experts representing a variety of roles and disciplines. With an online journal, web users searching for information on any of the topics discussed in OJIN would have access to the nursing viewpoint on these subjects. To give the project reality, a name was needed. Once the focus for the journal was decided, the name, the Online Journal of Issues in Nursing (OJIN), was natural.

The concept of the journal was to present a cutting edge topic/phenomenon in its entirety, giving readers a chance to see the complexity of the topic, rather than presenting simple answers to complex situations. Recognizing that individuals have different views on these topics and on the issues inherent in these topics, the journal was designed to give all parties a place to both express their views and understand others. views on the topic. Each topic was planned to include an overview article introducing the topic with additional articles exploring various issues related to the topic. Each topic would provide a forum to exchange opinions and data about that topic and how it affects nursing practice, research, and education. "This format gives the journal. s readers - practitioners, educators, researchers, and students - a chance to see and understand the full complexity of an issue, rather than to present to them a simple, one-sided stance" (D. Gosnell, Dean, College of Nursing, personal communication, October 10, 1996). While this journal is a nursing journal, the core group did not want to limit the audience to only nurses, but rather to include all consumers of health care and health care disciplines. This journal was to help clarify health-related issues and offer easy access to the journal through the World Wide Web.

User Interface and Article Availability

Another issue that needed to be decided was what kind of user interface the journal would have. Print journals have certain givens; they must have a volume, issue number, and a table of contents. We agreed that this format was constraining and did not lend itself well to the capabilities of the web. The web is conducive to browsing and we felt that we needed to have a way to encourage this. When readers land at OJIN's splash page (home or main page) we wanted them to easily find the topics that are available. Each extra step required of a reader diminishes interest and reduces the chance that an article will be seen. It was decided that the journal would be organized like a subject bibliography. This would make it possible to add new articles about the same topics as new points of view and/or new information becomes available. Letters to the editor about each topic could be added right in the list of articles about that subject. It would give those who wanted to study a given topic in the future a one-stop place to explore and follow the train of thought over the years not by dates of publication, but by topics, or issues. Under this system, readers can see with one click what the main topics are and if any of them are of interest. Then they can go immediately to a list of articles about that topic without searching the table of contents of each issue.

How long the articles should be available was another decision to make. Given that this was 1995-96 and that memory was still expensive, this was not a decision to be made easily. Some electronic journals, even today, only have one issue online at a time and provide no access to their archived issues. This type of format is not viable in a scholarly publication. Those who wish to use OJIN articles for a reference would need assurance that the article would be available to all at all times. Print journals are available from the time they are printed until eternity; thus OJIN should be the same.

Institutionalizing the Journal

It became apparent that for the Journal to have credibility it had to be seen as more than the effort of a few individuals; it needed to be "institutionalized," or have the support of a viable institution, such that its continued existence would not be questioned. First we needed to be certain that we had the approval and backing of the Dean of the College of Nursing and that our endeavors would work toward fulfilling both the mission of the College and the University. We reviewed the mission statements of the College of Nursing and the University to be certain that the journal would be a part of these missions. Kent State University (KSU) "views learning in all its forms as central to its mission" (Kent State Mission, 1993) and the mission of College of Nursing (College of Nursing, 1990 ) "is committed to the furthering of nursing knowledge" and "The faculty of the College of Nursing are creative contributors to the advancement of nursing knowledge and to the improvement of health care delivery through teaching, research and community service". Approval from the Dean and Provost and promise of some financial support was gained. Without the financial and intellectual support, the Journal would not have been possible.

At the same time that we were working towards securing University support, one member of the group, in a meeting at American Nurses Association (ANA) headquarters, discovered that we and the ANA had similar interests. The ANA was planning to launch a web site, Nursing World, at their June 1996 convention in Washington, D.C. and were still looking for ideas and content. Discussions began concerning the possibility of a collaborative effort between the College of Nursing and the ANA to develop OJIN with the thought that OJIN could become a part of NursingWorld with the College of Nursing providing the content and ANA the website. The journal would be available online at no cost to the reader. These discussions proved fruitful and one more hurdle was overcome.

