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Encouraging and supporting researchers to share research data

April 15, 2015

By Helena Cousijn, Rachel Martin

Elsevier pilots are paving the way for data to be more easily shared, discovered and used

A vast amount of data makes its way into scientific literature each year, either in the form of tables, graphs and supplementary material, or simply embedded within the text of an article. Sharing research data is key to making scientific findings reproducible and enabling fellow scientists to build upon these findings. However, there are challenges around ensuring that data is accessible and shareable.

We have been working on solutions that allow the research community to discover and use research data while ensuring the authors receive credit for their work; for example, for many years now we have been collaborating with data repositories to set up bi-directional links between articles and datasets.

Recently we have taken data sharing a step further, by launching a new open data pilot for 40 journals. This service gives authors the choice to upload their raw research data as a supplementary file. Upon acceptance, Elsevier will publish the data file open access alongside the article on ScienceDirect(opens in new tab/window). There is no charge for authors or readers, and reuse is determined by the Creative Commons CC BY user license, with the dataset being permanently stored and archived.

How the open data process works

  • At the manuscript submission phase: Authors upload their raw research data as supplementary material and classify the file as "raw research data". This is then validated by the editor and reviewers during the peer-review process.

  • When the manuscript is accepted: The data file is available to everyone to view and download from ScienceDirect under a CC BY user license.

Creating a sharing ecosystem for research data

The open data pilot is a great step forward for sharing data, but we are mindful that there are no one-size-fits-all solutions when it comes to research data. We realize that needs and practices vary between disciplines and research communities, and so we have also been looking at how we can leverage other services to make data more accessible and useable. In February this year, a new project took on the challenge of creating a data-sharing infrastructure across the material sciences community. The initiative involves 13 Elsevier journals which together cover a broad range of material sciences topics from aircrafts to hip implants.

Researchers submitting to these journals will be able to choose one or more of the following open data sharing options. While these options are currently available separately for a large number of Elsevier journals, this project is the first time all three have been offered simultaneously across an entire journal portfolio.

  • Interactive Plots (iPlot): Authors can submit a file containing the data points from their graphs. The Interactive Plots technology enables article readers to choose how they view the data, and even download it.

  • Open Data: As outlined above, authors can upload raw research data, which will be made available open access alongside their article.

  • Data in Brief: Authors can upload a data article (a short research output that doesn’t fit the traditional journal article format) which will automatically be submitted for publication in the open access, multidisciplinary journal Data in Brief(opens in new tab/window). The article should contain context and metadata relative to data underpinning the original submitted article.

elsevier journals and data sharing option

One of the benefits for authors of the material sciences project is that it offers them an opportunity to get credit for hard work that often remains hidden in supplementary information or buried in tables and graphs. With their microarticle published in the Data in Brief journal, they will also benefit from an additional data publication linked to the original submitted article.

This data-sharing initiative has received strong support from the editors and authors of the selected journals. “I am very supportive of this move for Polymer,” said Stephen ZD Cheng, Senior Editor of Polymer(opens in new tab/window) and Frank C. Sullivan Distinguished Research Professor at the University of Akron(opens in new tab/window) in Ohio, USA.

Professor Salvador Barraza-Lopez(opens in new tab/window) of the University of Arkansas(opens in new tab/window), USA, who recently made use of the link to his Data in Brief from Computational Materials Science(opens in new tab/window), said: “…many developments in research can become more useful when data sources are shared. We are excited and grateful for the opportunity to have our data accessible at no cost to the community.”

Did you know?

The material sciences data-sharing initiative has been featured on the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy blog(opens in new tab/window).

In the material science community, "making digital data accessible" is one of the four axes of the Materials Genome Initiative Strategic Plan, released in December 2014.

Elsevier is working closely with the research community, librarians and policy-makers to find solutions that help people share, discover, and use data more effectively. We also participate in community-lead initiatives like the Research Data Alliance(opens in new tab/window).

More details about the material sciences initiative can be found on Materials Today(opens in new tab/window).

To find out more about sharing research data visit


Helena Cousijn


Helena Cousijn

Portrait photo of Rachel Martin


Rachel Martin