Planning for the Future of the ASHA Scholarly Journals

December 2016

Raymond D. Kent, PhD

Scholarly publishing is about 350 years old, dating back to 1665 with the publication of the propitiously titled Philosophical transactions: Giving some accompt [account] of the present understandings, studies, and labours of the ingenious in many considerable parts of the world (Ware & Mabe, 2015). The scholarly journals of the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) have a history dating back to 1936 with publication of the Journal of Speech Disorders. The inspiration for a journal was even earlier. In his reflections on the history of ASHA, Van Riper (1981) noted that the idea of an academy for speech correction independent of the National Association of Teachers of Speech (NATS) was discussed in 1925. The NATS publication, the Quarterly Journal of Speech, showed little enthusiasm for publishing work on the scientific aspects of communication disorders. Therefore, the formation of an academy and development of a scholarly journal were companion conceptions in these early years. The history of the ASHA scholarly publications program is shown graphically in Figure 1, a chronology of the program up to the present. The year 2025 is significant because it is the target year for an Envisioned Future of ASHA. The questions for the ASHA scholarly journals are (1) where should they be in the year 2025, and (2) how do they get there?

Reasons for the Review of the ASHA Journals Program

Several factors motivated the review of the ASHA journals program. First, there has been substantial growth in research activity in communication sciences and disorders (CSD) and related disciplines, and this growth is reflected by an increase in the number of manuscripts submitted for publication both nationally and globally. The growth is not only in the number of manuscripts but also in the types of information that can be published and disseminated. For example, there is a pressing need for the publication of data sets. Second, changes in scholarly publishing offer new opportunities and challenges for an organization such as ASHA, which is both a professional society and a publisher. Many of the opportunities are associated with digital publishing technology. Third, evidence-based practice leads to an increasing demand for clinical practice research. The demand is twofold: for the data proper and for the means by which data are delivered and disseminated. Fourth, editors are facing challenges in manuscript review, including but not limited to recruitment of reviewers; assuring timely, respectful, and constructive reviews of submitted manuscripts; and expanding the content of the journals to keep pace with scientific and professional advances.

Scholarly publishing is undergoing a transformation. Until fairly recently, journals were analog, serial, static, limited in dissemination, marginally interactive, and self-contained. But journals are moving toward a future that is digital, parallel, dynamic, widely disseminated, highly interactive, and multiply connected. This transformation has been the subject of several conferences, books, and articles (Cope & Phillips, 2014; Mons et al., 2011; Royal Society of London, 2015; Ware & Mabe, 2015) that almost uniformly issue a clarion call of change. The consequences of this transformation are very likely to be profound, affecting the practices and expectations of authors, editors, reviewers, and readers. Strategic planning for the ASHA journals program must take into account the sweeping changes affecting scholarly journals in all fields.

Work of the Committee

These and other factors were considered in a review of the ASHA journals program. The Ad Hoc Committee on Strategic Planning for the Journals Program (henceforth the Committee) was formed by the ASHA Board of Directors in 2014, and the Committee submitted its report to the Board in October 2015. The work of the Committee included monthly conference calls, two face-to-face meetings, and a meeting with the Publications Board. Materials considered by the Committee included the ASHA Scholarly Journals Survey Report (ASHA, July 2014), recommendations and reports from the ASHA Publications Office, various sources on scholarly journal publishing, and statistics on manuscript management and related matters. The members of the Committee are listed in the Appendix.

Functions of a Scholarly Journal

The main functions of a scholarly journal, as outlined by Ware and Mabe's (2015) STM Report, are listed below, along with comments specific to the ASHA journals.

1. Registration. Journals accomplish a third-party establishment by date-stamping of the author's precedence and ownership of an idea or set of data. In this sense, journals are the vehicle for asserting the parenthood of intellectual property. Even if the copyright often is assigned to the publisher of the journal, as is usually the case with ASHA's journals, the author's rights and privileges are safeguarded. Registration is a mutual agreement by the journal and the author(s) to declare ownership of ideas and discoveries.

2. Dissemination. Journals communicate research findings to their intended audiences through the brand identity of the particular journal. The audience of the ASHA journals is composed primarily of researchers, instructors, students, practicing clinicians, and related professionals. Annually, across the ASHA journal titles, articles are downloaded approximately 2 million times per year. The international reach of the ASHA journals is enlarging, with respect to both authors and readership. Evidence-based practice creates a strong and growing demand for clinical practice research that will inform services related to prevention, assessment, and treatment, as well as policy decisions in health care and educational settings.

3. Credibility (or certification). Through its editorial processes and standards, a journal ensures quality control. An essential component is peer review: Journals are only possible through the participation of qualified and conscientious reviewers. Because the ASHA journals publish large numbers of papers in both basic research and applied clinical research, there is a need for reviewers with competence in specialized areas including both the topics of and methodologies of research. Scholarly journals promote and maintain community standards for the conduct of research and scholarship, including ethical considerations as well as issues of research design and execution. One component of journal credibility is its impact, typically calculated from citation data. The Thomson Reuters Journal Citation Reports (JCR) and its Journal Impact Factor (JIF) are well-known examples but several alternatives are available and may be preferable (Bollen, Van de Sompel, Hagberg, & Chute, 2009).

