by Victoria Pittman
28th December 2020

Originally posted on the LSE Impact Blog on 19th November 2020 following a virtual roundtable featuring Professor Joshua Gans (Economics in the Age of COVID-19, MIT Press),  in conversation with Richard Horton (The COVID-19 Catastrophe, Polity Press and Editor of The Lancet), Victoria Pittman (Head of Commissioning, Bristol University Press) and Qudsiya Ahmed (Cambridge University Press, India).

“The pandemic is having a significant impact on academic publishing, including accelerating a move to digital and raising the need for swift, often shorter, academic commentaries. In response to this, Bristol University Press introduced a new Rapid Responses format.

At a busy time, including my own childcare balancing act during this second lockdown, it was quite a treat to spend an hour talking about rapid publishing with such a great panel. It also served as an important reminder of the range of topics people are writing about during the pandemic, including the cutting-edge science relating to the virus – available to the government much sooner than it decided to react, it was noted!

Although our publishing at Bristol University Press is not focused on the physical sciences, the impact of the pandemic on society is of course huge and we are committed to helping our authors get valuable research and commentary out quickly. One way we have done this in response to COVID-19, is through this new format option. Rapid Responses are 20-40k words long, digital-only and published just six weeks from submission, allowing research and commentary to get out into the world as quickly as possible.

Our new Rapid Responses format is not a completely new idea for us. We have always published in a range of formats including shorter pieces and policy interventions and briefings which aim to influence policy and practice. We fast-tracked publication of our Short on the Irish abortion referendum, Repealing the 8th in order to publish at a time which could still influence the debate and we were keen to be able to do the same thing in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic.

We wanted the Rapid Responses to enable us to achieve this very fast turnaround for future topical projects beyond COVID-19 so we had to think carefully about the best way to set it up. We looked at where we could save time, for example in having a template cover design and limiting the number of amends and iterations during the production process, but have kept our focus on quality, for example with initial peer review and a UK copyedit as part of the process.

We recognise that one format isn’t suitable for all research. As a publisher, we have been working hard responding to the changing needs of our customers and authors and our focus on global social challenges leads us to think about the impact of COVID-19 on the most vulnerable in society and the way inequalities have played a part and continue to be a key issue. We are a University Press with a strong social mission and a drive to make a difference which means considering different channels and ways to reach out with our content has always been important to us. We also want to maintain our high quality standards and beneficial peer review process and we appreciate that academic publications can be quite different to other types of content such as blog pieces or some faster social commentary which cannot cover a topic in the same way.

As I mentioned during the roundtable event, our approach is that we need to be able to offer a range of options to our authors so that we can do the right thing for their work. We are not a one size fits all publisher, we develop our publications to fit the needs of the target audiences and work with authors to maximise their potential. We hope that offering Rapid Responses will be a welcome addition for authors when thinking about their choices.

Academic publishers have an important role to play in helping to get vital content published at this time but we also need to be sensitive to the challenges. There were a number of questions raised at the discussion last week about access to publishing options as well as access to content which publishers need to consider. I am sure that forums such as this LSE event will continue to play an important part in ensuring such issues are raised and discussed so that we can share experiences and strive to improve what we offer our authors and readers.”


Find out more about Rapid Responses on the Bristol University Press website.

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