Quality, relevance, impact


‘On giants’ shoulders’ would have been an apt title for my contribution to this 30th Anniversary Issue, following on from my predecessors, James P. Smith and Jane J.A. Robinson! Instead, I have chosen to repeat the watch words I suggested for Journal of Advanced Nursing when, in January 2003, I introduced myself as the journal's new Editor-in-Chief [2003, 41(1), 1–3], just the third in JAN's 30 years of publication.

Quality, relevance, impact: It is these issues with which nurses and midwives around the world are grappling as more scholarly work is supported, undertaken and reported, and as evidence-based practice becomes established as the foundation of professional practice. These goals have guided the changes and developments introduced into JAN over the past 3 years of my editorship, with the purpose of strengthening nursing scholarship in terms of:

  • • improving rigour and quality in reporting research;
  • • making clearer its relevance and ‘added value’;
  • • drawing out the general and global implications of new knowledge in order to strengthen its impact.

I believe that these are meaningful goals for readers of JAN and, for authors, they signal the ever-higher standards that JAN has set, year after year, over the entire course of its first 30 years.

Quality and relevance

How is an increase in quality being achieved? Basically, through the more stringent and more standardized review process we have introduced for JAN papers, and through more detailed editorial guidance in the revision of papers. With the benefit of an expanded team of Editors, under the expert management of Christine Webb as Executive Editor, a range of initiatives have been developed and put in place. Our panel of reviewers with specialist knowledge has been considerably expanded, including more statistical reviewers, and a more systematic process has been enabled through the introduction of Manuscript Central (MC), our online submission and editorial system.

To make JAN papers as accessible as possible to readers, we have been building up a series of Author Guidelines to supplement JAN's formal guidelines for manuscript submission. These, all readily available on JAN's website, include guidelines on ‘readability’, ‘abstracts’, ‘keywords’, ‘summary statements’ and ‘presentation of figures and abstracts’; there are ‘statistical guidelines’; guidelines for particular types of papers (‘qualitative’, ‘empirical’, ‘reviews’, ‘concept analysis’ and ‘shorter papers’); and a guideline on ‘international relevance’.

The last of these –‘international relevance’– was introduced, as other guidelines have been as well, with an ‘Editor's Note’ in the journal [2005, 51(4) 319–320]. The strong international standing that JAN has achieved over the course of its first 30 years is arguably one of its most notable accomplishments. The readership of JAN is now virtually universal and its authorship has become more international year by year. My Editor's Note on international relevance – and the accompanying author guideline for the website – was to give encouragement to JAN authors, wherever they are based, to make much clearer the international relevance of their paper for JAN's eclectic international readership.

Our author guidelines are aiding reviewers in their assessment of manuscripts, and they are also helping editors to guide authors with the process of revising their papers. These overall improvements then help readers to access and assimilate a wide variety of information that is as strong as possible in terms of its quality, and meaningful in terms of its relevance. At the same time, we are not seeking to homogenize JAN papers or to create unnecessary hurdles for authors. However, as the quality of research in nursing and midwifery continues to improve, the bar inevitably gets higher. Our ‘continuous quality improvement’ campaign will continue, and it is right and proper that JAN should strive to ensure that the relevance and quality of its papers remains a principle focus for the journal.

Increasing impact

What have we been doing, then, to address the third of our watchwords? Impact– an even more elusive goal and particularly difficult to monitor.

We know that usage of JAN has been increasing rapidly in recent years and over 2 million JAN papers are now accessed online every year. We also have a measure of JAN's impact in the form of the Impact Factor (IF), calculated annually by the Institute of Scientific Information (ISI) for over 8500 journals, and based on citation frequency. Although established disciplines tend to regard IF as a significant measure of a journal's quality, there are no nursing journals as yet with a high enough IF to be of overriding significance. Nevertheless, it is noteworthy that JAN, with an IF above 0·9, has been holding its place in the ‘top ten’ in the ISI ranking of nursing journals.

But ‘hit rates’ and IFs do not provide much help with what James P. Smith has reiterated as ‘the real challenge’ (p. 3): namely, ‘to demonstrate that scholarly journalism has an impact on the practice of nursing’. Influencing directly the uptake in practice of knowledge that is documented in JAN clearly lies beyond our remit, but we can (and should) take steps to ensure that the potential impact of new knowledge is signalled as clearly as possible in JAN papers. That goal lay behind the introduction of the summary box into JAN papers and this requires that authors state concisely and precisely – for the benefit of readers –‘What is already known about this topic’ and ‘What this paper adds’. If the new addition to knowledge being disseminated in a scholarly journal is made crystal clear, surely that makes more likely its assimilation in practice? I do not know. But I am sure that the documentation of nursing knowledge is not in itself enough: there also must be an active and persuasive process of dissemination, and that I do see as a role for JAN.

