Professional Counseling Journals: Implementing On-Line Editing and Peer Review

Article excerpt

One of the most significant developments of the last decade has been the growth of the Internet and the World Wide Web (WWW). During that time, the Internet has gone from a small computer network used by a few academics to a worldwide communication system used by over 200 million people in 52 nations (NUA Limited, 1999). Over 110 million of these users are in the United States and Canada.

Growth of the WWW has been more impressive in light of the fact that there were only about 50 pages on the Web in 1992, whereas today there are 800 million pages on the Web, containing more than 6 trillion characters (Lawrence & Giles, 1999). The popularity of the Web is evident in a 1996 study finding that in one 3-month period in 1995, Americans and Canadians spent as much time surfing the Web as the total playback time of all rented videotapes in the two countries (Masotto, 1995). More recently, NetRatings, Inc. (1999) reported that by November of 1999, 74 million people in the U.S. were using the Web and 118.4 million had Web access.

Given the size and popularity of these new media, it is logical for editors and publishers of academic journals to ask if the Internet and Web could be used to provide more efficient, more timely, and less expensive ways to carry out the peer review and editing procedures that previously depended on the traditional mail system.

At present, many journals, including Counselor Education and Supervision (CES), as well as all 15 other publications of the American Counseling Association (ACA), have moved to what might be termed a quasi-electronic system, requiring all accepted articles to be submitted to ACA's Publication Department by mail on a diskette. The preferred format of the computer file is WordPerfect or Microsoft Word for Windows. (ASCII or Macintosh Text file format is also acceptable, but not preferred.)

Mail-based systems, including the quasi-electronic one described earlier, have been criticized on several grounds. First, every author is aware of the considerable time lag between submission and publication. Peters (1996), for example, pointed out that the entire process from manuscript submission through final publication is considered rapid if it requires only 6 months and 2-year time spans are not uncommon. When the CES staff receives a manuscript, an evaluation packet must be assembled and marled to the reviewers, and the reviews must be mailed back to the editor. This operation, including 30 days for the reviewer to complete his or her work, takes approximately 44 days, 14 of which are devoted to processing the reviews and transporting them in the U.S. mail. An on-line system could conceivably result in reducing this time period by as much as one third. Although it would be possible to eliminate this problem by eliminating peer review, most professionals recognize that peer review is an essential part of the scientific method. Harnad (1995) suggested that without peer review, readers will have no idea what is worth reading, and he added that peer review is an essential feedback mechanism for quality control.

CES staff actually does quite well on the time lag between manuscript submission and publication. The journal currently has an average period of 8.4 months between initial submission and publication. Of course, everyone concerned would welcome any improvement in this record.

Another disadvantage to the mail system is the postal expense involved in sending manuscripts back and forth between authors, reviewers, editors, and publishers. Another major expense is the considerable photocopying of the reviewers' critiques, the editor's comments, and so on. Although the Internet and the Web are certainly not free, there is currently no charge for individual Web pages or e-mail messages, and Internet access fees are typically paid in a lump sum by institutions such as universities.

CES spends approximately $1,600 per year on postage and photocopying. …