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June 20, 2012

Journal awards

I have been blogging about journal quality, and one of the signs to look out for is whether a journal has won an award or not. Journal home pages might tell of any awards that they have won. But what awards are there for journals, and which are prestigious?

I had a look around on Google and on various society websites for awards, honours and prizes, and on journal home pages and publishers' websites, and have written about what I found here. If you know of other such awards or can say something about the value of any of those mentioned here then please do comment on this blog post.

If I had chosen a particular case study discipline and invested a lot more time, then I would have been able to develop an appreciation for the prestige and value of the awards. However, this is a brief overview of what it is easy to find out about, across the disciplines.

Publishers' awards

This is an interesting angle because it doesn't relate to the individual journal, and indeed a prize won by a publisher might be for aspects of its publishing work beyond the journal publishing part of its business. I wasn't looking for these but came across a couple:

An author who is assessing a journal's suitability for his/her article might be attracted to a journal from a successful publisher, but there is a lot more that can be said about what publishers do and can do for authors, beyond the scope of this blog post.

Journal title awards

  • Council of Editors of Learned Journal Awards, eg the CELJ 2011 Voyager Award, won by "Eigtheenth Century Fiction" by the University of Toronto Press, for its quality and originality of contribution to Eighteenth century studies, particularly because of its interdisciplinarity, according to the Project MUSE Spring newsletter. I note that the CELJ awards can only be won by journals who are members of the council (and there are 11 pages of members on their site, and that the CELJ are an "allied organization" of the Modern Language Association, which adds to the prestige of this award.
  • Association of Learned and Professional Society Publishers (ALPSP) awards, eg The ALPSP Award for Publishing Innovation awarded in 2011 to the "Your Better Life Index" by the OECD, which is an interactive tool presenting statistics relating to countries. The ALPSP is "the international association for nonprofit publishers and those who work with them" and also displays a list of members on its site. Membership does not seem to be a prerequisite for a journal's eligibility for their awards.
  • The British and Irish Association of Law Librarians (BIALL) has a Legal Information group, which gives awards to legal journals.
  • The UK's Medical Journalists' Association give awards, including one for the Medical Publication of the Year.

Journal article awards

Also, there are awards for individual articles or papers rather than to whole journal titles, eg the Waste Management and Research journal has published articles that have won The James Jackson Medal from The Chartered Institution of Waste Management, in three different years.

Is an article award a sign of the quality of the writing and the research, or of the publication, or are the two inextricably linked?

Another example is the Lenssen Prize for the best paper on the teaching of philosophy, awarded by The American Association of Philosophy Teachers (AAPT). The "Teaching Philosophy" journal refers to this award and describes itself as an award winning title.

Once again, I am interested in what the journal and journal publisher add to the value of the work that they publish.

Some journal publishers offer awards for articles that are published in their own titles, so if you find a journal with an award winning article, it is worth finding out who gave out the award. Some examples of this are:

Large publishing houses' awards for papers are likely to be valuable as indications of quality, given that they publish so much content. And the granting of such awards or sponsorship of others' awards are something that publishers are doing for academic authors.

Even amongst smaller publishers, there may be considerable prestige in awards, depending on the quality and prestige of the publisher themselves. This is where an understanding of the academic discipline or field is important.

Journal editors' awards

There are at least two categories of these to look out for on journal home pages: there are awards for editorship, and then there are academic awards.

The Professional Publishers Association (PPA) has Editor of the Year awards. The PPA is a UK trade association for the publishing industry, representing companies who publish a range of types of content, from magazines to commercial data but I looked at the membership list for academic publishers and didn't find the big players. PPA have "Independent Publisher" awards and "Data and Digital Publishing Awards", amongst others, and looking at those winners gives a clue as to the membership and types of publishers they represent: it's not a highly academic field, although the business information sources are undoubtedly going to be of use to academics in that discipline. Similarly, there are the British Society of Magazine Editors' awards, and the BSME are also less academically focussed: likewise with the American Society of Magazine Editors' awards.

Some publishers give awards to their editors, for example Emerald and the American Society of Civil Engineers have editors' awards.

There are also academic awards and prizes that an editor might be a recipient of, for his/her wider work eg The Journal of Quantitative Criminology tells of the Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences award given to its co-editor, Alex Piquero. Wikipedia has a good listing of major academic awards, with information about each of them. If a prestigious academic is the editor of a journal, is this a sign that the journal itself is prestigious?

Some publishers sponsor the prizes awarded by others, eg Elsevier sponsored the 2011 THE Outstanding Contribution to Innovation and Technology award.

Journal Writers' awards

Similarly, writers can be recipients of academic prizes and there are writers' awards, eg the Association of British Science Writers' Awards for Britain and Ireland which aim to reward excellence in science journalism: the publications where these writers' work features include New Scientist and Nature, but also newspapers.

And there are publishers who also offer prizes to writers, like Emerald (see above for a link).

Another example of a writers' award is the Frank R. Smith award, of the Society for Technical Communication. This award "recognizes the authors of exceptional articles that appeared in Technical Communication during a calendar year." Technical Communication is the peer reviewed journal of the society.

The Frank R. Smith award is an interesting example because it's an award within a particular journal so as a sign of the quality of the journal itself, it has to be looked at in a different light. The fact that the journal makes its own awards could be a sign of the prestige of the journal, as with assessments of the publisher depending on whether it has won awards or whether it is large enough to grant or sponsor awards. Knowledge of the field or discipline would help to properly assess the value of any such awards as signs of quality.

