Electronic Journals: Are They A Paradigm Shift?

  • Susan L. Jones, PhD, FAAN
    Susan L. Jones, PhD, FAAN

    Susan L. Jones PhD, FAAN, is co-editor and the founding editor of the Online Journal of Issues in Nursing. She has a particular interest in all types of professional publishing, particularly electronic publishing. Currently, she is a professor of nursing at Kent State University College of Nursing in the graduate program in psychiatric mental health nursing. She servers on the editorial board of several other nursing journals.

  • Christina B. Cook, PhD, RN
    Christina B. Cook, PhD, RN

    Christina B.Cook PhD, RN, is an associate editor for the Online Journal of Issues in Nursing. Currently, she is assistant professor at Kent State University College of Nursing and is actively involved in distance education program development and teaching a web based nursing research class.


Ejournals are becoming an accepted and necessary means of meeting the demands for the dissemination of knowledge. This introductory article discusses the recent "explosion" of ejournals and provides an explanation of what is meant by an "ejournal." Ejournals are explored within the traditional context of scholarship and a discussion of the "serials crisis" that promoted the inception of ejournals is presented. After laying the groundwork for discussing scholarship in this new age of dissemination of scholarly information, the article discusses whether this digital form of publication can be called a "paradigm shift" in Kuhn's (1970) traditional sense of the word.

Key Words: electronic journal, paradigm, ejournal, publishing


In an early paper on electronic journals (ejournals), Odlyzko (1995) uses the example of Encyclopaedia Britannica as a formerly flourishing business that got into real trouble a few years ago by ignoring the electronic media. Subsequently, Encyclopaedia Britannica collapsed and was sold to Jacob Safra who is currently investing additional funds to cover losses and revamp the business (Melcher, 1997). Remember when these elite and scholarly books were sold door to door? Now the expensive sales force has been dropped and while print versions can still be bought in bookstores, the focus is on electronic products. Think about it. This compendium had two centuries of tradition behind it and has always been considered the most scholarly and best known of the English-language encyclopedias. Odlyzko (1999) quotes Evans (1997) on Britannica's near death:

Britannica's downfall is more than a parable about the dangers of complacency. It demonstrates how quickly and drastically the new economics of information can change the rules of competition, allowing new players and substitute products to render obsolete such traditional sources of competitive advantage as a sales force, a supreme brand, and even the world's best content.

Encyclopaedia Britannica, because of the way it was being marketed and sold, had enormously inflated costs. Individuals paid $1,500 to over $2,000 for each set that probably cost $200 to print, bind, and distribute; editorial costs were minimal in the overall picture. The greatest costs were administrative overhead and a huge sale force. Today, Encyclopaedia Britannica can be bought on a CD-ROM for about $125. It also is available, free of cost as of October 1999, over the Internet (www.eb.com). The electronic version has the same great pictures and stories and also has the advantage of a search engine to find the content that one is looking for. Our point here is that the content of the scholarly publication did not change; rather the medium of presentation changed. Scholarship refers to the content of a publication not the medium of presentation'”even though the new medium has tremendous implications for the publication, the type of information that can be presented and the cost of presentation.

In this introductory article to our electronic publishing issue, we first discuss the "explosion" of ejournals, we then outline what is meant by an "ejournal," what is meant by scholarship, and the "serials crisis" that promoted the inception of ejournals. After laying the groundwork for discussing scholarship in this new age of dissemination of scholarly information, we then discuss whether this digital form of publication can be called a "paradigm shift" in the traditional sense of the word (Kuhn, 1970).

The Explosion of Electronic Publications

Ejournals clearly are changing the world we live in.


The exponential expansion and diversity over the past five years of ejournals in all disciplines'”including nursing'”has led to the prediction of the extinction of traditional academic journals; the claim is even made that a new "paradigm" is sweeping scholarship (Valaukas, 1997). Ejournals clearly are changing the world we live in. They are changing what publishers, authors, and readers do, what librarians do, what academicians, and practitioners do. Life for the end user is different in relation to accessing articles and reading articles. Some speculate that a great deal of scholarly communication will move to ejournals (Varian, 1998)

What is An Ejournal?

