PubSURE: An AI tool that can help journals manage their workflow during COVID-19

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PubSURE: An AI tool that can help journals manage their workflow during COVID-19

COVID-19 has disrupted normality in nearly all spheres of work and life globally, necessitating new and unconventional ways of doing things. The scholarly publishing industry is in a unique position where it shoulders the enhanced responsibility of fast-tracking the delivery of carefully vetted knowledge related to COVID-19 while at the same time facing workflow and resource constraints imposed by the pandemic.

Naturally, journals that are publishing research directly related to the pandemic are witnessing high submission volumes. According to a blog post on The Scientist, a large number of these manuscripts are getting desk-rejected because they do not meet journal criteria; reviewers who are experts on relevant topics are receiving a far greater number of review requests than usual, most with shorter turnarounds; and editors who face resource crunches have had to rely on a second tier of reviewers who may not be exact matches in terms of expertise.  Some editors are working hard to keep up with the changing needs and focusing on timely and customized communication with different stakeholders, and in this endeavor, identifying process inefficiencies and modifying workflows.

Many journals, including those that are not publishing COVID-19–related research, have also been adapting to the situation by embracing flexibility where possible, requesting reviewers to reconsider requests for additional experiments or assuring both authors and reviewers that requests for longer turnaround times are understandable (e.g., Nature, PLOS, and eLife). At the same time, it is likely that many researchers are using the lockdown time to focus on writing manuscripts, which can lead to a surge in overall submissions at a time when journals are already facing workflow challenges.

In these circumstances, efficient editorial screening will be critical to ensure that only those manuscripts that truly deserve attention are processed further without burdening the entire system. How can journals do this? In addition to workflow changes, an AI-powered manuscript health checker that helps journals achieve this can be a most valuable tool at this time.

PubSURE, one such tool launched by Cactus Communications, evaluates manuscripts on the basis of several key editorial criteria that journals typically focus on when screening manuscripts. For example, overall language quality is assessed by an algorithm based on natural language processing, and other algorithms assess aspects such as references and ethical compliance. Each manuscript is assigned a final score out of 100 depending on the results of the screening.

Authors who submit their manuscripts to PubSURE and whose manuscripts reach a threshold score are offered a PubSURE Certificate—a statement confirming that a manuscript is ready to be submitted to a journal.


Figure 1. A sample PubSURE certificate

This tool is, of course, most useful for authors who want to ensure their manuscripts are submission-ready or would like to know which aspects need to be worked on to make their manuscripts submission-ready if they are not. However, journals can also benefit immensely because PubSURE has a second component in addition to this evaluation tool—PubSURE Connect, which is an article marketplace connecting authors and journal editors.

Authors who receive a PubSURE certificate have the option of adding their certified manuscripts on PubSURE Connect. Journal editors who register on this platform have access to all the certified manuscripts that have been uploaded by authors. Since only manuscripts that have been certified can be uploaded on this platform, journal editors can be assured of their overall quality and submission-readiness.

Furthermore, the platform employs semantic fingerprinting to match articles to journals based on concepts related to journal scope. This allows journal editors on the platform to find relevant manuscripts using multiple filters. Editors can then express their interest in these manuscripts by inviting the authors to submit these to their journals. In this way, journals can decide what merits their consideration and where to invest the efforts of their editorial staff and peer reviewers.

Figure 2. An example of what a journal editor’s dashboard looks like on PubSURE. The percentages indicate the relevance of the articles to the journal, as assessed based on semantic fingerprinting of concepts.

Instead of compromising on aspects of editorial screening or burdening their reviewers with poorly prepared manuscripts, journals can ensure that their typical workflows are as little affected as possible while maintaining control over quality. Furthermore, reviewers who are already pressed for time may be more willing to accept review invitations if they are assured that journals are taking additional steps to pass along only those manuscripts that have been carefully screened for critical aspects such as language quality. This last factor is important considering the ever-increasing submissions from authors belonging to non–English-speaking backgrounds and the current lack of universal, objective standards to assess the language quality of submissions. Given the global nature of the pandemic, researchers and journal editors from around the world are working hard to publish relevant findings quicker and making them more accessible in multiple ways. PubSURE’s manuscript evaluation tool, thus, saves authors time by telling them beforehand if their manuscripts are not submission-ready and lets editors focus on expediting the processing of those that already are.

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This is an excellent time for journals to adopt AI technology to smooth processes. The combination of AI-powered screening and scope-matching tools can help editors identify manuscripts that best match their journal’s scope and current interests and are ready for peer review. PubSURE can, therefore, potentially save journals considerable time, effort, and cost, and help them tide over what is possibly one of the most challenging times they have ever faced.

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Published on: Apr 23, 2020

Academic Research Specialist, Editage Insights
See more from Mriganka Awati


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