Myth-busting: DOAJ takes too long to reach a decision

This is a myth.

From about 2012 until 2017, DOAJ was struggling to keep on top of the amount of applications being received.

Implementing new acceptance criteria and making 9900+ journals reapply exacerbated the problem and suddenly we had many reapplications and new applications coming in at the same time.

Triage
All applications go through an initial review to filter out incomplete or substandard applications. We call this process Triage. (From March 2015 to November 2017, Triage rejected 3112 sub-quality, incomplete or duplicate applications.)  Today, the average turnaround on an application from submission to initial review is a few days at the most.

From submission to decision
To improve the time taken to review an application and reach a decision to accept or reject, a revised and improved editorial workflow was implemented. You can read a full explanation on each of the 7 points in our progress report for 2018. The effects of those changes, which we have been monitoring carefully since 2018, are significant. 

Today we have no outstanding applications that were submitted in 2018, and only a small number dating from the first quarter of 2019 remain to be completed. We aim to reach a decision on all applications submitted within 6 months (and are still working hard to reduce that time too) although many are now completed in 3 months or less.

Even so, why does reviewing an application take time?
There are over 50 questions in our application form. Much of the work involved in reviewing an application is correspondence with the applicant and manually checking each answer. Each answer is checked for 3 things: that the answer in the form is correct; that the URL provided contains the information required in the question; that the information on the site is complete and correct.

Incommunicado
A contributing factor to the myth that DOAJ takes too long to reach a decision is the perception that DOAJ never responds. In the past, we did reject some applications without contacting the publisher about this. Since 2018, we have sent emails out for all rejected applications.

One of the most common reasons that an application is rejected is because we do not hear back from the applicant. There can be technical issues at play here: we suspect that sometimes our system-generated alerts, informing the applicant of the progress of their application, don’t reach their recipient. This is often due to particularly sensitive institutional firewalls, messages ending up in Spam folders, or email addresses no longer being valid. But it is also true that long delays in responding to DOAJ’s queries, or in making requested changes, can mean that an application is rejected.

Why do we ask applicants to wait 6 months before they apply again?

When we reject an application, the rejection email contains details about why the application was not successful and usually tells applicants that they must wait 6 months before submitting another application for the same journal to us. Why do we do this?

One reason is that it is an attempt to discourage repeat applications, made in haste, and we get many, many of those. Repeat and duplicate applications clog up the system and take our dedicated volunteers and team away from those applications which need some time spent on them. (In 10 months alone, DOAJ received 221 duplicate applications!)

The other reason is that many of the recommendations that we make in our rejection emails, recommendations made to help journals meet our criteria, take time to implement. Adding words to a website isn’t enough. Changes need to be implemented properly, communicated to stakeholders, tested, and managed. Some changes will require other parties to implement changes too. This all takes time. After the 6 months has passed, we welcome a new application but we ask that the journal website demonstrates very clearly that our recommendations have been put into practice and our editorial team will be very careful to check that all our recommendations have been implemented.