Simply put, an ejournal is a digital periodical that publishes on the Internet or World Wide Web (WWW). An ejournal (including OJIN) may not be all that different from a print journal in the fundamental editorial process. That is, articles are submitted by individuals in the academic and practice community, are peer reviewed by editorial board members of the journal to be accepted or rejected, and subsequently published. It is the digital medium of presentation that is different.

There is no doubt that this different medium of presentation has many implications in terms of cost, page allocations, and interactive communications with readers. The different medium also changes the manner by which the journals are used; the ability to click to an abstract or full text citation for a reference drastically changes the reader's ability to locate references. These hypertexts within electronic articles have the ability to create a genuine web of information which can take into account the different approaches, sources, and media, and can be hyperlinked together. Such capability changes the journal's perspective, as well as, the reader's (Giussani, 1997).

As Sparks (1999) states, there is sometimes confusion between "ejournals" and "electronic publishing." Some consider any communication via electronic medium to be electronic publishing '” but electronic publishing and ejournals are not synonymous. For example, electronic publishing may be e-mail communication, or listservs, or newsgroup messages. For our purposes, we consider only those ejournals that are peer reviewed and present scholarly articles. We omit the many publications online that are nursing websites and provide useful information about job opportunities, nursing trends, or other health-related information. Those various types of electronic publications and communications are more thoroughly discussed in a later article in this issue by Ludwick and Glazer (2000).

Another type of journal that is not an ejournal is the "dual" publication or document delivery. The dual publications are closely modeled after the traditional print paradigm. Murray & Anthony (1999) review several models of current ejournals and refer to the dual publications as "webverts." These are websites that are advertisements for the printed journal. The website provides information about the paper-based journal and allows the reader to purchase articles from the journal, referred to as document delivery. Sometimes there is and sometimes there is not an actual electronic version of the journal. Today, however, it is a sad and lonesome scholarly press that lacks a web site (Regier, 1998).

What is Scholarly Communication?

Rowland (1997) outlines four functions of a scholarly journal in general; such criteria also describe a scholarly nursing journal:

  • Dissemination of information
  • Quality control
  • The canonical archive
  • Recognition of authors

Although the first of these functions is the most obvious, it is not the most important. More important than the dissemination of information is that we maintain quality control of the information through peer review, that can be organized into an archive to provide direction for a discipline. This quality control is assured through the peer review process. Individuals in any field of human activity must go thorough rigorous work to provide a theoretical base for practice. Writing up the results to make them available to others in the field is essential. Such works are usually considered research based but may also include those by practitioners. These individuals may present observations in a speculative, inductive manner to generate hypotheses or change the frame of reference for looking at established procedures. In the end'”in any clinical practice '” established procedures must be based on reliable and available information that that has been accumulated in a rigorous manner. Only then is safe nursing or any clinical practice possible.

Those of us in academia live with the "publish or perish" reality.


The fourth function of scholarship outlined by Rowland (1997) is an important one for nurses in academia. Those of us in academia live with the "publish or perish" reality. Academics depend on publishing for promotion and tenure and career advancement in general. Clearly there is a pecking order for journals and individuals are expected to publish in those journals pertinent to their respective field. Today academicians are expected to be researchers so that publication in scholarly research journals (print or ejournals) is essential for viability as an academician. These individuals will continue to submit articles to those research journals considered prestigious.

In November of 1998, the American Nurses Association (ANA) conducted an informal survey at the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) meeting in Washington, D.C. This organization is made up of Deans from the various colleges of nursing across the country. Forty-one deans were randomly sampled. What follows are the questions asked and the responses given:

  • Do you read articles from any "online" journals? Yes: 31 (76%)
  • Would you publish in an "online" journal? Yes: 32 (78%)
  • Would you publish in a print over an "online" journal? Yes: 26 (64%)
  • Within your University,does a print journal carry the same prestige as publishing in an "online" journal? Yes: 22 (54%)

Although this was an informal survey (a more complete and rigorous study is reported by Schloman later in this issue) and we do not claim scientific rigor here, the findings do show a general impression that deans have of online journals compared to print journals. In sum, over two thirds of these deans read online articles and would publish in an online journal. However, nearly two thirds would publish in a print journal over an online journal and believe that the online journals carry less prestige within their university in relation to promotion and tenure.