And so we have become active about publicising the publication of new research through a public relations (PR) campaign – what we call our ‘Media Outreach’ programme – and, through JAN, our aim is to raise the public profile of nursing and midwifery research. Our PR programme was outlined in a ‘Publisher's Note’ [2004, 48(4), 317] and some of its early successes were highlighted. There have been many more. Some JAN papers have attracted widespread media attention. Later in this 30th Anniversary Issue, you will find out more about how JAN's PR programme has been progressing, and with particular mention of the powerful new opportunities for disseminating and publicising research in the 21st century through the media of the Internet and the World Wide Web, p.145.

Indeed, it is modern technology that has most radically transformed JAN as a whole over my 3-year-period to date as its Editor-in-Chief. So, before finishing, I will say a bit about that.

JAN online

Now that the entire process of producing JAN is managed online, it is hard to imagine its ‘offline’ accomplishment! When JAN was launched in 1976, the futuristic notion of globally interconnected computers had been conceived, but the Internet was yet to be invented and, in turn, its spawning of electronic mail and eventually, in 1989, the World Wide Web. It was only during Jane J.A. Robinson's editorship that electronic publishing was beginning to expand but, even into 2003, JAN manuscripts were still handled in hard copy format.

The introduction of MC, the online submission and editorial system, began soon after my appointment. Particularly for Christine Webb, as Executive Editor, the stage-by-stage transfer of JAN to MC has been a huge undertaking, but such an important achievement. It has expanded considerably the accessibility of submitting to the journal regardless of the author location, and it has introduced a much greater transparency of the reviewing and editorial processes.

Our website (http://www.journalofadvancednursing.com) has become our information hub for nurses worldwide. Communications between and among members of the editorial and publishing teams – and between editors, reviewers and authors – are now all by e-mail. As a result, the whole process of editing and publishing is more streamlined, efficient and rapid. And new services have become available: for example, the opportunity for authors to log on to MC and check the progress of their paper through the system; and the possibility for anyone, whether or not a JAN subscriber, to receive a fortnightly ‘e-mail alert’ of JAN's contents. The introduction of the journal online through Blackwell Synergy (http://www.blackwell-synergy.com) and a range of intermediaries has meant that the contents of each of issue of JAN can reach a much larger and wider audience than ever could have been imagined.

Looking back, looking forward

In reaching out to the media, and through the many other ways we are now actively promoting JAN, the journal's editorial and publishing teams are endeavouring to realize the original aspiration of its Founding Editor, James P. Smith (p. 1), that JAN must be ‘a means to an end and not an end in itself’. The ‘documentation’ of nursing research and scholarship is no longer enough: the active dissemination of new nursing knowledge is an essential pursuit if it is to become known about, both in and out of the profession; and, in turn, that is an essential prerequisite for the utilization of research.

And it is worth reflecting too on Jane J.A. Robinson's maxim (p. 4) that JAN is ‘more than the sum of its parts’. In putting together this special issue of JAN, I have been reminded of the value of considering ‘the whole’: and indeed, one issue of the journal is more than merely the sum of its parts. I hope that readers will take time to reflect on the whole of this 30th Anniversary Issue for it carries some important messages beyond those that are self-contained in its parts.

Perhaps the most obvious lesson is the need for us to pay more attention, at the time, to the messages that are transmitted through the publication of new research. Time and again, the new commentaries on past papers that make up this 30th Anniversary Issue of JAN tell us of the opportunities we have missed in terms of using the new arguments and evidence that are produced by new nursing scholarship and research.

But there also is positive encouragement that we can draw from this 30th anniversary reflection: namely, that building up a strong and healthy body of knowledge is a pursuit that requires a step-by-step and steady effort over time. And so we will continue this pursuit, as JAN moves forward into its fourth decade. With the continuing support of nurses and midwives worldwide, and with expert ongoing guidance from our reviewers, editors and editorial board, you can be sure that we will keep JAN in step with, or ahead of, new developments in nursing and midwifery research, practice, education and management. And, as Editor-in-Chief, I am mindful that my main responsibility is to continue to keep JAN in tune with the current demands and future needs of the authors and readers that Journal of Advanced Nursing is privileged to serve.