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Author Affiliation: Library of the Health Sciences, University Library, University of Illinois, Chicago.
Context Little is known about qualitative and quantitative characteristics of
indexed health sciences electronic journals (e-journals).
Methods To determine peer-review practices and qualitative and quantitative
characteristics of different types of indexed health sciences e-journals,
3 types of e-journals indexed in MEDLINE were compared (type 1, completely
electronic with no print counterpart; type 2, print and electronic versions
with the same title but each publishing some unique content; and type 3, print
and electronic versions containing equal content).
Results There were 13 type 1 journals, 16 type 2 journals, and 16 type 3 journals.
Most journals in each category (85%-94%) imply or state the use of peer review.
Significant differences (P<.05, analysis of variance)
exist among the e-journals for the inclusion of complex types of publications
(clinical trials, randomized controlled trials, meta-analyses, and practice
guidelines) (15%-100%), editorials (0%-75%), letters to the editor (10%-88%),
and case reports (17%-94%); the average number of items indexed in MEDLINE
(22.5-544.5); and the number of complex publication types, editorials, letters,
and case reports.
Conclusions Type 1 e-journals do not have the qualitative or quantitative complexity
of traditional print journals. Although editors' statements on editorial peer
review are similar, there are differences in number and type of materials
included in the 3 different types of e-journals.
Electronic publishing has the potential to offer many advantages over
traditional print publishing, but concerns over quality exist.1
Several studies have identified the following qualitative and quantitative
measures that are appropriate for electronic journals (e-journals): peer-review
practices,2 citation patterns,3
structured abstracts,4 and editorial boards.5 The objectives of this study were to determine if
there are different editorial peer-review practices or variations in qualitative
and quantitative measures among different types of indexed health sciences
There are 3 types of e-journals: type 1 are completely electronic with
no regular print version; type 2 are titled the same both in the print and
electronic versions, but each publish some unique content; and in type 3,
both the print and electronic versions publish equal content. Each type 2
version has its own international standard serial number, but type 3 e-journals
have 1 international standard serial number.
Thirty e-journals were listed as active MEDLINE titles in June 2001:
13 were type 1, 16 were type 2, and 1 was not yet published. Abridged Index
Medicus is a subset of 120 MEDLINE titles, which is considered a solid, core
set of health sciences journals, and was used in selection of type 3 e-journals.
To compare type 1 and type 2 e-journals with traditional print journals, 16
that had electronic access to current issues and qualified as type 3 e-journals
were randomly selected from Abridged Index Medicus titles.
Data for this study were collected from MEDLINE and each journal's Web
site homepage. All items published in the year 2000 and indexed by August
2001 were included. No e-journal in this study was selectively indexed by
Qualitative and quantitative measures included: editorial peer-review
statements, inclusion of editorial boards, requirement of original research
or structured abstracts, number of articles cited, the inclusion and number
of complex publication types, case reports, editorials, and letters to the
editor. The index terms clinical trials, randomized control trials, meta-analyses,
and practice guidelines were used for complex types
Type 2 e-journals always shared a Web site homepage and had 1 set of
instructions to authors. Items indexed from electronic type 2 e-journals always
carried a unique identifier in MEDLINE, usually an "e" preceded the page number. Table 1 lists those e-journal characteristics
that were the same for both type 2 electronic and print versions. More than
80% of all e-journals stated or implied the use of peer review and required
original material. These data were located by searching the Web site homepages
and reading the instructions to authors sections and other information about
the e-journals. The average number of type 1 e-journals that required structured
abstracts (36%) was less than for either type 2 or type 3. All type 2 and
type 3 and 92% of type 1 e-journals listed an editorial board.
A search in August 2001 of Institute for Scientific Information's Web
of Science determined frequency of citations to each e-journal. The ISI captures
all cited references in each journal it covers independent of whether the
title is covered by the database; 54% of type 1 e-journals are covered by
ISI. An average of 4.62 articles published in type 1 e-journals in the year
2000 were cited, whereas more than 350 articles published in type 2 and type
3 e-journals in the year 2000 were cited (P = .01,
single-factor analysis of variance).
Table 2 compares results
when separate data exist for type 2 e-journals. There were statistically significant
differences among the e-journals (P<.001) indexed
as complex publication types. The type 1 and the electronic type 2 were less
likely (P<.001) than print type 2 or type 3 e-journals
to publish editorials, letters to the editor, and case reports.
For the year 2000, type 1 and electronic type 2 published significantly
fewer items than print type 2 and type 3 (P<.001).
There were also statistically significant differences for the average number
of items indexed as complex types of publication (P
= .01). Both type 1 and electronic type 2 published significantly fewer editorials
(P = .03), letters (P =
.002), and case reports (P = .004) than print type
2 and type 3.
The following qualitative measures were similar for all types of e-journals:
peer-review statements, requirement of original research, and the inclusion
of editorial boards. A lack of a statement on peer review or original research
does not mean that no policy exists. Editors address the editorial peer-review
process in journal guidelines more frequently today than they did in 1987.2 The structured abstract was proposed for medical journals
in 1987.4 One third to two thirds of all types
of e-journals in this study used this format. This study confirmed the earlier
study by Harter3 that type 1 e-journals continue
to be infrequently cited. This phenomenon may continue until type 1 e-journals
become established, mainstream medical literature.
Many electronic type 2 publications serve a specialized function and
may represent a trend to publish journals with different content in the print
and electronic versions. The electronic type 2 publications often include
only 1 type of feature, such as short reports, rapid communication, or letters.
For example, one electronic type 2 e-journal published all letters electronically,
while another published only "ultra-rapid" communications, and another let
the author choose which version for case reports. Eleven (69%) of the 16 type
2 journals stated specific criteria for inclusion in the electronic only version.
The 13 indexed health sciences type 1 e-journals lack the depth and
breadth of traditional print journals. The type 1 and electronic type 2 e-journals
published significantly fewer indexed complex types of publications, editorials,
letters, and case reports than either type 2 print or type 3 e-journals. Data
from this study provide an early snapshot of e-journals. The type 1 e-journals
will probably become more numerous and more accepted, but they currently do
not have the complexity of traditional print journals.
Weller AC. Qualitative and Quantitative Measures of Indexed Health Sciences Electronic Journals. JAMA. 2002;287(21):2865–2866. doi:10.1001/jama.287.21.2865
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