ANA also asked "why" these evaluations were given. Overall, the reasons were twofold: the impression by deans that print journals were peer reviewed while online journals were not; and that print journals were indexed in Medline and Index Medicus while online journals were not. These two criteria for scholarship are consistent with the literature. The curious nature of the finding, however, is the impression that online journals are not peer reviewed or indexed in the traditional classification for scholarly works. No mention was made by the deans of the "degree of scholarship of content" of online compared to print journals.

Living in an academic community, our own impression is consistent with the deans' view that the prestige of online journals carries less weight for promotion and tenure in academic settings. Our interpretation is that the newness of online journals precludes enough familiarity for evaluators to make the distinction between the content of the journals and the presentation media. Secondly, the ease with which a webpage can be developed has resulted in a plethora of webpages and publications on the Internet by authors with great unevenness in authority, objectivity, accuracy, and knowledge. It is difficult for scholarly publications to be seen in a different light than the pack of unscholarly, informational publications. Thus, it is essential that websites be evaluated and critiqued for use by scholars. One form for criteria for web evaluation has been developed by Dr. Barbara Schloman and can be found at www.library.kent.edu/internet/criteria.htm. More information on web evaluation can be found in the OJIN Information Resources Column on evaluation (www.nursingworld.org/MainMenuCategories/ANAMarketplace/ANAPeriodicals/OJIN/TableofContents/Volume122007/No1Jan07/Isittimetovisittheblogosphere.aspx).

This paper concentrates on scholarly journals only. Consistent with the literature, we use a broad definition of a scholarly journal that has two characteristics: (1) peer review of articles and (2) referencing in the traditional nomenclature of Medlines and Index Medicus. A scholarly journal is one that uses the peer review process to filter writings with the goal of maintaining a high quality of information that is disseminated through the journal. In the "hard sciences," scholarship generally refers to the publication of verified research results. In nursing, an applied discipline, scholarship for a research journal similarly means reporting verified research results that have been deemed worthy (through a peer review process) of dissemination to the nursing research community. In this research arena, opinions are cheap while research findings are sacred and nursing has several high quality research journals that provide this dissemination of results.

The process of peer review can break down. For example, Sokal, a physicist, submitted a paper with an impressive reference list to the journal, Social Text (1996). The editors did not notice that the paper was a parody. Sokal then admitted the deception in a subsequent paper in a different journal, Lingua Franca. His point was that the peer review process is not foolproof and the peer reviewers interpret the facts through their own culturally defined beliefs. There is no doubt that if the information in the paper coincides with the peer reviewers' own beliefs, including what the reviewer deems important, it is viewed differently than if the information disagrees with those beliefs.

Nursing, however, is a multifaceted discipline that has social, political, legal, and ethical overtones so that scholarship has a much broader meaning than just the reporting of verified research results. Within nursing there are numerous specialty journals that disseminate various types of information and opinions '” sometimes based on theoretical concepts and research results and sometimes not '” related to many topics. Often the targeted audience is a specialty group, if the content is limited to a specific entity such as psychiatric nursing or critical care nursing. The key indicator for all of these journals is the peer review process. Although articles are rejected through the peer review process, it is not simply a binary act of accept or reject. Rather, information is critiqued by peers, suggestions given for the work, and modifications made. Subsequent critiques may then be made to the work with further suggestions or rebuttals by readers and counter rebuttals by the original author(s). It is irrelevant in this process whether these journals are print, dual in presentation, or electronic only. And it is irrelevant whether the journal is a specialty journal or has a much wider targeted audience.

For example, OJIN is a peer reviewed "issues" journal with a very broad targeted audience including the academician, administrator, and the staff nurse. Our goal is to present issues that are common to the different types of nurses and discuss the issues from the different points of view of these nurses. Our contention is that the process of linking and exchange of facts and opinions is more efficient with an ejournal; in the sense of scholarship, it is irrelevant whether the journal medium is electronic or paper. However, we believe that an ejournal provides a medium for exchange of ideas and fluidity of knowledge that is not possible with printed journals.

The second criterion (classification) here is a function of the first.

The peer review process assures that the information...


The peer review process assures that the information in the journal is reliable and the indexing assures that the information is available. Because electronic journals are new to publishing, it is more difficult to meet the second criteria for scholarship.