Recognizing that every ship needs a captain, we agreed on an editor-in-chief, associate editors and assistant editors. The editorial staff that continues to produce the journal today is made up of KSU faculty members and the journal is recognized as part of the College of Nursing (CON). The editorial staff began recruitment of an international Editorial Review Board; and the initial Board was made up of over 30 national and international nursing leaders. The selection of leaders was based upon their reputation and contribution to nursing; many remain on the Board and continue to contribute to the journal.

The First Issue

Concomitant with these efforts, the first issue "Advanced Practice" was selected and writers and reviewers were recruited. The expertise of one of KSU. s librarians was called upon for information about other items that needed to be done. One of these was to obtain an International Standard Serial Number (ISSN), another was to gain acceptance as part of the CINAHL index. The first proved to be relatively easy; the second required more time and evidence that the journal would be a lasting enterprise. Today OJIN is indexed in both CINAHL and Medline.


While OJIN is a nursing journal, it. s audience is not limited to nurses but may include all consumers of health care and health care disciplines. We considered that all nurses, nurse educators and students, health care providers, and recipients of health care should use the journal. With this audience in mind, marketing efforts began. A logo was developed with an abstract elliptical design that represented continuity. Brochures describing OJIN were developed and distributed to nurses and schools of nursing, made available at nursing conferences, and distributed just about anywhere nurses would be meeting. Since the journal is published by Kent State University College of Nursing in partnership with the American Nurses Association we were able to be part of NursingWorld and their marketing efforts.

In order to reach the general public it was necessary to have the journal appear in as many search tools as possible. This involved researching the requirements for each tool and contacting others that needed further information. Slowly the journal was being registered with many search tools.

The results are gratifying to all parties involved. Between the launching of OJIN in 1996 and June 30, 2000, 12 issues have been "posted," (the web equivalent of publishing) with over 45,000 user sessions per month. are available for selected issues. Additionally, each topic includes a list of web-based resources for that topic; and Legislative, Information Resources, and Ethics Columns are now part of the journal.

OJIN was one of the first nursing publications to take full advantage of the reach and timeliness of the Internet and WWW. "An online journal can be so much more dynamic and responsive to its readers than its traditional ink-on-paper counterpart," said Dr. S. Jones, first editor-in-chief (personal communication, October 10, 1996). Millions of nurses throughout the world now have access to the timely and expert advice of the top professionals in their field -- without ever having to leave home or workplace.

Ongoing Challenges

Finding financial support has been an ongoing challenge. Because the journal is online, the traditional printing and mailing expenses are not incurred; yet there are costs involved even with a volunteer staff. Some of these include postage and copying of marketing and correspondence materials and phone charges for long distance calls. Questions that need to be asked early on in the development of an online journal regarding financial issues include: Should there be a charge for the journal? Is there an established publisher interested in your journal? Are there personnel to continue the work of the journal on a volunteer basis? and Should advertising as a source of income be investigated?

Another challenge has been the marketing of the journal. For OJIN, developing a marketing plan with designated people to carry out specific marketing activities was effective. Developing an aggressive online marketing strategy was also important to promote the journal both online and offline. We found that waiting for a web search engine to find the journal was not adequate; yet personally contacting each web search tools was time consuming. We recommend commercially available software packages that make registering with search engines easier since each site has it. s own protocol. Registering with many search tools is important for marketing since there can be long delays from the time of registering to being listed on the search tool. Learning to effectively use metatags is important too. Being linked on other nursing and health care sites can help with marketing. It is also important to be listed in the nursing bibliographical indexes such as CINAHL.

Marketing offline is just as important. The OJIN staff designed a flier and recruited faculty and community colleagues to distribute the fliers at health care agencies and conferences they attended. Being aware of places where the journal can be publicized and fliers can be distributed is essential to the success of a journal. If readers do not know of the journal existence they will not be able to take advantage of the journal.

Recommendations for New Online Journals

Many of us have been asked by others about how to start an online journal. Our first response is always, "Be prepared to work very hard, it is a labor of love" (The American Nurse,1999).The process can seem overwhelming but having an organizational plan can make the task less daunting. We found the following are steps to be useful in developing the journal.

