The newly launched Southern Online Journal of Nursing Research (SOJNR) is the official peer-reviewed research journal of the Southern Nursing Research Society (SNRS). Despite its regional ties, the journal has always sought well-crafted manuscripts from the international nursing research community. In addition, the journal has a national Editorial Board of Directors. The inability of the Society to mount the financial burden of a print-version research journal a decade ago is contrasted with the more feasible use of electronic publication for today's journal. The journal depends on member contributions of talent and time and Editorial support is modest due to prudent use of Society funds. Challenges and difficulties in starting and maintaining a quality online journal are discussed from perspectives of economic and technologic support. Strategies for nurturing new authors while maintaining high editorial standards are addressed.
Key Words: research publication, electronic journals, research societies, editorial roles
Special Section: Online Journal Publication
This article is one of a group of articles written in response to a call to online journal editors for manuscripts describing the evolution of their online journal for the Topic "Electronic Publishing" We invite submission of other manuscripts that further the discussion of Online Journal Publication.
A ten-year old dream was realized in January of 2000 when the Southern Nursing Research Society (SNRS) launched its official peer-reviewed electronic research journal (www.snrs.org/membership/journal.htm). The rapidly growing regional research association was barely four years old when the Board of Directors began serious deliberations toward development of a traditional print version journal of nursing research. The Society was enthusiastic, energy for providing a new outlet for research dissemination was high, but the economic realities of start-up costs were prohibitive. The association simply could not provide the start-up funds, staff and publisher's assurances, and other capital to begin a quality research journal. The dream was tabled for six more years, but the energy remained. Members and officers began thinking of new ways to offer a publication without the high cost of print. More important, there grew a plan that tapped into some of the organization's best-known talents: electronic networking. SNRS was an early adopter of the Internet and offered a conference workshop on communicating by email to members as early as 1991. Three Board members parlayed this workshop into a manuscript for Computers in Nursing and published one of the first articles on accomplishing research activities over the Internet in 1993. "Mail by Modem: the BITNET Connection" was written collaboratively online and provided insight into how individuals could teach, supervise, author, and collaborate in research by electronic networking (Holtzclaw, Boggs & Wilson, 1993). With institution of an organizational website (www.snrs.org), it was not surprising that the electronic highway finally provided both the opportunity and the format for realizing the long-awaited research journal.
How the Journal Began
The use of the electronic format for an online journal was proposed in 1996 by President-elect Craig Stotts at the 10th Annual Research Conference of SNRS in Miami, Florida. Stotts also proposed the journal's name: the Southern Online Journal of Nursing Research (SOJNR). Major achievements of Stotts' presidency included gaining member support and financial commitment for the journal. In addition, Stotts had the computer and Internet web page support services of his home institution, the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS), for assistance. His own expertise as Webmaster for the online journal made him a natural for later appointment as Managing Editor.
Funding the search for the Editor's position was critical to the success of the journal but new financial challenges for the organization made this difficult. The Board undertook a national search for Editor at the same time SNRS membership grew to nearly one thousand and an outside company was hired to manage the organization. The Editor's position called for a commitment to high quality but the rewards of travel and conference costs to SNRS were most likely to appeal to a loyal member. Following a year's search and review of several qualified candidates, Barbara J. Holtzclaw, PhD, RN, FAAN was selected as Editor in September of 1998. A member of SNRS since its beginning, Holtzclaw had the requisite history of research, funding, editorial activity and publication.
In keeping with SNRS goals to advance nursing research and mentor new investigators, the journal provides instructive feedback to authors and learning opportunities beyond the content of the article.
Focus and Purpose of Journal
The focus of SOJNR is nursing research; and data-based reports of research findings are the most sought-after manuscripts. A smaller proportion of research methodology papers will be accepted as articles. The purposes of SOJNR are to report completed research that contributes to the knowledge base of nursing; present scientific evidence that improves the practice of nursing; and provide educational discussion of research methodology and findings. In keeping with SNRS goals to advance nursing research and mentor new investigators, the journal provides instructive feedback to authors and learning opportunities beyond the content of the article. Articles are in an "interactive" format, allowing readers to query or respond to scientific or methodological elements of the publication. The electronic format encourages and stimulates online commentary to reader questions and comments. Accepted articles are published on-line as soon as all review, resubmission, and editorial issues are resolved and releases are signed. Selection of articles for publication is based on their contribution to knowledge, strength and logic of methodology, adequacy of design, statistical and/or analytical sufficiency, editorial presentation and readability.