We question if ejournals should meet the same criteria of print journals or should they be evaluated by new methods. If ejournals represent a new paradigm or means of disseminating knowledge, do new criteria for classification need to be developed in order to meet the new conceptual framework of the new media? Or, are the old methods inclusive enough to address the new medium? These are questions currently being addressed and debated by scholars.

The Serials Crisis that Promoted Ejournals

The explosion of ejournals has resulted from two converging forces: economics and advances in networked information technology. Much evidence (Butler, 1999) shows that maintaining a high quantity of high priced, low-circulation journals as the primary means of scholarly communication is not the best way to meet user needs; the overheads are unsustainable. The Internet has injected a new element of competition in the publishing world since the cost of print journals has skyrocketed over the past few years. The Association of Research Libraries calculates that its 114 member libraries spent 142% more on journals in 1997 than ten years before, but ordered 6% fewer journals. In the same year, Reed-Elsevier, one of the largest publishers, had exorbitant profits of $378 million on sales of titles. In fact, library costs for serial subscriptions have increased at an average pace of 9.5% a year for the past decade. Institutions have been unable to infuse library budgets with additional funds at this rate, resulting in the cancellation of journals and reduction in monographic purchasing. This "serials crisis" has led many in the academic community to seek less expensive channels for publication, dissemination, and archiving of the scholarly record.

A critic of the high-price, small-circulation journals is Mark McCabe who is an economist at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta. He spent several years at the U.S. Department of Justice's Antitrust Division investigating anti-competitive practices. His belief is that many publishers have excessive profit margins that would not exist in a properly competitive market.

Such a situation is even more dramatic when we consider the frequency of use of many journals. In a typical library, half of the journals are consulted no more than 50 times annually and only 15% more than 250 times annually (See graph in Butler, 1999). The estimated cost is $2,000 (where typesetting accounts for $500) in producing a 20 page article.

Commercial publishers have not been quiet about their own stance on the situation (Beschler, 1998). They agree that the price tags on scientific literature have been rising and will probably continue to do so. However, they see this as necessary and contend that profits made by commercial publishers are not the fuel for rising prices. Rather, even if the scientific publications were returned to the "academic arena," the costs would not significantly change.

Beschler states the commercial publisher's point is that, historically, the capabilities of the academic community were inadequate to handle the growing mass of publications and they were unable to provide the speed and acceleration of publishing schedules that were demanded to provide an outlet for the scholarly communication. The commercial publishers provided channels of publication that would not have existed otherwise. They provided a freedom of choice about what and how to publish, thus giving voice to many who, in a more controlled setting, would not have been able to disseminate the scholarship.

... commercial publishers claim that if the academic community again controls the publishing channel, it would mean a return to a universe of fewer editorial programs ...


The commercial publishers claim that if the academic community again controls the publishing channel, it would mean a return to a universe of fewer editorial programs with fewer individuals making publishing decisions based upon their own tastes and interests'”that is, fewer choices for both authors and the end user of journals. In sum, commercial publishers deserve a return on their investments in scientific publishing. Publishing companies must generate sufficient revenues to pay costs and overheads and return a reasonable profit to the owners to reward their investment.

However, libraries and scientists vehemently disagree and are now striking back. The Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC) which initiated in 1997 by the US Association of Research Libraries (ARL) is aggressively fighting the high cost of print publications. It is underwriting the launch of journals that directly compete with expensive titles. The 114 member libraries of this association are promising to buy each of them.

Another example of the debate over online versus paper journals is the teaming up of SPARC with the UK Royal Society of Chemistry to start an electronic journal, PhysChemComm which will be a competitor to Elsevier's Chemical Physics Letters. The Elsevier journal sells for $8,000 while the new journal subscription will sell for $350.

In a recent Library Journal Academic Newswire (1999), Elsevier Science Executive Vice President K. Hunter, agreed that since scholars typically do not read all of a journal, just the articles that interest them, the paper journal environment cost effect method of subscription no longer applies in the electronic environment. She states she sees a change in purchasing in libraries where infrequently used journals are more efficiently purchased on a per-article basis. Due to the availability of large databases, there is heavy use of journals not subscribed to by libraries in paper form and a much higher incidence of online usage than print usage.

