A journal’s website, called the front-end, is where authors and readers will make first contact. It is important to make sure that the website is carefully curated to convey a chosen set of messages. Importantly, journals may be bound by institutional requirements (e.g. if the journal is hosted by the institution) and might need to comply with external or existing standards.
Journal websites need to provide a large amount of information, including the scope, aims and focus, editorial policies, individual articles and more. It is important to create a logical structure for this content, to make it easy to find relevant information.
Creating and brainstorming a sitemap on paper can help design the website’s navigation bar and organise information. For example, what are the different elements you want readers and authors to be able to find at a glance? It may be helpful to consider looking at well-established journals in similar fields to make this process easier.
A website’s accessibility is defined in the Web Accessibility Standards. The web standards are defined as A, AA, or AAA, with the latter being the most accessible. It is recommended to always aim for AA standard as a minimum, to ensure journal websites are accessible to diverse sets of authors and readers. Certain areas also have laws around minimum accessibility standards, so you should check whether this applies to you.
Basic accessibility practices include:
- Using alternative text for figures
- Ensuring that the colour palette has sufficient contrast (no black text on dark backgrounds)
- Including meaningful links across the website
- Not relying solely on colour to convey information
More generic accessibility principles also apply to journal websites, mainly in terms of how easy it is for intended users to understand the contents or materials presented. For example, it is highly recommended to use clear language and to avoid jargon where possible.
In designing a website, it is easy to assume what our users want and need, particularly when the website is being developed by non-expert volunteers. It is therefore important to reach out to readers and authors to test journal websites, ideally prior to their release. User testing sessions may include tree testing or card sorting exercises, and it is often helpful to ask testers to verbalise their positive and negative experiences in using the website. When it comes to the pages hosting published articles, journals should ensure that all key information is easy to find (e.g. author guidelines, editorial policies). This would include at least the article’s title, authors, affiliations, a persistent identifier and a licence. Additionally, journals should ensure that the font size as well as headings, figures and tables are appropriately formatted in both desktop and mobile versions of the website, to maximise readability and minimise end-user frustrations. It may also be helpful to provide download buttons, if appropriate, for example for a pdf version of the article, as well as article metrics. These are often displayed on the side of the article, but it is recommended that journals in neighbouring fields are checked to assess likely user expectations.