Journal Staff and Personnel Structure
Presently, the primary journal staff consists of the Editor, the Managing Editor, the Editorial Board, and the panel of Manuscript Reviewers. The Managing Editor and Editorial Board were selected by SNRS Board of Directors after nomination by the Editor. The Editor enlists the panel of Manuscript Reviewers and evaluates their timeliness and performance in reviews. Periodically, clerical support is contracted by the Editor to update computer databases and mail for review activities; however, large-scale mailings are assigned to the SNRS management firm. The Editor receives all electronic communications, manuscripts, reviews, and resubmissions directly by electronic mail through the Internet. The Editorial Board consists of six established nurse investigators, each with a national research reputation. Although five members reside within SNRS's fourteen-state region, this was not a selection criterion. The Editorial Board developed and approved the journal's goals, author's instructions and format. They continue to help guide editorial decisions that affect the publication as a whole. The Manuscript Review Panel consists of approximately 70 qualified volunteers who meet the selection criteria. While most are SNRS members, reviewers are sought from across the country to provide the particular type of expertise needed for each review.
Survival in E-publishing
Surviving is a major concern for SNRS, the Editorial team, and participating authors as the electronic journal begins its first year online. The Society has been prudent with its resources and blessed with a supportive academic community. The journal is not dependent upon subscriptions for its basic production because it has been budgeted as a primary member benefit and available to all who belong to SNRS. However, the stature of a research publication is dependent on its place in the larger scientific community. A larger financial outlay will be needed in the future to promote the journal in order to solicit a wider circle of authorship as well as readers. The journal is given high visibility on the SNRS website and the print SNRS newsletter Southern Connections promotes readership, calls for manuscripts, and invites reviewer applications. Having talent within SNRS to carry out many of the web-based activities that support the journal has made online publication fiscally possible.
SNRS holds the copyright and maintains full rights to publish each article in all forms of electronic and print media, including compilations. Written permission to publish and assign copyright to SNRS is obtained from authors upon acceptance for publication. Authors are given permission by SNRS to make copies of their publication and distribute them to individuals or in classes but must give full attribution to their original publication in SOJNR.
SOJNR's Interactive Format
One of the unique features of SOJNR's electronic format is the interactivity the format allows between reader, author and Editor. At the end of every article, a hot link provides the Editor's email address where readers may post a query. The reader is invited to ask questions about the research topic, the specific investigative approach, or the method of statistical or analytic treatment. The Editor routes the question to the author, if appropriate, or to other experts as they are needed. The responses are posted with the article as they are received. So far, this feature has been used less than anticipated. As nursing educators become more aware of this opportunity for students studying research, its use is likely to improve.
Launching a new publication is bound to bring unexpected trials and challenges. Electronic publication, however, was new territory for most of the editorial staff, reviewers, and potential authors. Even those who were considered highly computer literate have found difficulty with some aspect of the electronic format. All SOJNR submissions must be electronic, sent either as attachments or on computer disc. Consequently, a number of technical problems have required editorial staff assistance to authors and reviewers newly engaged in the process of electronic file transmission. Some reviewers who were accustomed to writing notes and critiques on the manuscript pages have required instruction on how to submit reviews and critiques electronically. Conforming to a purely electronic format was deemed necessary with the journal's limited staffing. Moreover, it saves overall review time by providing the ability to forward clear summaries of all the reviews to the author without retyping, scanning, or Faxing.
In hindsight, the Editor agrees that more lead-in and technical planning time would have been helpful before calls for manuscripts were made. An unexpected problem involved the original format, using the style of the American Psychological Association (APA). The importance of easy readability became obvious after a mock-up was made of an actual manuscript. Traditional relegation of references to the end of the article was not conducive to easy reading online. Moving back and forth between citations and references was distracting. Finally, after reviewing several online journals, the style and reference format used by Nature was selected. The placement of references in the left margin alongside each citation made it easy to read and refer to references without scrolling back and forth. New guidelines for submission now appear at the SNRS website (SNRS, 2000).
While this change in format occurred well before the first publication, a backlog of at least a dozen manuscripts in the old format were already under review. The style conversion of accepted articles caused considerable headache and an inordinate amount of time on the part of the Editorial Staff. None of the submissions had been typed with citation manager software so the Managing Editor converted and proofed the final version.
The problem of archiving issues has not presented itself yet as only three issues are online in this first year of publication. Plans are to keep all published issues in electronic form on CD-ROM and to publish compilations of annual or topical issues.