Libraries are also fighting back on a different and interesting front. The library consortia were established in the 1930s to coordinate interlibrary loans; however, in the past few years the library consortia have taken on a new role, i.e., getting better deals out of publishers for electronic licenses. A prime example is OhioLINK, which is a consortium of 74 Ohio libraries that negotiates statewide access and provides a common interface to users. This approach has given the students and faculty of these institutions access to a far greater number of titles and at a price that their institutions could not have contracted for individually.

An interesting source to find further information on pricing and publishing is in a "free" publication called The Newsletter on Serials Pricing. This publication can be subscribed to by sending an email message to listpro@unc.edu saying "SUBSCRIBE PRICES [YOUR NAME]." Back issues from its inception in 1989 to the present are archived at www.lib.und.edu/prices/.

The second force changing the publication scene is recent advancements in electronic technology and the sophisticated expansion of the Internet. Users are demanding that journals not only publish articles as traditional journals have in the past, they are looking for more convenient and efficient means to access knowledge, educational opportunities and social interaction. Nursing web users want the ability to:

  1. access a variety of reliable sources related to patient conditions and situations;
  2. receive continuing educational credits;
  3. advance educational learning opportunities;
  4. access theoretical leaders and other nurses with similar interests or concerns;
  5. obtain legal and ethical considerations;
  6. access practice leaders and a variety of other individuals who provide help and support in the practice arena.

The use of online conferencing, video conferencing, web pages, distance learning opportunities, chat rooms, ejournals, digital photos, audio and video streaming, and listservs are only a few of the available avenues making nurses feel connected with others in the profession with similar interests and needs.

Are Ejournals a Paradigm Shift?

Many disciplines are debating the issue that a paradigm shift is occurring as a result of the ability of the computer to provide knowledge to so many people in creative and innovative ways (Reigeluth and Squire, 1998; Kearsley and Shneiderman, 1998; Norris, 1999). The heart of the debate appears to be the issue that individuals, through computer technology, are able to structure their own learning through creating multiple avenues of knowledge acquisition via search engines, web browsers, and hyperlinks. Individuals are able to determine what items are of interest to them and obtain instantaneously the references and information chosen. They are able to move from one source to another without leaving their homes, and "surf" through sources of knowledge at will. This creative, free moving acquisition of knowledge represents a new way of structuring knowledge and creative learning. Some (Langford & Hardin, 1999; Norris, 1999) argue that this provides new opportunities for the development of critical thinking and new views of knowledge that is without boundaries or three dimensionality. This new means of looking at knowledge and acquisition of knowledge is viewed as representing a paradigm shift.

Kuhn's (1970) idea of paradigm shift describes the uncertainty, and chaotic process of changing from one worldview to another. As the new paradigm emerges as the predominate paradigm, it subsumes or encompasses the current prevailing paradigm and replaces it with a paradigm that answers more questions and encompasses more of the consensus of the community of scientists. If this is the manner in which knowledge progresses, then do ejournals represent a paradigm shift as some have implied? Or, is it just an economically driven shift for profitability for journal companies? The electronic tools for knowledge acquisition have undoubtedly caused uncertainty in terms of learning and scholarship as stated previously in this article. However, if a paradigm shift is occurring, what is the essential structure of knowledge that is shifting? We will look at this question from four aspects:

  1. Knowledge Acquisition
  2. Postmodernism
  3. Local to Global World View
  4. Structure of Knowledge

Knowledge Acquisition

Ejournals may be a new method of acquiring knowledge, but they are not a new method of constructing knowledge, only a new means of disseminating the knowledge. In terms of knowledge acquisition, there is no question that ejournals become a readily available source of knowledge for student information, professional dissemination of knowledge, and lay information gathering.

However, it is our position that ejournals do not represent a paradigm shift...


Patients, students, and professionals can obtain new knowledge in immeasurable areas at the click of a key. Educators have argued that ejournals and other methods of computer knowledge acquisition, allow students and professionals the ability to gather knowledge using their own path of learning and to pick and chose what knowledge they acquire through hyperlinking and search engines. They state that this represents a paradigm shift in thinking to a constructivism paradigm where new avenues of critical thinking create unique learning experiences for the individual. However, it is our position that ejournals do not represent a paradigm shift in the sense of new construction of knowledge, only a shift in the delivery of knowledge.

