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  Research Findings

Follow-up Survey Highlights

The following are selected highlights from the third of several surveys conducted by Stanford University Libraries as part of the E-Journal User Study. This third survey was a follow-up to our first survey, which focused on understanding life scientists' and clinicians' e-journal usage and their perceptions about the impact of e-journals on their research and clinical practices. The follow-up survey sample consisted of first-survey participants who volunteered to provide their e-mail addresses for a follow-up contact one year later. We received 4,524 valid responses (a response rate among volunteers of 46%).

Sample Distribution: The follow-up survey sample is a subset of the first survey sample‹but with a less heavy-tailed normal distribution (fewer extreme points). For example, mean and median ages were 47 and 46, respectively (vs. 47 and 48 for the first survey); 30% of respondents were female and 70% were male (vs. 29% female and 71% male for the first survey); 17% were Medical doctors (same as the first survey); 60% of respondents said biology was their primary field of research; and average job experience was 15 years (same as the first survey). Thus, the follow-up survey sample was representative of the first survey sample on these demographic criteria.

This survey investigated current issues in electronic publishing among life scientists and medical practitioners, using self-reported information on online usage, expenditure on personal online subscriptions, format and searching preferences, and online-specific features such as e-mail alerts and pay-per-view.

For a summary of the survey methodology and sampling, please see the research methodology section. To view a complete copy of the survey instrument, please see the follow-up survey questionnaire.


E-journals have become a common method for full-text retrieval among life scientists and clinicians. Using e-journals has become a common method among scholars for retrieving articles. The data show that e-journals have reached a mature stage among life scientists and clinicians where almost everyone uses them regularly.

Almost eighty percent of respondents (78%) had used e-journals within the week before responding to the survey (46% said "yesterday or today" and 33% said "last week"). Only 2% were non-users, 8% had used e-journals longer than a month ago, and 12% had used them last month.

Over the previous year, 21% said they had used e-journals "daily" and 51% said they had been "weekly" users.

Intensive readers and high browsers use e-journals on a daily basis Those who used e-journals one day before or on the same day of their survey response tended to be high-volume browsers and intensive journal readers. On average, they browsed 10-11 journals and read 5-6 journals to stay current in their own fields (vs. the averages for the entire sample of 8.8 journals browsed and 4.7 journals read).

Intensive journal readers made more use of e-journals in their research or clinical practice than less intensive readers. E-journals appear to make life scientists' and clinicians' reading and browsing of journals easier and faster.


The primary advantages of e-journals for most scholars are ease of full-text retrieval and ease of searching/browsing for articles. Sixty-four percent of respondents said they used e-journals primarily to retrieve full-text articles online. Another 27% said they use e-journals primarily for ease of searching and/or browsing. The majority of respondents see online journals as a convenient tool for article location and retrieval which saves time and effort.


Online access motivates both journal subscriptions and society memberships. Half (50%) of all respondents said they personally subscribe to at least one journal or maintain at least one society membership specifically to obtain online access to full-text journal articles. On average, these respondents joined 2-3 societies and subscribed to 1-2 journals to gain online access to journals.

Those who spend more than average for online access spend a lot more. Forty-one percent (1,835 respondents out of 4,524) of respondents reported that they spent money on journal subscriptions and society memberships for online access (combined). On average, they spent about $360 per year‹a fairly large amount of money‹and the median spending was $250. The middle 50 % of respondents (inter-quartile) spent between $120 and $400 last year for online access. The payment distribution was skewed to the right, however: those who pay more than average pay a lot more, whereas those who pay less than average pay only somewhat less.


Users expect online subscriptions to be slightly cheaper than subscriptions to printed editions. Among those motivated by online access, 64% preferred to "pay a somewhat discounted price" for an online-only subscription, 18% preferred to receive both print and online editions "for a price somewhat higher" than the regular printed-edition price, and 10% preferred to pay per-view to get online access to individual articles as needed. Among the 4% who didn't like any of these options, typical comments included:

Payment for the printed edition should also automatically include access to the online edition (for the same price).