My conclusion

When assessing the quality of a journal, and reading that a journal is "award winning", I would be careful to find out who granted the award, what it was for and whether the award is for the journal itself or for articles within it or people who work on it. All such awards might be signs of quality but they need to be taken in context.

On the whole, I'm not sure that authors are particularly concerned about who the publisher is and whether or not they are award winning. Authors might be glad to know of the existence of a publishers' own award scheme, or the publishers' eligibility for them to win a prize granted by others, in that they might win a prize but I doubt it will be a primary concern when choosing a journal for publication.

There is the Elsevier boycott which indicates that authors might be negatively influenced by who the publisher is, and there is a lot more to be considered on the matter of the value a publisher gives to a journal and its authors, and indeed whether or not the publisher themselves might be an indicator of the quality of the journal.

June 08, 2012

Unpublished papers: what happens to them? How do we tell a quality paper?

Writing about web page

Researchers are discussing some interesting topics on ResearchGate. I have linked to a discussion on what happens to papers that they don't manage to get published. I like the answer that they keep refining papers until they are good enough to get accepted for publication eventually. Academic authors need to be persistent and resilient, and published content needs to be of high quality!

However, there is a hierarchy of publication quality out there, and as well as improving their articles, authors can approach less selective or rigorous journals, if their aim is simply to get their work published and out in the public domain. The discussion on ResearchGate was started by someone who has established a website for "Unpublished Articles In Science" ( It's a new site and I didn't find any content. I am also not sure if they want any kind of article or only review articles, and they are asking for donations so I will wait and see if it takes off in any way.

This is not a new idea, to provide a "mop up" place online for academic work that would otherwise not be discoverable. Some institutional repositories were set up as places to make all kinds of research outputs available, including unpublished work. I guess that some authors might just get frustrated enough that their work cannot be published in any other way and put their article(s) somewhere like that, but I wonder what the value is in doing this? Perhaps some really important scholarly works are being missed by the world, but perhaps some works are just not of high enough quality and so should not be publicly available: they might even be misleading.

Surely the peer review and editorial processes of journals exist for a reason? If the work is not of high enough quality to be published, then should it really be in the public domain? Would it not damage an author's career, to have lesser quality work attributed to him/her in such a public way? It is possible that a particular piece of research is just too different for there to be an appropriate journal or publishing outlet, even though it is of high quality and importance. The "differentness" of the output could be that it is in an unusual format or that the subject is highly unusual, and the researcher might be glad of a place that simply makes the work publicly available.

Institutional repositories which accept any kind of output, whether published or not, rely on their academics' judgement about what is a good output. In a way, there is a quality filter of some sort because the author must be employed by the institution, so there is some likelihood that s/he will be able to select what should and should not be in the public domain and associated with his/her name. Some institutions even introduce internal peer review in some way, for unpublished outputs.

At the same time, publishers are introducing new journal titles which appear a little less selective. I am thinking of their author-pays open access (OA) titles, since authors' letters of rejection from their journal of choice sometimes include a suggestion that the article could now be submitted to the publisher's open access journal. The concept of the author paying a publication fee has always been an argument against the open access model of publication, because it interferes with the quality filters in the existing reader-pays model. Of course, the article could still be rejected from the OA journal and there is no reason why peer review could not operate just as rigorously in OA journals as in any other journals.

New, online journals or article collections are not bound by the same format and issue restrictions as traditional journals, and that does allow them to accept more "different" content. The selectiveness or otherwise of an online journal need not be dictated by the amount of print space and paper, but it can use selective criteria based on quality alone. That sounds like a "good thing"!

OA journals can still be of very high quality, as evidenced by the PLoS journals' high impact factor. (I have blogged about these kinds of publication before, and of course I know that impact factors are not infallible measures of quality.) PLoS ONE is the largest, most inclusive journal from PLoS and it has some really interesting features and filters, to enable people to discover high quality research outputs.

With online journals and collections of academic outputs, as with all online materials, the reader needs to be more aware than ever of the features that indicate the quality of the work s/he is reading. Hopefully, the reader will read widely and so be aware of the field, when reading academic content, but beyond the readers' own expertise and academic insight, websites and online journals have features to help readers to assess quality.

Here is a little list of clues on academic quality, including traditional as well as new online features:

  1. place of publication: eg journal title, or special collection within a wider collection like PLoS ONE
  2. information about the authors: institution employed at, membership of organisations, etc
  3. information about who funded the work - they value it, but you might also want to ask why.
  4. when the work was published: this might be recent or it might be before a defining discovery altered academic understanding, so dates are important clues!
  5. whose work is referenced and acknowledged, and therefore this work builds upon
  6. news & media coverage
  7. reviews or comments by other readers, either on the collection site or on readers' blogs.
  8. ratings/scores by other readers
  9. tweets about the article (or other social network discussions)
  10. number of "likes" or bookmarks by other readers
  11. number of views or downloads of an article
  12. citations of the article by others (NB citation sources might matter, i.e. who is citing the work)

Publishers can help readers to access these clues, and providing trackback URLs and ways for readers to bookmark articles in their tool of choice, in a way that the publisher can monitor and publicise are important contributions that a publisher can make. And bullet points 7 onwards in my list are numerical scores, and as such should be taken in context. What is a high score for an article in one discipline might seem low in another discipline: publishers could also provide that context, if they want to help readers to appreciate the quality of the work that they are publishing.

Sites like the UNAIS, institutional repositories and even authors' own sites need to be as good as publishers at providing clues as to quality, if not better, since their quality filters are less well known and understood. And readers do need to be aware.

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