Illinois Journal of Mathematics implements new system of centralized electronic processing of papers

Now in its 47th year of operation, the Illinois Journal of Mathematics, which is headquartered at the UIUC Department of Mathematics, is among the leading institutional journals of mathematics. Following a successful overhaul of the production and distribution process two years ago, a similar overhaul of the editorial side of the Journal’s operation was completed last year by implementing a sophisticated new system of centralized electronic processing of papers. Under this system, nearly all transactions between authors, referees, editors, and the IJM office, are carried out electronically, using software to facilitate and largely automate routine chores such as record keeping and generating form letters. The system is inspired by one devised in the mid 1990s by Andrew Appel, a computer scientist at Princeton and the son of retired faculty member Ken Appel. The underlying software, however, consisting of about a dozen separate programs, was written from scratch.

The traditional processing of a paper submitted to a journal involves mailing of the manuscript back and forth between authors, editors, referees, and the journal’s production office, a half dozen or more times. This process is very costly, both in terms of mailing costs and staff time needed to draft cover letters and to create and keep paper records at every stage of the process. Moreover, the multiple snail mailing of papers can add up to substantial delays in the processing of the paper, especially if some of the parties involved are located overseas.

Under the new system, the same process works as follows: If an electronic submission is received, the software automatically creates a database record of the paper based on the information contained in the submission, saves an electronic version of the paper into an appropriate directory for later retrieval, and forwards a copy of the submission to the Managing Editor, who then assigns one of the IJM editors to handle the paper. From this point onwards, the IJM Editorial Assistant, Debbie Broadrick, takes over, and acts as intermediary between the author, the editor, and the referee, handling all necessary correspondence, using email whenever possible. This includes sending the paper (electronically) to the editor for instructions on handling the paper; sending the paper to a referee selected by the editor, following up with reminders as needed; receiving and acknowledging the referee’s report and forwarding it to the editor for appropriate action; passing on the referee’s report to the author; and informing the author of decisions made by the editor on acceptance or rejection of a paper. To facilitate this correspondence, programs are in place that generate form letters and ensure that all correspondence is saved into appropriate folders for easy retrieval and reliable record keeping.

As a result of these changes in the editorial processing of papers, the burden on editors has been significantly reduced and the processing of papers has become more streamlined and more timely. In addition, the centralized record keeping allows for easy data retrieval and automated generation of reports, such as lists of accepted papers.

The system has now been in place for nearly a year, and the feedback received has been very positive. Editors love the system as it eliminates the clerical chores that are usually associated with editorships and which are often reasons for potential editors to decline an offer of an editorship. Referees seem to be more responsive to email inquiries, and it now rarely happens that a referee does not respond at all to such an inquiry. Authors appreciate the speedier and more reliable processing of their papers that the system makes possible.