“The 90-Day Rule”: Considerations behind EurekAlert!’s Timeliness Guideline

As a nonprofit science news service and consortium of research institutions, EurekAlert! has always striven to facilitate dissemination of the latest scientific breakthroughs to reporters and the public. Since our launch in 1996, scientific publishing and science communication have adapted to the introduction of open access, advanced or early online publication, and other practices where papers become available online before print. Along with a general increase in the number of peer-reviewed journals and scientific papers, it’s become more challenging for both PIOs and our editorial staff to clearly and uniformly discern how “new” a study described in a news release is, and when a paper is considered “published.”

We recently consulted senior reporters and PIOs on this topic, and while they differed on minor points, they were unanimous in their emphasis on transparency concerning publication dates presented in news releases. And, since two of the main goals of most PIOs using EurekAlert! are earned coverage and public engagement, gaining trust through transparency is instrumental – you want to present your research news accurately, and that includes how “new” it is.

To provide clearer guidance to our staff and PIO-registrants, EurekAlert! formalized a 90-day publication guideline in May 2015, though a timeliness consideration had been part of our longstanding news release eligibility guidelines since 2013. We did this to reinforce what EurekAlert! has always been: a platform for science news. While individual interpretations of what makes something “new” can vary widely, we set the cap at 90 days to meet the needs of reporters and freelancers working on short- and long-range deadlines, and to accommodate journals that publish monthly or quarterly.

1. What version of the paper was published, and when?

 

Our experiences administering this guideline have informed a nuanced approach to handling timeliness issues and working through them with our PIO-registrants. Here are some common issues we’ve encountered and what we’ve learned:

Some journals put the submitted, unedited version of a manuscript online at acceptance, typically before peer review. Since EurekAlert! only accepts news releases about peer-reviewed journal articles in the research news category, a news release about a paper at this stage of publication would not be eligible, unless there are other factors at play (such as a directly related and recent conference presentation about the same research).

Some journals may publish a paper online after peer review, but before final edits and formatting (usually in preparation for eventual print publication). At this point, we consider the paper “published,” as it has completed the peer-review process.

Then, there is the final version of the paper, peer-reviewed and fully type-set, published online and/or in print. The date of this publication is about as definitive as it gets.

We recognize that different journal publishers follow different timelines, and use different terminology to describe a manuscript’s path from initial acceptance to ultimate publication. Since a main criterion for research news releases accepted into EurekAlert! is peer review, the key date we look for when making the 90-day calculation is when the paper was first made available after peer review, because in most cases, this is the earliest iteration of the fully vetted article.

2. When was the paper first made available to the public?

Another consideration is when a paper became available to the widest possible audience. For instance, some journals make papers available through advanced online publication (AOP) behind a paywall. However, since a key aspect of transparency is the ability for anyone to read the original paper, a PIO may choose to issue a news release only after the paper is published in its final form – in print or in a “collection” or “issue” of record – that may be freely accessed through a public library. In this situation, we recommend clearly stating in the news release all pertinent dates in the paper’s publishing timeline, including specifics on whether it was widely accessible, to increase transparency for reporters and the public.

3. Issue dates and long-range publication dates – how do those fit in?

In academic publishing, the “issue date” generally refers to the date a set of research papers that have been continuously published over several months are bundled together and published in a single collection, or issue. Some or all the papers appearing in the issue may have been initially published more than 90 days before the issue date. You can include the issue date in addition to a paper’s other previous publication dates to add context on its timeliness.

 

The important point to remember is that with the 90-day rule, our goal is to ensure timeliness (we are a news service, after all) while recognizing the steps in a paper’s progress from acceptance to publication, and adapting to new publishing models. By taking steps to clarify a paper’s status, you offer reporters the information they need for their own editorial decision-making, give the public a better understanding of the scientific process, and help EurekAlert! staff speed up their review, so we can get your news in front of your audience faster.

Have you encountered challenges or come up with good ways to handle various publishing models and schedules when issuing a news release? Share your experience and advice with other PIOs in the EurekAlert! PIO Forum on Trellis. To join, register with EurekAlert! or email pio@eurekalert.org for a Trellis invitation.