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What is a journal? Catherine M Otto It has never been easier to find, read or publish a scientific article than it is today. Readers can quickly search for and view scientific articles anytime anywhere using a mobile phone, tablet, laptop or desktop computer. Researchers can publish their data in conventional journals, in onlineonly open access journals or in other electronic formats.1 Scientific publishing itself has been transformed by the ability to handle the complex process of article submission, peer review, editorial decisions, and production electronically. This increase in the ease and speed of publication has been paralleled by a growing family of medical specialty periodicals. In the field of ‘Cardiac and cardiovascular systems’, the number of publications listed in the Journal Citation Index increased from 66 to 122 over the past 10 years, with an approximately 50% increase in the number of individual citable papers.2 Simultaneously, the aggregate citation index for these journals has risen, suggesting that there are not only more papers but also better science with more crossreferencing between research groups.

JOURNALS: THERE CAN NEVER BE TOO MANY More journals, more papers, more communication, more science—like espresso stores in Seattle, there can never be too many! But at some point the distinction between individual scientific articles and a scientific journal becomes blurred. When researchers can easily search for previous studies regardless of which journal published the paper, and when clinicians can find relevant information in a variety of online sources, what difference does it make which journal publishes the article? Furthermore, the content of a journal is no longer static—the online format and continuous communication capability allows far more interaction between readers and authors than in the past.3 Readers are updated on new publications via an emailed table of contents (eTOC), while twitter, blogs, and other social media are used as discussion platforms and to highlight articles of special interest. An online journal no longer has page constraints for publication of letters to the Correspondence to Professor Catherine M Otto, Editor in Chief, Heart,BMJ Publishing, London, UK; [email protected] Otto CM. Heart January 2014 Vol 100 No 1

editor and the authors’ responses, allowing a more robust discussion of the scientific data. Journals can even add audio and video content to articles, provide newscast type audio and video interviews with authors, and develop interactive online educational programmes.4 No doubt the next few years will bring new advances in digital technology that will further transform our options and facilitate new approaches to dissemination of scientific information.5 Thus, we need to think seriously about the question: What is a journal? Clearly, the heart of a scientific journal is publication of original research papers. More specifically, a journal provides a peer review process that ensures the research answers an important clinical or scientific question, is well designed, describes the methods and results in enough detail to allow verification by others, performs appropriate statistical analysis, and draws conclusions that are justified based on the data presented. Publication in an indexed journal both allows dissemination of the information and serves as the permanent scientific record. In theory, publication of research in any accessible journal meets these goals. In reality, authors have strong preferences in deciding where to submit their research, and journals are very selective about which papers they publish.

DISTINGUISHING ONE JOURNAL FROM ANOTHER What distinguishes one journal from another is the focus of the journal, the editorial team’s function as curators, and the community of authors, readers, and reviewers who see the journal as their own. Publishing high quality science and attracting readers are mutually dependent processes—authors want to publish in a journal that readers want to read; readers want to read a journal with the best articles. The range of topics in a journal may be broad or narrow, but most journals focus on a specific area of scientific inquiry or a medical subspecialty. This focus both defines the types of research articles authors submit and attracts readers with an interest in those topics. The primary function of the editorial team is to ensure selection of high quality research that fits the profile of that journal. The second key curatorial function of the editorial team is to provide a structure

to interpret and integrate new scientific developments in light of existing information, with the goals of improving evidence based patient care and identifying gaps in our scientific and clinical knowledge base. Even as information technology moves towards personalised information models, journal structure will be maintained by this selection process and by electronically linking related content among original articles, editorials and reviews not only within the context of an individual issue of a journal, but also with past issues and across a family of related journals. In addition to the editorial team, this complex process requires committed and qualified reviewers, active readers, careful and honest authors, talented publication professionals, and a delivery platform with a signature style that defines the journal. As we improve the delivery, integration and interactivity of scientific information, the challenge for each journal will be to maintain a focus on high quality content and structure. With the wealth of information available online, readers may all too easily be overwhelmed by trivia and fail to discern advances that are key to improving patient care. Thus, the curatorial role of the journal editorial team will become even more important in selecting and interpreting new scientific research. Researchers need confidence that their publications will receive the attention they deserve; readers need assurance that the published articles are worth reading. Ultimately, the journal curatorial structure provides the framework that allows researchers and readers to come together as a community to advance science and improve patient care. Competing interests None. Provenance and peer review Commissioned; internally peer reviewed. To cite Otto CM. Heart 2014;100:1. Heart 2014;100:1. doi:10.1136/heartjnl-2013-305058



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Berquist TH. Medical publishing: new approaches and financial challenges. AJR Am J Roentgenol 2013;201:235–6. ISI Web of Knowledge, Journal Citation Reports for “Cardiac and Cardiovascular Systems”. Published by Thompson Reuters, 2013. http://admin-apps. (accessed 23 Sept 2013). DeMaria AN. The current environment for medical journals. J Am Coll Cardiol 2011;58:439–40. Godlee F. What next for medical journals? Pract Neurol 2009;9:312–13. Clarke M. Stick to your ribs: Why hasn’t scientific publishing been disrupted already? Posted Aug 27, 2013 on the Scholarly Kitchen. http://scholarlykitchen. (accessed 28 Sept 2013).


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What is a journal? Catherine M Otto Heart 2014 100: 1

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What is a journal?

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