In his first editorial in the first issue of Applied Optics (January 1962), editor John Howard revealed some of the issues the Society addressed when it proposed publishing its second journal. Chief among them was a concern about competition with its premier journal, the Journal of the Optical Society of America. When I was a graduate student 20 years later, and knew exactly what topics each journal covered and what was appropriate to submit to each journal, this was a difficult issue to understand. Given my present position as Editor-in-Chief, I now understand and admire the efforts of previous editors who tirelessly worked to create a unique place for Applied Optics and who nurtured the journal to build its high reputation.
My greatest concern when I became editor-in-chief last year was how to maintain the great reputation Applied Optics has, especially in this era of online publishing. Born as a print journal, Applied Optics now faces competition from a plethora of publishing opportunities, including its “Express” brethren.
From a survey conducted by OSA, I am aware of the friction that exists between readers—who want high quality, in-depth articles, and authors—who want rapid publication to the widest audience. Optics Letters, Optics Express, and Applied Optics are the top journals read by authors, and Applied Optics is OSA’s most widely subscribed to journal. For what reasons then should an author submit to Applied Optics when other options exist, such as Optics Letters and Optics Express?
First, as its name implies, Applied Optics publishes work of an applied nature. The underlying scientific theory is typically known and published works report on the development and performance of technologies for applying the theory. Manuscripts are expected to contain in-depth discussions of the material. For example, a manuscript describing an experiment should discuss the underlying theory, a description of the experiment, simulations based on theory, experimental results, and an analysis of the results. These should be presented in sufficient depth that others can validate the work and assess its significance.
Applied Optics consists of three divisions: Optical Technology, Information Processing, and Lasers, Photonics, and Environmental Optics. (The Biomedical Optics Division will be discontinued once all manuscripts submitted to the division prior to the launch of Biomedical Optics Express last August have been processed.) Applied Optics articles are peer-reviewed and page charges are voluntary unless a formatted manuscript runs over 10 pages in length.
In contrast, Optics Letters promotes rapid dissemination of new results in all areas of optics with short, original, peer-reviewed communications. A key factor in the decision to publish in Optics Letters is the immediacy of the research and its impact on the work of others.
Although Optics Express offers a rapid publication model, immediacy of the research is not a factor in the decision to accept manuscripts for publication. Once a manuscript is approved for publication it appears in a timely fashion.
Although manuscripts submitted to Applied Optics are more applied in nature than those submitted to Optics Express, both journals use the same criteria to assess publication worthiness. Applied Optics and Optics Express differ primarily in their publishing model.
As an open access journal, Optics Express requires authors to pay mandatory publication charges, rather than relying on institutional subscriptions. Page charges are voluntary for Applied Optics but authors have the option to pay to have their articles open access.
Unfortunately, many within the community have conflated rapid publication with immediacy, and Applied Optics has seen an increase in the number of submitted manuscripts that have been rejected previously by other journals, most prominent among them, Optics Express. After consideration by the editorial staff of the journal and OSA’s Board of Editors, Applied Optics will no longer review manuscripts that have been rejected by other OSA journals.
Editors will consider for review only manuscripts that have been revised substantially (essentially making the manuscript a new submission) and provide justification for switching journals after a previous rejection. In setting this policy, we are reaffirming to the community of authors, reviewers, and editors that Applied Optics is not a journal of lesser repute than other OSA journals. Its standards for publishing remain high. In addition, to further ensure the high quality of papers published in Applied Optics, I am directing editors and reviewers not to recommend for publication manuscripts whose highest praise is “well, there’s nothing wrong with it.”
In setting these policies, I hope to underscore Applied Optics’ editorial standards. Over the coming year I will strive to better define the journal’s scope so that authors and readers know what to look for and what to expect in terms of journal content, just as I could do so confidently 30 years ago. I recognize also that since delivery of the journal’s content is now primarily through the Internet and not as a bound journal on a library shelf, there exists an opportunity to deliver content in addition to peer-reviewed articles. I will be exploring options for this with the editorial staff and welcome your suggestions.
It is my hope that future generations of researchers will also find it odd that anyone ever had to question Applied Optics’ identity.
Joseph N. Mait
Editor in Chief, Applied Optics
1 December 2010