Many suggested services such as "online libraries" with one-time fees for online access to many journals of interest:

I have most access to journals through the university library service. If this weren't available, I would advocate having an ability to receive access to a large host of journals through a privately-run "internet library", where I would pay a single fee to have access to many. I think this would be very successful, and might make the journals more money overall than getting people to pay for individual journals (since these costs are high and you get only access to one, people have a higher tendency to share their access).


Most scholars will continue to have printed editions delivered — but the more often they use e-journals, the more likely they are to stop print delivery. Three-quarters (75%) of our sample said they plan to continue having at least some printed editions delivered to them personally by post. Twenty-one percent said they do not plan to continue printed editions, and 3% said they already had stopped using printed editions.

Seventy percent of frequent e-journal users (those who had used e-journals "today" or "yesterday") planned to continue receiving print editions, versus 79% of infrequent ("last month") e-journal users (a statistically significant difference). Thus, high usage frequency is associated with somewhat lower interest in continuing to receive print editions.

Portability and ease of browsing are useful qualities of printed editions that users would not give up.The top two reasons for scholars continuing to receive printed editions were portability and ease of browsing:

  • 54% cited portability ("I can easily carry a printed journal issue anywhere to read")
  • 46% cited ease of browsing ("Printed journal issues enable me to browse a range of topics for new ideas more easily than I could on the screen").

The next three reasons given for continuing to have printed journal issues delivered were:

  • 45% cited being automatic ("Printed journal editions come automatically with my membership or subscription"). Push vs pull. Both have benefits.
  • 38% cited flexibility ("Having both printed and online journal issues provides me with more choices and flexibility in how I read and browse articles") — and;
  • 28% cited readability ("The pictures and images in printed journal issues provide better color resolution and detail").

Some (14%) cited ease in finding articles from a printed-edition collection (compared to individual-article printouts) as a motivation for continuing to receive print editions, and some (10%) cited the ability to scan the advertisements in printed editions. Very few (6%) cited the unreliability of online access as a motivation to continue print editions.


Libraries are a main source of online access to journals. For most respondents, libraries are the main provider of their online access to journals (through institutional subscriptions). The journal-related services users expect from libraries are changing from providing a physical place to locate print copies of journal articles to providing online access to journals.

Visiting libraries is still common among scholars, but mostly for articles they can't get online. Forty-nine percent (49%) of respondents said they visit libraries "only when journals are not available online and I have no other convenient access to the printed editions." Only 35% said they currently visit libraries to read/copy/browse printed editions of any journal on a regular basis. Sixteen percent said they never visit libraries to access printed journal editions.


Multi-journal search engines with full-text links are the most common search starting point.More than three-quarters (77%) of respondents usually started their online article searches from a multi-journal search website with links to full text, such as PubMed, MEDLINE, Ovid, Science Direct, or HighWire. This is consistent with the finding above that, ease of searching/browsing is the 2nd top reason to use e-journals. Multi-journal websites have hyperlinks to full-text articles of multiple journals, facilitating browsing and searching across different journals.

Only 10% usually started from a specific journal's website, only 8% started from an online citation index (such as Web of Science, SciFinder Scholars, or BIOSIS). Fewer than 4% started from general-purpose search engines (such as Google, Yahoo‹3%) or their local library's reference room or stacks (2%).


Printouts are the final destination — and the preferred reading method — for full-text e-journal articles.Each scholar develops their own approach to adapting online journals for their research practices (e.g., searching, reading and archiving). All these different approaches, however, seem to lead to one final destination for full-text articles‹printouts. More than two-thirds (68%) of respondents say that upon retrieving a full-text article online, they immediately print it out and read the printed copy, rather than first reading it on the screen in PDF or HTML. About a quarter (23%) read it in PDF on the screen first, and only 10% read it in HTML on the screen first.

