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Breaking down publication to share the full story of your research

Are traditional research articles still meeting researchers’ communication needs? Over the past decade, Open Science and the rise in digital publications together have facilitated a more agile ecosystem of research-sharing. For researchers, that means: faster pathways to sharing their discoveries; greater transparency of assessment which helps increase reliability and public trust; and more opportunities for collaborations that accelerate advancements in the field.

With increased options for sharing and evaluating science, we’re looking at ways to segment the research-sharing lifecycle to fit the research process. How do we share important, urgent discoveries earlier, without compromising quality? What other essential products of research can we be more transparent about?

Sharing the full story of your research

The future of publishing might be incremental. Discovery occurs in stages, and the way we share and evaluate research should reflect that. Like preregistration, a series of linked publications could help show the progression of research from the earliest stages of discovery to its final outcomes. More options for linked publications could also offer a format for presenting additional findings that may be tangential to the main study but spark important new lines of inquiry, allowing for more immediate, accurate, and complete scientific communication overall.

A typical research timeline could take years to develop a research plan, gather findings, analyze the data, and seek a suitable journal for publication. When it comes to pressing issues like disease outbreaks and climate change, that seems like too long to wait. A segmented approach to research sharing would make information available faster. Preprints, for example, give authors more control over when their work becomes public. Posting an early version of their work creates an opportunity for community assessment which sparks new collaborations and can ultimately help strengthen the work for publication.

A more complete and diverse array of outputs to choose from would enable a more dynamic system of credit where researchers receive recognition for their participation in each stage of the process. Options for publishing data, code, protocols, and other products of scientific inquiry as distinct units could also provide incentives for researchers to share more of their work by offering proper credit.

Redefining assessment

New outputs pave the way for a redefinition of assessment. Just as they provide a more honest rendering of the research process, assessment criteria can be tailored to each output, ultimately leading to a more robust system of evaluation that is more aligned with the aims of research. 

We’ve written about preregistration earlier in this series but it’s worth mentioning again here how this model ties publication and assessment more closely to the process of scientific research. Preregistration allows for staged assessment that ultimately improves the investigation by making the study design more robust from the very beginning. It also sets different expectations for the final research outcomes, focusing peer review first on a strong methodological study design and later on adherence to the study protocol so that authors receive an outcome-neutral assessment that emphasizes scientific integrity.

Shorter forms of publication might could prompt further investigation by sharing early findings and ongoing progress. Update articles offer authors the opportunity to continue a line of inquiry and report back any new findings which might change the way the initial study is perceived, or open avenues for a new line of inquiry, demonstrating more concretely that scientific discovery is not finite, but an ongoing progression of knowledge.

This is the last post in our Future of Open Science Series, but we at PLOS are always thinking of new ways Open Science can break down research barriers and we’ll update you with any new developments. Meanwhile, you can find earlier posts in this series about preregistration; open data, code, and protocols; and more here

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