JHND continues drive for higher quality

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Almost a year ago I published the above editorial in the Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics. My basic message was that the journal was going through a significant change, with faster turnaround times, a more responsive editorial team, an international editorial board and a push towards publication of only the highest quality submissions. Associated with these changes, things were become noticeably tougher for authors, with around 1 in 4 papers receiving a reject without review decision and acceptance rates falling to just 20%.

For the journal this was a high-risk strategy. JHND has always had a core market, with the majority of authors contributing from the UK and being largely drawn from the dietetics and clinical nutrition fields. In adopting a tougher stance which is designed to push up journal impact and create a top international journal, there was the risk that this core market could become alienated. This was not something that we wanted to happen as JHND remains the journal of the British Dietetic Association and has a clear responsibility to publish material that is appropriate to that audience and which includes that audience among the contributing audience. In this respect we have played a role in promoting research to UK dietitians and participated in the 2014 BDA Research Symposium, publishing the abstracts from that meeting.

Fears about losing our core market appear to be unfounded however and compared to this time in 2014 manuscript submissions to the journal have increased by more than 10% and we have handled 25% more manuscripts so far in 2015 than in the equivalent period in 2013. International submissions are more commonplace than in the past with 7 out of 8 manuscript submissions now coming from outside the UK.

Increasing the number of manuscripts submitted to the journal has important knock-on effects. Firstly it increases the pool of good papers that the editors can select from, which is great news. We are aiming to increase the quality of published articles, so a bigger pool is helpful. There is a negative side to this though. The journal has a limited page budget, despite being online only, which means that we can only publish approximately 75 articles per year. This means that in addition to the quality of manuscripts we have to consider priority for publication based on interest to readers and the likelihood of future citation. Consequently more authors are likely to receive rejection decisions accompanied by apparently favourable reviewer reports. The journal is also accruing a backlog of papers that have been published on Early View, but are not yet formally published. At the moment there is a lag of around a year between acceptance and final publication which, as Editor, I find unacceptable. To deal with this situation against a background of rising submissions, there is a further need to be selective.

We have recently made a decision to further limit acceptance rates for the journal to around 10%. This is primarily designed to further increase the quality of what we publish, but will also help us clear the backlog of papers. If you have recently been invited to review manuscripts for the journal you may have noticed a change in the decision page, which we have simplified. The old system was rather cumbersome and we now ask reviewers to clearly indicate whether they recommend acceptance, minor revision, major revision or rejection (we had many shades of grey in the past). Reviewers are also asked to indicate whether they consider papers to be in the top 10% or top 25% of those that they have reviewed recently. This helps our senior editorial team with decision-making.

Over the next six months we hope to publish many more high quality papers and are lining up some invited review articles from leading researchers across our range of disciplines. JHND continues to make great progress towards the aspiration to be a highly ranked international journal in the nutrition and dietetics field.

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