In order for ejournals to represent a paradigm shift, they would have to represent a new method of knowledge acquisition or a new way of learning. If a new way of learning were to occur, this would represent a change in the educational paradigm. It is argued that the ability to pick and chose pathways of learning represents a change in traditional educational knowledge acquisition of teacher, or presenter guided pathways of learning (Langford & Hardin, 1999; Norris, 1999). However, does the ability for an individual to choose a pathway that is right for them and follow their own interests in acquiring knowledge, represent a change in the fundamental way of learning or learning theory? Willis (1998) states that instructional design is in the middle of a significant paradigm debate, from behavioral and cognitive science theories of learning to constructivism. This change to a boundaryless method of delivery of knowledge through the Internet may change the fundamental way that people learn or think.

If a change in the fundamental way that people learn and think is the result of the boundaryless delivery of knowledge through the Internet, then a paradigm shift is occurring. If this results in educators looking at how individuals learn in a new and different way from the learning that has occurred in the past, than ejournals may represent a way that learning is acquired. However, this does not mean that ejournals are the paradigm shift, they are only a method or aid to learning. Ejournals are not the paradigm shift, the new way of thinking which results from the boundaryless delivery of knowledge is the paradigm shift, and new theory related to this way of organizing knowledge will result according to Kuhn's idea of a scientific revolutions.

Postmodern Paradigm Shift

Watson (1995) describes postmodernism as the shift from the traditional western view of one reality and linear thinking to thinking in non-linear, multiple realities. Ejournals can also be examined as a change in paradigm from obtaining knowledge within boundaries of texts or two dimensionality of print to one of obtaining knowledge without boundaries or the restrictions of seeking one "truth." The shift from the boundaries of two dimensionality would certainly encompass the realm of ejournals where professionals and lay individuals are able to log on to a journal and obtain knowledge at will in their own time frame. However, does this shift really represent a new paradigm? If ejournals are only the pathways to obtaining new realities, they are not in themselves paradigm shifts, just, once again, the method of working within the new paradigm. To say that ejournals represent a paradigm shift makes them a much different concept than they are currently being used today.

Langford and Hardin (1999) argue that there has been a paradigm shift in nursing as a result of the electronic environment. They characterized this view as a switch in paradigm represented by the nursing simultaneity paradigm where there is a unification of time and space that is unbound, nonsequential, without absolutes. This fluidity of time and space is evident in ejournals and is especially evident in the conceptualization of OJIN where issues can be updated as new knowledge or thinking on topics progresses. However, can this idea really be called a paradigm shift. The ideas of boundarylessness and time and space unification have been present in nursing for over 20 years and have an exceptional theoretical basis in research and clinical practice. It is true that this idea is not the prevailing paradigm in nursing, but it is not a new thought or a new paradigm. It is one of the preparadigms currently active in nursing. According to Kuhn, there would be a paradigm shift if the predominance of thought would shift from the adaptive and empirical schools of thought that currently predominate nursing to the predominance and domination of the postmodern simultaneity paradigm. Kuhn states that preparadigms exist until one of the preparadigms answers more questions than the others do and is embraced by the discipline. If nursing is heading toward embracing one paradigm over the others and moving toward Kuhn's paradigm stage of knowledge, then this is a paradigm shift. However, even if this shift would occur in nursing, ejournals and computer surfing again only represent a method of experiencing the paradigm and not a paradigm shift in itself.

Norris talks about hyper linking in terms of the ability not only to bring the printed word to the professional and client, but, unlike written journals, to help understand, see, and experience in some fashion the thoughts that the writer has and can convey in an added dimension. This multidimensionality of the experience of writing and sharing ones thoughts that is not possible in the written world may represent a postmodern paradigm shift. Norris references Landow (1997), who states that the experience of traveling the net is constructed by the individual through the use of these hyperlinks. This individual construction of knowledge and reality implies multiple ways of envisioning the world. This ability to construct your reality and knowledge in unique ways supports the idea of a postmodern paradigm shift. However, ejournals represent only one way to gather knowledge and are not expansive enough to represent a postmodern paradigm shift. If ejournals truly presented knowledge in a new form different from written journals or in a new way, a paradigm shift may have occurred.