  1. Put together a diverse core group (about 5-10 members) with different abilities and nursing networks who are willing to work hard and long.
  2. Decide on a focus and other features that the journal will have.
  3. Gain administrative backing.
  4. Plan a path to institutionalize the journal.
  5. Find financial support.
  6. Prepare letters to send to prospective Editorial Board members outlining your purpose and the duties they would be expected to perform.
  7. Find a site to host the journal. Try to find an established site to allow for a consistent URL; changing addresses (URLs) will obviate months or years of hard work because sites, including search tools, with which the journal is linked are not always current.
  8. Appoint an editor-in-chief, associate editors, and define the tasks for each.
  9. Develop a user interface. This is not as easy as it seems, the Library of Congress still adheres to print policies and wants volume and issue numbers despite the problems in translating this to a good online user interface.
  10. Decide policies for:
    1. Review of articles.
    2. Posting of articles.
    3. Letters to the editor.
    4. Links to other sites.
    5. Links from other sites.
    6. Advertising.
  11. Develop marketing plans.
  12. Get an ISSN number; your librarian can help you here.
  13. Contact CINAHL and Medline to see what is required to be part of these indexes.


The development of OJIN has become a reality but the task has not been easy. Many aspects of the power of the Web and the dissemination capabilities of the Web have been learned; but they did not come easily nor without cost. Perhaps the hardest task was finding authors for an unknown journal in a new format. Many potential authors need publications for career advancement; and institutions at the point of inception of this journal did not yet regard online publications with the same prestige as print journals. Fortunately, now with more peer-reviewed online journals there has been progress in this area.

To gain an identity, it was necessary to find a focus for the journal. Once this was done, it was possible to ask people to serve on the Editorial Board. It is important for the Editorial Review Board to realize that their obligations include reviewing articles in a timely manner. For OJIN, a policy was developed in which all members of the Editorial Board were asked to review two articles a year, each within a 3 week time frame.

Perhaps the most important issue was finding a permanent home for the journal. Authors and readers need to know where they can find the journal, and be assured that all the articles will remain permanently online. OJIN partnered with the ANA to create this permanency. Assuring the continuation of the journal also required that it be institutionalized within our University. A user interface that uses the web instead of following the print protocol was created. Readers can go to each issue to find out its contents, this makes navigation easier and leads to increased readership.

As can be seen from the above, creating an online journal is labor and time intensive. Our naive ideas of time frames and ease of accomplishment were soon dispersed as we became familiar with all the issues involved. The final product, however, was gratifying and made us see that all the past work as well as present and future efforts are worth it.


Margaret Doheny, Ph.D., R.N.

Peggy Doheny received her PhD in Curriculum and Instruction from Kent State University. She is an Associate Professor at Kent State University College of Nursing where she teaches in both the graduate adult nursing program at the Kent Campus and the web-based post-master. s certificate program in nursing education. She is Director of Learning Resources for the College and maintains the College of Nursing web site. Currently she is Associate Editor for OJIN and has responsibility for development of the online CE offerings. She has numerous publications and presentations in the area of orthopaedic nursing. Her research is in the area of osteoporosis prevention and currently has NINR funding.

Linda Thede, Ph.D, R.N.

Dr. Thede has been an Assistant Professor at the College of Nursing at Kent State University where she participated in numerous University Committees studying and implementing computer uses and distance education. Linda taught nursing informatics and assisted the faculty in utilizing technology for many projects including databases. Currently she is teaching graduate nursing informatics as a distance education course for St. Joseph. s College in Standish, Maine. She is certified in Informatics and has published a book, Computers in Nursing: Bridges to the Future. She founded the second nursing listserv, Gradnrse, which she merged with NurseRes, a listserv that she started with the support of the Midwest Nursing Research Society. Currently she is the Electronic Chairman for Sigma Theta Tau. s Region 4. She is a regular speaker at nursing computer conferences.


Kent State University Mission Statement (1993). [On-line]

Kent State University College of Nursing (1990). College of Nursing Mission Statement. Kent, Ohio. (Unpublished).

OJIN: A "labor of love" for Kent State nurses. (1999). The American Nurse. 31,(3), 14.

© 2000 Online Journal of Issues in Nursing
Article published August 16, 2000

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