Research isn’t linear; scientists don’t work for years on one problem, find the solution and publish it. Instead, research is incremental, and scientists often work on many different things at once, all at different stages and all producing a variety of data and other outputs along the way.
Traditional peer-reviewed journals don’t address this: while they are an appropriate way to share findings with the scientific community, they don’t publish the results produced at different stages of the research cycle – the information that’s often hidden in dark cabinets and dusty lab books.
Elsevier created a series of Research Elements articles to help unlock these “hidden treasures.” These short articles are designed for researchers to publish – and get credit for – their datasets, software, experimental designs and method adjustments, and they are proving very popular.
Since the program started in early 2014, more than 2,200 Research Elements articles have been published, including 1,011 in 2016 alone. They are popular among early career researchers as well as data scientists and software developers. About 20 percent of the authors have never published before. Submissions come from around the world, with many originating in Europe, the United States, Australia, Canada, China and Japan.
The aim of these articles is to make data, software and methods easy to discover; therefore, it’s encouraging to see that they are being used. Indexed by ScienceDirect, Scopus, Web of Science and PubMed, Research Elements articles are among the top 25 percent most downloaded open access articles on ScienceDirect. And the data is being used too: based on an average across 400 selected Data in Brief articles, each dataset provided with an article has been downloaded 21 times. Meanwhile, 70 percent of the software published in SoftwareX has been actively reused (“forked”).
Research Elements articles are also being cited. For example, the article by Abraham et al in SoftwareX, sharing a new version of the popular open source chemistry code GROMACS, has been cited more than 30 times in its first year.
Data articles are also proving particularly popular: Elsevier’s Data in Brief is the biggest open access data journal in existence, with more than 1,000 articles published since its launch in December 2014.
These numbers are great from a publishing point of view, but they also show the positive impact these innovative journals are having on research. Making data, software and methods available open access to researchers means they don’t have to double up on the work, and the different elements of the research cycle can be re-used as a basis for new studies and to inform current research.
Research Elements journals
Elsevier has three main open access multidisciplinary journals that publish Research Elements articles exclusively:
- MethodsX covers all experimental disciplines, publishing the details of methods and protocols in a brief, citable article format.
- SoftwareX aims to acknowledge the impact of software on today's research practice and on new scientific discoveries in almost all research domains. SoftwareX also aims to stress the importance of the software developers who are, in part, responsible for this impact.
- Data in Brief provides a way for researchers to easily share and reuse each other's datasets by publishing data articles that describe data, facilitating reproducibility.
Research Elements articles are also welcomed in a number of Elsevier’s subject-specific journals. The complete overview of participating journals can be found on the Research Elements website.