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Along the Digital Path
Digital Production Processes for ASTM Publications

by Robert Dreyfuss

In this second of two articles (click here for part 1) on ASTM’s Digital Path Initiative, Assistant Vice President of Publishing Services Bob Dreyfuss describes digitized production processes for ASTM standards and technical publications.

As explained in the previous article, the digital path defines a process and a workflow. ASTM International actually has two digital path projects developing simultaneously, one for standards and one for technical papers. Both share many of the same attributes, specifically using electronic workflows from idea inception through distribution. Both have as their desired results the wider participation within ASTM and the more rapid and more accurate dissemination of published information.

Standards

At the heart of the digital path for standards is the database that contains over 11,000 standards. The standards are stored in a common format called SGML (standard generalized markup language). Because of this common structure, ASTM can multipurpose the standards to create a wide variety of products and services for its members and customers. It has also allowed ASTM to reduce the cycle time for standards publications after approval.

ASTM has selected Microsoft Word as its authoring tool for the creation and revision of documents. ASTM has developed templates to assist in developing new standards (see article by Kathy Peters and Richard Wilhelm in the October 2001 issue of SN). These templates make it easier to develop standards that conform to the requirements of the Form and Style for ASTM Standards manual.

For revisions to standards, ASTM has made major improvements to the tool that translates the standard from its database format to Word. These modifications were made based on member feedback. The new version has major enhancements to its equation, table, figure, and special character handling routines. This will make participation in the electronic balloting program much more efficient.

Under the workflows of four or five years ago, ASTM was limited to the types of products and services it could offer with the standards, basically print-based products. Even the CD products and the Web offerings were scanned images of printed pages. With the implementation of the digital path, we still have the printed separates and the Annual Book of ASTM Standards, but ASTM’s electronic offerings have gone to true PDF files which are much smaller and higher quality than the scanned images. Additionally, ASTM can do spin-off publications more efficiently from the same data. An example of this is the ASTM Dictionary of Engineering Science and Technology, which was produced in half the time than it was previously.

The next frontier for the standards will be to offer on-demand publication of the separates in either hard copy or on CDs. These products will complement WebDoxx, which allows individual standards to be downloaded from the ASTM Web Site 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Technical Papers

Following a parallel path to standards, ASTM is developing Word templates for technical papers that will help authors conform to ASTM’s style and to expedite the publication of their articles on the Web and in print. Some highlights of the technical paper offerings are outlined below.

Web First Publishing

Currently, the official publication of all ASTM’s technical papers is the printed volume, whether that be a special technical publication (STP) or one of ASTM’s journals. In the case of the journals, we put a PDF file of the paper online after it is published in the printed journal. Under this approach, all the papers within a collection, whether STP or journal, need to be completed before the paper is published as part of the collection. ASTM is in the process of revising its approach to the publication of technical papers. In the future, ASTM will publish each paper as it is completed on the Web, making the appearance of the paper on the Web the official publication. The printed publication will be a reprint of the papers on the Web. In 2001, Committee E08 on Fatigue and Fracture participated in the first prototype using this new approach. The first papers were posted on the Web in March 2001, while the printed STP 1413 was published in October after all the papers in the collection cleared the peer-review process. Beginning in July 2002, the Journal of Forensic Sciences will follow the same approach. In all cases, the official, cited papers will be the ones on the Web.

Another advantage of Web publishing is that ASTM can put color illustrations on the Web, whereas printing in color involves much higher cost which are borne by the authors. This means that some illustrations and photographs will be color on the Web, but will print in black and white.

Because authors will be encouraged to provide ASTM their papers using templates specifically designed for this purpose, ASTM will be able to edit the papers on-line and will be able to Web publish the papers very quickly after the paper clears peer review.

On-Demand Printing

In addition to being able to download technical papers from the Web 24 hours a day, seven days a week, ASTM is investigating providing an on-demand printing service, whereby the customer will be able to order a single paper to be printed in hard copy or order a bound collection of user-selected papers. This may either be all the papers from a single symposium or could be technical papers that appeared or will appear in several print publications. It is the intention of this program to make the papers available for on-demand delivery at the same time the paper is posted on the Web.

Conclusion

ASTM has made a continual commitment to stay abreast of the latest publication technologies and implement those information technologies that will provide the most advantages for both our members and our customers. For example, technology allowing for online linking of technical paper references to their respective sources recently has been developed. ASTM is actively investigating this technology to determine how it would apply to our technical publications. The digital path is a road without end. //

Copyright 2002, ASTM

Robert Dreyfuss is assistant vice president of Publishing Services.