Editing a rheumatology journal – challenges and solutions

Vikas Agarwal MD, DM, MAMS
Professor, Department of Clinical Immunology and Rheumatology, Sanjay Gandhi Postgraduate Institute of Medical Sciences, Lucknow

What are the three biggest challenges in editing a medical journal?

The three biggest challenges in my view are:

  1. Getting quality original articles for publication
  2. Getting quality reviewers and timely reviews
  3. Lack of knowledge about scientific writing, plagiarism and publication ethics amongst authors, reviewers and even editors at times

What are the major challenges while editing a rheumatology journal specifically?

Rheumatology being a relatively new and upcoming specialty in India, has a small community of practicing rheumatologists in the country, more so in academic institutions. Therefore, most rheumatologists are overworked and have little time for conducting original studies and even less time to write a manuscript and publish. During my tenure as an editor, I observed a lack of good-quality original articles being submitted to the Indian Journal of Rheumatology (IJR) from our fellow rheumatologists either due to a lack of respect for the journal or due to the misconception that a Scopus-indexed journal is inferior to PubMed-indexed journals. Therefore, most of the submissions received were of average quality and only very few articles had original good quality data. Additionally, rheumatologists in academia generally submit their original articles to established rheumatology journals already indexed in PubMed and having good impact factors. To compound the problems further, there is a lack of quality reviewers in rheumatology due to a very small pool of rheumatologists. There are very few subject experts who have the time to review a manuscript, without any incentive. Since most in the small community of rheumatologists in India are working overtime, there is a great deficit in the pool of reviewers for the IJR. Timely reviewer reports are another challenge, which eventually leads to delays in the decision-making about the article. Another great challenge that I faced was a lack of knowledge about scientific writing, plagiarism and publication ethics amongst authors which add to the burden of work of the reviewers and the editors.

Does “not indexed in PubMed” mean that the “journal is not indexed”? In light of the National Medical Commission’s requirements for publication(s) for progression in academia, where does the Indian Journal of Rheumatology stand?

Unfortunately, for most doctors in India “not indexed in PubMed” means “journal is not indexed.” This reflects their lack of knowledge about the indexing of a journal. As far as IJR is concerned, it is indexed in Scopus and Web of Science and it fulfils the requirement of the National Medical Commission (NMC) for progression in academia. Moreover, IJR follows a ‘Platinum Open Access’ policy whereby neither authors nor readers have to pay for publishing or reading the article, and the published articles are accessible to one and all freely.

In a small fraternity of rheumatologists in India, how do you go about finding new helping hands (editors and reviewers)?

One of the most difficult tasks for me as an editor was to have a team of dedicated and well-informed editors and reviewers for the journal. Most of the time, editors are picked up by word of mouth, personal acquaintances, invitations to faculty members in academia or those who are currently publishing good quality articles and those who volunteer. Past track of publications does help in selecting editors and reviewers.

How does a young rheumatologist interested in reviewing and editing for journals start? What are the resources to learn and polish the art, the pathway to get involved and the opportunities?

For the young rheumatologists who are interested in reviewing and editing articles for the journal, I have the following suggestions: first, have good knowledge about the subject area (may limit to one or two or few topics) and become a registered member of Rheumatology society; co-author papers with the supervisor or an established researcher; present papers in national and international conferences; contact journal directly and express your desire to be a reviewer or an editor; make yourself well versed with scientific writing and publication ethics; have good command over written English language; share some new ideas with the journal editor regarding the process of review and editing; keep publishing articles in as many journals as possible as every published article will add to your experience which will help you as a reviewer or editor. Knowledge about statistical tools and statistics adds to the chances of being called upon to review/edit an article. Those who are interested should familiarize themselves with ICMJE and COPE guidelines. As far as the opportunities are concerned, most of the journals today are facing a crunch of good reviewers, so opportunities are aplenty if you volunteer. Quality and timely reviews build a good reputation, which goes a long way in boosting your chances of becoming a permanent reviewer/editor for the journal.

Prof Vikas Agarwal was the editor-in-chief of the Indian Journal of Rheumatology from 2019 to 2022.