Technical support for editorial activities is provided by the Editor and Managing Editor, both well acquainted with word processing, graphics import, and file transfer procedures. In addition, the Managing Editor is skilled in processes involved in putting the completed manuscript into both web page (html) and Acrobat Reader (pdf) versions. Financial support for software, printing and copying services are provided by the Society as needed. Future editorial and publishing issues will continue to center on the solicitation of excellent articles that will pass the rigorous review criteria. A "user friendly" editorial approach, offering formative feedback and suggested sources for help, is provided. Encouragement of the interactive features of the publication is needed to overcome shyness or inertia of readers to discuss the featured article. Promoting the journal for subscription by non-members is a growing priority. Presently non-members are charged $40 per year and institutions $75 per year for subscriptions.
Carrying out Peer Review
The utmost care is taken to provide blind peer review with three experts in the methodology and the topic area of the manuscript. If the methodology is unusual or the topic is specialized, a fourth reviewer may be engaged as referee. The manuscript is first reviewed by the Editor and screened for appropriateness. Articles not reporting research or addressing a research methodology are returned with suggestions for other journals appropriate to the topic. Articles submitted without references or appropriate formatting are also returned to the author with suggested strategies for resubmission. Screened manuscripts are then stripped of identifying information and forwarded by email attachment to each reviewer. A three-week period is given to complete the review, fill out the review form and submit the comprehensive critique of the manuscript. The critiques are compiled as summaries so reviewers also remain unknown to the author. Retrieving articles from reviewers that are out long beyond their due date is always problematic for editors. However, the electronic format makes it easy to remind reviewers that they are past due.
In SOJNR's first six months of manuscript solicitation, 16 manuscripts were received and three accepted. For the most part, experienced authors accept and recognize that most publications require some form of revision or additional work. New authors need encouragement, however, so that the need for revision is not interpreted as unacceptability. Authors receiving recommendations for revision require follow-up and encouragement to revise and resubmit. The Editor strives to give those manuscripts requiring drastic revision or those based on flawed design gentle but clear feedback. All are encouraged to submit again in the future and suggestions are given for dealing with as many of the problems as possible.
A collaborative approach of mentored authorship is being encouraged within SNRS to assist new authors in "learning the ropes" and editorial conventions associated with research publications (Holtzclaw, 2000). This process differs from simply consulting or critiquing the manuscript of a colleague or student because the article is clearly driven by the expertise and supervision of the mentor. Experienced research authors are encouraged to engage in collaborative, but mentored, publication together where the entire process of crafting, revising, resubmitting, and reviewing critiques of the work are undertaken together. While review of the SOJNR manuscript will remain rigorous to maintain quality, the active pursuit of mentored manuscripts is intended to groom newcomers to be their best.
Forecasts for SOJNR's Future
The Editorial team of this new journal has one commodity in abundance, a passion for research. The long-held dream of having a quality publication will require large amounts of energy fueled by that passion. SNRS has moved from being the newest regional research society to one that has taken a bold step in technologic innovation to achieve a major goal. SOJNR's future looks encouraging despite the many issues facing publication today.
Of importance is the opportunity the journal provides to nurse investigators to disseminate research findings. It is a happy coincidence that the journal's abbreviation (SOJNR), pronounced "sojourner", is evocative of the researcher as traveler. The journal offers a place for investigators to halt their investigative journey and "take a break" in order to publish and share study findings with others.
Barbara J. Holtzclaw, PhD, RN, FAAN is Editor of the Southern Nursing Research Society's (SNRS) peer reviewed online research journal, Southern Online Journal of Nursing Research. She has been an active member of SNRS since the regional research group began: serving on its Board of Directors and regularly presenting at its annual research conferences. Dr. Holtzclaw, a scientific writer and clinical nurse researcher, holds a BSN from the University of Oklahoma Health Science Center in Oklahoma City, a MS in Nursing from the University of California at San Francisco, and a PhD from the University of Oklahoma, Norman, OK. She was a Robert Wood Johnson Clinical Nurse Scholar during a two-year postdoctoral program at the University of Pennsylvania and Associate Director of Nursing Research and Interim Director of Research at Vanderbilt University prior to her position as Associate Dean for Research and Director of Doctoral Studies at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio. Dr. Holtzclaw, an early adopter of the computer as a tool for publication and research, has long promoted the use of the Internet for research collaboration, teaching, and authorship. As Editor of SNRS's new online research journal, she combines experience in writing, electronic communication, and mentorship into one role. In September of 2000, Dr. Holtzclaw was awarded Professor Emeritus status and now devotes full time to research, consultation, and editorial activities.
Holtzclaw, B. J. (2000). Mentored authorship. Southern Connections, 14(5): 3-4.
Holtzclaw, B. J., Boggs, K. U., Wilson, M. E. (1993). Mail by modem: The BITNET connection. Computers in Nursing 11(5), 242-248.