This may be why HTML is a less popular format than PDF. PDF is designed for printing, while HTML is designed for reading on the screen. E-journal users may choose PDF more often (despite smaller fonts and poor quality pictures) because the final destination‹and the preferred reading method‹for the full-text article is a printout.

Most readers start by scanning full-text articles — but high-volume readers are more likely to read an article all the way through immediately upon retrieval. Nearly three-quarters (72%) of respondents said when they first retrieve or download a full-text article, they usually scan the headings and the first few sentences of important-looking paragraphs, just to see if the article really matches their criteria.

Only 18% immediately scan the article all the way through , to determine whether it's worth a deeper reading later. Two-thirds (66%) of these quick readers, however, are high-volume readers (regularly reading more than 9 journals), whereas only 55% of scanners are high-volume readers. Looked at another way, 22% of high-volume readers are quick readers, vs. 16% of low-volume readers. It seems that reading articles all the way through immediately upon retrieval — either quickly or slowly — may be a strategy that enables a higher volume of reading.

E-journals do not necessarily lead to e-archives. More than half (52%) of our respondents say they usually archive full-text e-journal articles by printing them out and storing them (p-archiving). Another 28% usually print it out AND save it to a file on their computer (e-archiving). Only 20% say they usually just e-archive without storing a printed copy.

Interestingly, frequent e-journal users are more likely than infrequent users to say they usually do both — p-archive and e-archive.



Table-of-contents alerts, so far, seem to be the most useful type of alert service. Seventy percent of our sample had used at least one of the three types of alerts we asked about (table of contents, citations of articles on topics of interest, and articles on keyword(s) of interest). More than three-quarters (80%) of the e-mail alert users in our sample said they had found table of contents (eTOC) alerts to be useful.

  • eTOC — email alerts table of contents (2,562 responses — 80% of all alert users)
  • article citation alerts — citations of articles on topics of interest (907 responses — 28% of all alert users)
  • article keyword alerts — articles on keyword(s) of interest (877 responses — 28% of all alert users)

Sixty-five percent (65%) of alert users who found article citation alerts useful also found eTOCs useful; 60% of alert users who found article keyword alerts useful also found eTOCs useful. Those who found eTOC alerts useful were also more likely to find other email alert services (citation or key word alerts) useful than those who did not find eTOC alerts useful.

E-mail alerts are actually used. Nearly three-quarters (73%) of e-mail alert users review the entire message "most of the time" when they receive an alert. Another 24% sometimes do so, and only 3% say they never do so.

Only 4% of e-mail alert users delete alerts "as junk mail" most of the time. Sixty-four percent never do so, and 32% sometimes do so.

E-mail alert users often hyperlink from the alert to the journal. More than one quarter (29%) of e-mail alert users hyperlink to the journal site to review abstracts "most of the time." Another 63% sometimes do so, and only 8% say they never do so.

Eleven percent of e-mail alert users hyperlink to the journal site to read the full text of articles "most of the time". Another 76% say they sometimes do so, but 13% say they never do so.

Fourteen percent of e-mail alert users hyperlink to the journal site to print out the full text of articles "most of the time." Another 71% say they sometimes do so, but 15% say they never do so.


Pay-per-view is rarely used, and then only for urgent articles. 81% of our sample had never used pay-per-view. However, seventy-seven percent of those who had used pay-per-view reported using it when they have an urgent requirement for an article. But other reasons for using pay-per-view were much less common.

Pay-per-view is used by respondents for retrieval of articles from journals not in their primary fields. For the 19% of respondents who sometimes use pay-per-view, it is preferred for retrieval of articles published in multi-field journals. Respondents expressed in open-ended questions that they would like to use pay-per-view for full-text retrieval from journals outside their primary fields. Many scholars can afford full journal subscriptions to only 3 or so core journals in their field and would like to use pay-per-view for obtaining journal articles from outside their own field as needed

Please share your reactions to the Survey Findings by filling out our simple form. Your feedback is a valuable component of the E-Journal User Study.

Last updated: 10-25-02

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