Ejournals have produced an advanced method of scholarly interaction in the sense that individuals can respond instantaneously to the articles and these responses can be published as soon as the editors receive them. This creates a more dynamic interaction than in the written journals again highlighting a more simultaneity paradigm than traditional journals allow. However, this in itself, is not a substantial enough change to represent a paradigm shift as described by Kuhn who states that paradigm shifts represent a new way of looking at the same events within a new, unique framework.

Written journals have always allowed the readers to access knowledge in their own domains without some of the time restrictions of other means information gathering. An individual can carry a written journal from one place to another and read it at will. However, ejournals allow for a different bending of the time-space concept. For example in OJIN, fluidity of thought and ideas can be seen when the specific issues relating to nursing can continue to be revisited and addressed without regard to the limitations of time that is present in the printed journals. Individuals can add to the body of knowledge of each issue as it changes just by writing a new article or letter to the editor. The advancement of knowledge and historical development of the issue can be chronologically recorded in ejournals in a way that has never been possible with the constraints of a written journal. The absence of page and space restrictions also adds another dimension to the limited two dimensionality of the printed journal, but it does not represent a significant shift in the essence of knowledge that is characteristic of Kuhn's scientific revolution.

Local To Global Paradigm Shift

Since access to ejournals is not limited to country of origin, religious affiliation, or international boundaries, it certainly fits into the notion of a paradigm shift from local to global worldview. And, as previously covered in this paper, ejournals also represent a shift from the traditional means of obtaining information to a newer method of delivery of professional knowledge and scholarship. Just as the printing press made written words more available to more people, so ejournals open up availability of knowledge to a much wider audience than ever before.

Online Dialogue sites are available for exchange of experiences in nursing and nursing knowledge. An example of this can be found at Nursenet (www.ualberta.ca/-jrnorris/nursenet/nurslists.html). Norris(1999) states the ability to communicate worldwide with nurses has changed the world of nursing from a local perspective to a global perspective This point of view is consistent with the idea that the Internet offers a change in world focus. However, again, ejournals are only one of the many forms of delivery of global knowledge and thought, they do not represent a paradigm shift in and of themselves.

Structure of Knowledge

... it is essential that a new paradigm of knowledge acquisition and distribution replace the existing one.


In this era of ejournals where knowledge is so readily available that there is not enough time to keep current with every issue in nursing, it is essential that a new paradigm of knowledge acquisition and distribution replace the existing one. The ready access to electronic information is here to stay and is something with which printed journals can no longer compete. The access to diversity of thought and the increasing ability to be creative in application through the exchange of multiple viewpoints is astounding through the methodology of ejournals.

Newman (1999) talks about periods of disorganization being forerunner to higher levels of organization and consciousness. This concept can be extended to what is occurring in education, nursing and health today where there is a disruption in the organization of knowledge distribution that will lead to a need for reorganization. This idea follows Kuhn's ideas of disorganization and chaos before the reorganization in a paradigm shift. Is it possible that with all of the disorganization in nursing and education today, we are in the disorganizational phase of structural revolution? Perhaps the nursing and educational leaders are correct in the assumption that the electronic revolution is producing a shift in paradigm for their disciplines. If so, this is a very exciting time to be in these fields. However, the disorganization of ways to structure knowledge and create ways of knowing in these fields are only precipitated by Internet access and ejournals. There is only a paradigm shift if we truly are changing our way of knowledge acquisition and conceptualization of boundaries and reality by evolving to another level of organizational structure.

Paradigm Shift or Not?

Are ejournals and the issues related to web knowledge acquisition just a part of the wholeness of knowledge integration or one method that represents a paradigm shift in thought to global awareness and the predominance of a simultaneity paradigm? It would be affirming to think that ejournals represent a paradigm shift. However, the current situation is that most online journals look just like the written journals, only on the computer. Medline even insists that ejournals have a volume and issue number so they can be listed. This is not the intent of many of the journals and certainly was not the intent of OJIN since it strives to be a dynamic, fluid journal. Until ejournals can expand out of thinking in two-dimensional boundaries and stop trying to look like printed journals, there really is no paradigm shift, just a different method of delivery of information within the existing paradigm of knowledge delivery and acquisition.