4. Archival record. In either print or online formats, journals preserve a fixed version of a paper, called the article of record, for future reference or citation. Since 2009, the article of record for papers published in the ASHA journals has been the online version.

This archival function, or collective knowledge base, is the lifeblood of scholarly communication and is also the means by which authors can attest to their productivity for purposes such as employment, promotion, applications for grants and contracts, and professional reputation. Furthermore, the archive is a means of building a scholarly or professional community. To a large extent, disciplines and professions are identified with, and defined by, their respective journals. The ASHA scholarly journals help to mark the intellectual territory of CSD as well as define the professional domains of audiology and speech-language pathology.

5. Navigation. Especially through the technology of electronic publishing, journals provide filters and signposts to relevant work in the expanding universe of published material and related items such as data sets. ASHAWire is a highly useful tool in meeting navigational needs, as it features enhanced PDFs, pointers to related articles and topic collections, PowerPoint slides from figures, and supplemental materials. It is expected that articles will be increasingly attached to supporting or related information, so that navigation becomes an essential tool to discover and manage this information.

The Scholarly Publishing Life Cycle

As shown in Figure 2, scholarly publishing can be conceptualized as a cyclical pattern that involves the following phases.

Content development is the design of information presented for a particular purpose to a target audience through a channel in one or more forms (e.g., text, graphics, audio, video). Information or knowledge is the substance of content development, but the process also pertains to the way in which that information or knowledge is delivered. Digital publishing technology has greatly expanded the horizons of designing and delivering content.

Peer review is a process in which experts (typically two or more) in the relevant topic area evaluate manuscripts for potential publication at the request of a journal editor. Although peer review is not perfect, it continues to be the primary means of evaluating the scholarly and scientific quality of manuscripts (Hames, 2014; Ware & Mabe, 2015).

Production is a process that takes an article through copy editing, typesetting, inclusion in a specific issue of a journal, and then publishing online and/or in print.

Dissemination is the process of spreading knowledge and information to various groups and settings. This process can include not only the original article but also abstracts (that may be translated into different languages to facilitate global awareness), data sets, derived graphics, and other supplemental materials.

Digital curation is the set of actions that maintain digital research data and other materials over their entire lifecycle and over time for current and future generations. Curation applies not only to the original research article but also to related data sets or other information sources or alternative formats of information presentation (e.g., audio or video files).

Knowledge translation is the application of knowledge gained through research to influence practice in various settings. It is not sufficient simply to generate research data. What is needed are mechanisms and systems by which the data can be accurately interpreted and conveyed to practitioners. Ideally, practitioners such as audiologists and speech-language pathologists would inform the process of content development, thereby helping to complete the circle of scholarly publishing.

Summary of Committee Recommendations

The Committee restricted its review to the four scholarly journals: American Journal of Audiology (AJA); American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology (AJSLP); Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research ( JSLHR); and Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools (LSHSS). As can be seen in Figure 1, ASHA's scholarly publishing program is now an octogenarian with a history that includes several types of publications but the centerpiece has been and continues to be the peer-reviewed scholarly journal published on a periodic basis. The four journals now published represent the scholarly and professional breadth of the discipline of CSD. Figure 1 illustrates the both the increasing span of the journals (e.g., the inclusion of hearing and language in the journal titles) and the consolidation of content in the periodical journals (such as the use of supplements and now special issues to achieve the goals earlier satisfied by ASHA Reports and ASHA Monographs). The ASHA publications portfolio contains additional periodicals noted at the bottom of Figure 1. These publications did not fall within the purview of the Committee's work but they should be recognized for their substantial roles in the publications program.

The Committee identified three major initiatives that we believe would enhance the journals program for authors, editors, reviewers, and readers.

Initiative 1: Ensure the sustainability and effectiveness of editorial oversight and peer review. This initiative is to be accomplished by transitioning to an editorial board model, creating a journals board, and enhancing the quality and culture of peer review. In ASHA's new editorial board model, six editors-in-chief (EICs) will provide oversight of their respective journals, assign manuscripts to editors, handle problems that arise in the review process, and recruit and develop content. Each journal will have one EIC, except for JSLHR which will have an EIC for each the three areas of speech, language, and hearing. Working under the direction of the EICs, editors—numbering 40—will be responsible for manuscript management, including selection of reviewers and making editorial decisions on submitted manuscripts. These editors will correspond with the authors of submitted manuscripts. The reviewer pool will include about 175 individuals who will serve as editorial board members for their respective journals and will agree to review at 8–10 manuscripts annually. In addition to these dedicated reviewers, ad hoc reviewers will continue to be called upon by editors as needed. The editorial board members will receive modest compensation and will be listed on the journal masthead in recognition of their service to the journals.

