A DIY guide to starting your own journal

An antidote to frustrations with traditional academic publishing might be to launch a grass-roots open access journal. Here are the steps to consider

Judith Johnson's avatar
University of Leeds
26 Jun 2023
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Why does open access make publishing more complicated?
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Academic publishing’s profit margins are reportedly higher than those of Apple, Google and Amazon. It has long struck me as a racket: academics sign their work over to private businesses for free, then their universities pay the same businesses hefty fees to read what they publish. Academics also edit these journals and provide the peer reviews, usually for free.

Open access journals are growing in number, but most of these charge fees for publication that far outstrip real costs. For years, I have been intrigued and encouraged to see the development of peer-reviewed open access journals that do not charge authors to publish with them. These include the International Journal of Music, Health and Wellbeing (IJMHW), whose principal editor is James Williams, a senior lecturer at the University of Derby, and Psychreg Journal of Psychology (PJP), whose chief editor is Dennis Relojo-Howell, founder of the psychology blog Psychreg. These journals offer a solution that previously would have been regarded as impossible: they are both free to the authors and free to readers.

10 steps for starting an academic journal

Whatever the focus of your journal, the steps for setting one up are similar.

  1. Identify the gap. What is the need your journal will meet? How will it improve information-sharing in your field? Once you’ve identified this gap, you need to set the scope of your journal. Decide which types of articles you will include and those you won’t.
  2. Build a website that will home your journal. A full description of this process is beyond the capacity of this article (and my expertise!), but the key parts of this are to buy a domain name, find a web-hosting company and then prepare the content within this. Popular web-creation platforms are wordpress.com, wix.com and weebly.com. Relojo-Howell suggested that it’s also worth looking into the Public Knowledge Project: this provides Open Journal Systems (OJS), software designed to support the setting up and management of open access journals.
  3. Set up an editorial board. Both Williams and Relojo-Howell highlighted the importance of this. First, this group can provide the strategic direction and support that can get your journal started and help it grow. Second, this group can provide credibility to the project. As Relojo-Howell said: “When I started, potential contributors were only interested in who was on the editorial board. I have never been asked about the journal’s impact factor.”
  4. Involve associate editors who can provide support. Williams described the importance of including a multi-skilled team. “We have editors with different areas of expertise and skillsets, including people who are familiar with copy-editing and academic publishing.”
  5. Call for papers. You can spread the word about your new journal via social media and personal networks and by contacting relevant university departments. As Williams said: “We have only ever advertised the journal in the UK, but we have received submissions from Australia, Canada, the US and Asia.”
  6. Manage your submissions. Traditional journals use manuscript-management software, but this can come with a steep price tag. Open Journal Systems (OJS) provides a free-to-use alternative, but this isn’t necessary. “I use a spreadsheet to keep on top of submissions,” Williams said. “It works fine.”
  7. Copy-edit and typeset your articles. While this might feel like a challenge, it is possible to do using widely available software. Williams uses Word and Adobe programmes to provide a professional-looking finish to his articles. Relojo-Howell uses “a combination of paid-for fonts and free Google fonts”.
  8. Apply for an international standard serial number (ISSN). In the UK, this involves submitting an application to the British Library. Williams suggested that the British Library would expect to see evidence of around three or four previous publications and a commitment to continue publishing on a regular basis.
  9. Plan how to give your articles a digital object identifier (DOI). DOIs are a string of numbers, letters and symbols that are used to permanently identify an article or document and link it to the web. Relojo-Howell recommends using Zenodo for this purpose. Initially funded by EU project funding, Zenodo is now open to all research outputs and offers its services free of charge for open access publishers.
  10. Wider registration. There are a variety of international platforms with which to register journals, including Web of Science, PubMed and SCOPUS. This will be a longer-term process, however. Dom Mitchell from the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ) has stated: “DOAJ requires that an open access journal has published five original research articles, among other things, before we will consider it for indexing...We also require that the journal has an ISSN that has been registered and fully confirmed.”

Other challenges include finding peer reviewers (We approach academics who are working closely in the field of the article and send personal requests,” said Williams) and establishing that your journal is a genuine academic grass-roots initiative, in light of the growth of predatory journals.

Judith Johnson is an associate professor in the School of Psychology at the University of Leeds.

This is an edited version of a post, “How to start a journal and beat the academic publishing racket”, that was first published on Judith Johnson’s blog.

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