April 2015 – From the Isis Editorial Office

ISIS Screenshot

About a month ago, in early March, Isis joined a myriad of other scholarly journals in adopting an on-line submission and tracking system. Called “Editorial Manager” (EM), the system is run by a company named Aries Systems, which currently serves over 5,800 journals. EM is fully supported by a dedicated team at the University of Chicago Press (UCP). Loads of editorial experience have gone into the making of the system, which has been thoroughly tested in everyday practice. For example, user conferences are regularly set up by Aries for keeping the system up-to-date and for eliminating reported bugs.

Two Testing Rounds

Of course, each journal has its own specific way of dealing with manuscripts, and much of the functionality of EM is superfluous for Isis. This became readily apparent when Tim Harper, a UCP employee with EM expertise, visited our Utrecht office for two enlightening summer days. So as not to bother our authors, referees, and book reviewers with needless questions and pointless menus, we decided to subject the preliminary version, prepared by Tim, to a severe testing round. To that end, I devised various scenarios, full of things that in practice may go wrong, so as to find out how the system would respond. Our first testing round involved all of us at the Editorial Office, along with half a dozen MA students who are enrolled in our local History and Philosophy of Science program, all of them members of a newly created group called Horus. (Horus is comprised of Dutch or Flemish MA and PhD students with an interest in the editorial process and publication practice of Isis.) For two weeks we submitted and refereed fake manuscripts and also invited and uploaded imagined book reviews. We also made an effort to simulate real life situations by neglecting to submit the accompanying figures, or by submitting a manuscript to Isis that was already under consideration elsewhere, or by failing to reply to a message at all, or whatever else occurred to us by way of a conceivable deviation from the ideal workflow. This first test round yielded quite a number of change requests, most of which Tim Harper could implement in the EM version for Isis.

However, book reviews form a special kind of submission type. EM was not created for this kind of material, but we nevertheless tested the system quite extensively to see if we could find a way to work with EM for all of our submissions. In December I devised a second test round, with a view to finding out how the modified version of EM-for-Isis would work for both manuscripts and book reviews. This time not only the Horus students helped us with the testing, but also colleagues of the Isis staff and even one assistant’s parents. Just ahead of the Christmas break we managed to finalize this second test round.

In January, we were lucky to receive Tim Harper at our office once again. This visit sufficed to resolve a final set of problems, but in the meantime we had come to the conclusion that EM is fine for handling manuscripts but not really adequate for the mass of book reviews that Isis regularly publishes. So we will continue to use a simple and elegant system already set up at the start of our Utrecht activities by one of the two book review assistants, Noortje Jacobs. Not until a book review has gone through Joan Vandegrift’s manuscript editing process and is ready to be published, will the Isis staff upload it into EM.

Editorial Manager For Authors, Referees, And Book Reviewers

Until EM was launched, all correspondence and submissions of manuscripts and book reviews had been done by e-mail. This is the easiest way of communicating, but it fails to keep track of who is working on which submission and when it needs to be returned. We also needed a system to keep contact information of all people involved up to date, thus replacing a database that had become obsolete. All of this communicating and tracking is now being done either through EM or through the book review system set up by Noortje.

What does this mean for you as an author, referee, or book reviewer?

For book reviewers, things more or less remain the same. We send the invitation to review a book using EM, so that we have your contact information stored in a safe place. You will receive a regular e-mail in your mailbox to which you can respond to by clicking either a link “Accept” or a link “Decline.” If (as we always hope) you accept, you will be asked either to confirm or to provide a regular address to which we can send the book. If you decline, you will be invited to suggest the name or names of other suitable reviewers.

Manuscript authors and referees will find their respective guidelines on the Isis website.

As an author, if you want to submit a manuscript and you do not yet have an account for EM, you register first, simply by entering your first and last name and your e-mail address. An account name and password, which you may always change as you see fit, will immediately be sent to you by e-mail, so that you can log in to EM as an “author.” Once you select “Submit new manuscript,” a few easy steps will take you through the submission process. None of the information entered will get lost if for whatever reason you have to interrupt the procedure. Once you have successfully uploaded your manuscript, the system will confirm receipt.

For referees, if you are not already registered in EM, we will do it for you. You will receive an e-mail invitation to review a manuscript, together with your username and password (both of which are invisible to us). That message also contains a link to accept and a link to decline to review the manuscript. The “Decline” link brings you to a window where you may state why you are declining and/or suggestions for other suitable referees. If you agree to review the manuscript, the “Accept” link takes you directly to EM, where you will find the manuscript and where, at a later stage, you can upload your report.

Please rest assured that you can always retrieve your username and/or password by clicking the “Send Username/Password” button on the EM homepage.

As you are reading this, we have been working with EM for about a month. EM brings Isis even further into the 21st century, and it helps us make our office more environmentally-friendly and almost paperless. Above all, EM facilitates the whole manuscript refereeing process and generates a solid database for manuscripts, book reviews, and people information. Since many other journals use EM, you may already be familiar with the system. Please rest assured that, if you run into any trouble at all or if you have any questions, you may always send an e-mail message to the Isis Editorial Office (IsisJournal@uu.nl). We will be happy to assist you.

Desiree Capel
Managing Editor Isis

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