The new Journals Board (which replaces the Publications Board effective January 1, 2017) will consist of 13 members, including a chair, 6 ex officio members who are EICs of the four journals, 3 clinical representatives, 1 representative from the Committee on Clinical Research, Implementation Science, and Evidence-Based Practice (CRISP), 1 international representative, and 1 paid public member with expertise in areas such as publications, information science, and e-learning. Peer review will be enhanced by establishing a peer review excellence program (PREP) consisting of a peer-review academy featuring multimedia and e-learning resources on performing reviews; peer-review cohorts in which reviewers, including junior researchers, can be identified by factors such as employment type, area of expertise, and specialized knowledge; and a more structured program of recognition for peer reviewers. These actions should address a current problem that editors face in recruiting reviewers and also will provide valuable assistance to reviewers.

Initiative 2: Increase strategic content development. The main milestones of this initiative are to refine the content portfolio of the ASHA journals, facilitate content recruitment by the EICs and the editors, and increase author engagement. Underlying this initiative is the important concept that ASHA is not simply a passive publisher but rather has an active role in seeking content, attracting authors, and designing publication formats. The content portfolio can be refined by recasting the journal mission statements and including a description of the scope of each journal, so that authors can understand how the four journals relate to one another and how they differ in focus and emphasis. The editorial body of each ASHA journal will lead this effort by identifying trends, new discoveries, and potential authors. Increasing author engagement will include development of an author resource center that will guide authors through the process of manuscript preparation and submission. Transparency is paramount and authors will be given clear expectations as to how the editorial process will unfold.

Initiative 3: Grow the visibility, impact, and use of the journals. To accomplish this objective, steps will be taken to develop a more rapid publication model, expand content curation, broaden the subscription base and product offerings, and expand knowledge translation efforts. These objectives can be satisfied in part by advances in publishing technology that reduce publication delays, facilitate digital curation, and enable specialized announcements and content packaging. Knowledge translation is the process of moving knowledge learned through research and applying it in various practice settings and circumstances. For a field as diverse as CSD, knowledge translation is an ambitious undertaking in which the journals program can play a vital part by disseminating materials that inform clinical practice. Although the journals program alone cannot fully accomplish all aspects of knowledge translation, the journals are the primary vehicle by which to vet and disseminate the essential information.

Conclusion

Given the changes, challenges, and opportunities that confront scholarly publishing, it is timely to have undergone a thorough review of the ASHA scholarly publishing program. In addition to the issues that face nearly all scholarly journals, the ASHA journals must grapple with issues inherent to clinical practice, in particular, the need to build the evidence base for that practice. The recommendations summarized in this article are designed to improve the experiences of authors, editors, reviewers, and readers with the four scholarly journals published by ASHA and to advance the goals of knowledge translation and evidence-based practice.

Appendix

Members of the Ad Hoc Committee on Strategic Planning for the Journals Program

  • Edward Conture, PhD, CCC-SLP
  • Larry Humes, PhD, CCC-A
  • Marie Ireland, MEd, CCC-SLP
  • Raymond D. Kent, PhD (Chair)
  • Swathi Kiran, PhD, CCC-SLP
  • Sonja Pruitt-Lord, PhD, CCC-SLP
  • Mary Ann Romski, PhD, CCC-SLP
  • Anne Smith, PhD
  • Mike Cannon, MA (Ex Officio, Director of Serial Publications and Editorial Services)
  • Margaret Rogers, PhD, CCC-SLP (Chief Staff Officer for Science and Research)
  • Howard Goldstein PhD, CCC-SLP (2013-2015 Vice President for Science and Research)

Figure 1

Chronology of the ASHA Publications Program

Figure 1. Chronology of the ASHA publications program, from its origin in 1936 to the present. The period of publication is shown for each journal by the horizontal lines. Vertical lines at the right end of a horizontal line indicate cessation of publication. The year 2025 is targeted as the Envisioned Future. The currently published journals are in bold font.

Figure 2

Scholarly Publishing Life Cycle

Figure 2. The scholarly publishing life cycle.

References

American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. (2014, July). ASHA scholarly journals survey report. Rockville, MD: Author.

Bollen, J., Van de Sompel, H., Hagberg, A., & Chute, R. (2009). A principal component analysis of 39 scientific impact measures. PloS One, 4, e6022.

Cope, B., & Phillips A. (Eds.). (2014). The future of the academic journal (2nd ed.). Oxford, England: Chandos/Elsevier Limited.

Hames, I. (2014). Peer review at the beginning of the 21st century. Science Editing, 1(1), 4–8.

Mons, B., van Haagen, H., Chichester, C., Hoen, P., den Dunnen, J. T., van Ommen, G., ... Shultes, E. (2011). The value of data. Nature Genetics, 43, 281–283.

Royal Society of London. (2015). The future of scholarly scientific communication. Report from a conference held April 20-21, 2015, by the Royal Society of London. Available from https://royalsociety.org/science-events-and-lectures/2015/04/future-of-scholarly-scientific-communication-part-1/.

Van Riper, C. (1981). An early history of ASHA. Asha Magazine, 23, 855–858.

Ware, M., & Mabe, M. (2015). The STM report: An overview of scientific and scholarly journal publishing. The Hague, The Netherlands: International Association of Scientific, Technical and Medical Publishers.

ASHA Corporate Partners