Ejournals have not begun to use and explore all of the unique methods of delivery of knowledge and stimulation of thought that are possible with the unlimitedness of the internet as it exists today. Kuhn states that paradigm shifts leads to grouping the same data in different ways. Ejournals must expand their focus and way of delivering information in a different way than written journals. This will lead to new and different methods of evaluation of scholarship. Some current ways that ejournals could be expanded include: videos of authors demonstrating their ideas in concrete practice areas; chat rooms where interested individuals could converse concerning topics of interest on issues specific to journal related matters; global exchange of information on specific concerns related to topics; question and answer forums for help on issues and exchange of ideas; web searches on issue topics; netmeetings related to topics, practice issues, research; theoretical framework construction among people from many areas around the globe; or collaborative research projects that could be reviewed and developed related to the issues at hand. The use of ejournals is only limited by the imagination of the individuals and the capability of the servers.

Ejournals are a new method of delivery of knowledge and building of scholarship. For us to evaluate them by two-dimensional methods and old ideas of scholarship instead of expanding our minds to the new possibilities is limiting and unjust. If we are to stimulate new ways of knowing, acquiring and structuring knowledge in a new organizational framework and new world view, we must not limit our imagination or our ways of looking at the issues at hand. We need to expand our thinking to the wholeness of knowledge. If this happens, a paradigm shift will occur that will expand our understanding of scholarship and knowledge acquisition.

Nurses must be able to use all of the resources available to them for research, practice and theory development. Until nurses begin to look at nursing science and the paradigm that best addresses the phenomena and client interests, there will be no real advancement.


Many authors declare that ejournals represent a paradigm shift. We would question what the prevailing paradigm is that is shifting. Certainly, a change in thinking has occurred with ejournals regarding boundaries of knowledge acquisition, however, does a change in thinking of the process of gathering knowledge represent a change in world view about knowledge? Does it represent a change in view about what knowledge is or the essence of knowledge? Does it represent a change in view about what science is, or what knowledge is and how that knowledge is used in practice? Have we developed new theories surrounding knowledge?

The answer appears to be that our fundamental worldview has not changed.

Ejournals change the way we educate, focus our practice, get jobs, share knowledge, and conduct scholarly communication with others in our profession. However, in ejournals currently we are only changing formats, there is no change in ideas of what is scholarship and what is not. It is a change in method, not thought or worldview, just an evolution of the existing paradigm of scholarship and dissemination of knowledge from traditional methods of publishing to more non-traditional methods. We may be in Kuhn's stage of disorganization leading to a change in paradigm, however, this change will have to be much broader than current ejournals to represent a true paradigm shift. Ejournals as currently used and evaluated do not in themselves present new ideas or new ways to structure knowledge that justify a paradigm shift. It is just a rearrangement of how we present information.

Ejournals will be demanded by nurses and clients in our society and are an economical necessity in today's world. Although ejournals may only represent a change in delivery method and not a true paradigm shift, they are necessary for current and future health care needs. Patients are currently accessing health information via the Internet as are nurse researchers, theorists, and clinicians. It is essential to be computer savvy for nurse researchers to keep in pace in knowledge areas, get grant applications, databases, and communicate with others. Nurse clinicians must be computer savvy in order to access the same knowledge bases as their clients in terms of current health knowledge and to expand their own learning. We need to continue to look at what this knowledge delivery methodology is capable of in terms of future directions of care and scholarship.


Susan L. Jones PhD, FAAN
Email: sjones@kent.edu

Susan L. Jones PhD, FAAN, is co-editor and the founding editor of the Online Journal of Issues in Nursing. She has a particular interest in all types of professional publishing, particularly electronic publishing. Currently, she is a professor of nursing at Kent State University College of Nursing in the graduate program in psychiatric mental health nursing. She servers on the editorial board of several other nursing journals.

Christina B. Cook PhD, RN
Email: ChrisBCook@aol.com

Christina B.Cook PhD, RN, is an associate editor for the Online Journal of Issues in Nursing. Currently, she is assistant professor at Kent State University College of Nursing and is actively involved in distance education program development and teaching a web based nursing research class.


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Citation: Jones, S., Cook, C. (January 31, 2000) "Electronic Journals: Are They A Paradigm Shift?" Online Journal of Issues in Nursing. Vol. 5, No. 1, Manuscript 1.