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Collecting Demographic Data

Anna Jester provides a practical guide to begin collecting demographic data for your organization.

Published onMar 01, 2022
Collecting Demographic Data

Anna Jester

Vice President of Sales & Marketing


Imagine all the authors, reviewers, and editors. It’s easy if you try. You may certainly call me a dreamer, but if your organization wants to do more than imagine—if it instead aims to confirm that diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) efforts involve reviewers and editors that correspond with the demographics of your authors—data will be required.

Prior to collecting that data, your organization needs to clearly define what an initiative will entail. Will additional staff be required to implement this project? Ensure your organization’s legal team are aware of the effort and have provided input before the project kicks off.

First, define how the data will be used. Is this an effort to ensure reviewers from diverse geographical locations are invited to review? Is the aim to enlarge the Editorial Board, specifically including input from researchers at all stages of their career? Does your organization want to implement an initiative other journals found worthwhile, and perhaps even published results in a forum such as the International Congress on Peer Review and Scientific Publication? A list of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Scholarly Resources providing examples of initiatives is available at the Council of Science Editors (CSE) website. DEI Case Studies are also available from ISMTE.

While knowing the data collection purpose benefits your journal staff and editors, sharing exactly how the data will be used with any author, reviewer, or editor willing to give you personal data is crucial. We have all seen messages informing us a website was collecting information about us and clicked OK to continue. Those messages should include what data are being collected and how they will be used.

Second, determine how these data will be entered. I work for eJournalPress, a software company providing submission and peer-review systems, so I will focus on how data can be collected in that manner, but your organization may wish to collect demographic data in your membership database, via surveys, or in other databases. Organizations may choose to avoid collecting demographic information in multiple systems to prevent the need for deduping the dataset.

Your organization should determine which fields are available in the database and if there are specific labels for each of those fields that correspond to journal or organization preferences. Determine input options such as whether the data will require choosing a single option in a dropdown list or will allow multiple selections from the options presented. Have a plan for what happens when your organization adds options to the responses for any of the questions. Always include the option for a user to indicate they prefer not to answer a question.

Figure 1. Example demographic fields.

When collecting the information via a submission and peer-review system, an additional point of emphasis is whether this information will be collected on the submission form, the modify profile screen, or both. Again, be sure that any screen asking users to enter this type of information includes an explanation of how the data will be used. When including functionality allowing users to type in an option not included in the default list, be sure to know in advance how you will analyze those responses and if they will later be considered for addition to the response options.

Figure 2. Example use description and demographic data collection.

When collecting demographic information on the submission form, only collect information about the author/submitter who is entering manuscript information. Self-reporting is key to accurate demographic information. I would never be comfortable having a co-author identify my demographic information.

Third, once the data are being collected, know which users have access to it. Staff typically have access to far more data about manuscripts than reviewers, and even editors. Demographic information, much like home addresses, credit card information, and health records, is sensitive personal data and should not be available to everyone using the system.

Ensure that reports in the system are available on a need-to-access basis. You may wish to provide this information to editors as part of editorial board meeting materials while not allowing them to see this information while processing manuscripts.

Figure 3. Sample demographic report.

To summarize, before beginning a project including the collection of demographic information, define how the data will be used, understand the options regarding how the data will be entered and updated, and specifically control who will have access to the data collected. Use these steps to help all of us imagine a future where collection of demographic data is used for good.

Disclosure Statement

AJ is employed by eJournalPress, a software company providing submission and peer-review systems.

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