Have you seen the Article of the Future?

Our never-ending quest to explore better ways to deliver the formal published record

“...it is not a project with a deadline, it is our never-ending quest to explore better ways to deliver the formal published record." — IJsbrand Jan Aalbersberg, Vice President Content Innovation, S&T Journals

With the rapid advance of new technology, publishers have been required to think creatively about the way they provide communications to the scientific community.

But while the transition from print to online has been relatively smooth, the content of scientific articles, and the way they are presented, still follows a tried and tested formula laid down almost 350 years ago.

According to Marie Sheehan, Head of Communications for Innovation and Product Development, S&T Journals, this is a missed opportunity, and one that Elsevier is keen to address with its innovative ‘Article of the Future’ project.

The project aims to break away from the traditional ‘abstract, findings, conclusion, references’ format, and to radically transform the ‘reader experience’. The latest milestone in this ongoing project is the introduction of the ‘three-pane’ version of the article, prototypes of which will be unveiled in June this year at www.articleofthefuture.com

An Article of the Future prototype in the field of Electro-Chemistry

An Article of the Future prototype in the field of Electro-Chemistry

While the prototypes featured on the website relate to seven specific scientific disciplines, the concept will apply to all journals and visitors will have the opportunity to familiarize themselves with the new content and layout, before being invited to take part in a short online survey.

Sheehan says: “We really hope people will take the time to let us know what they think – we want to collect input from a broad range of disciplines to ensure we are meeting authors’ and editors’ needs, and to address those in future releases.”

Commenting on the project, Sheehan adds: “The first thing to make clear is that this is not a new Elsevier product, it is not a ‘thing’. Article of the Future is a process, a journey we are on to change the scientific article with regard to three key areas: content, context and presentation."

IJsbrand Jan Aalbersberg, Vice President Content Innovation, S&T Journals, explains: “As an author you want your work to be propelled, you want it to receive maximum exposure. And the more value your paper offers, the more it is seen, the more it is cited and that has a knock-on effect not only for the author, but also for the journal and the editorial board, as well as for the author’s institute.

“With Article of the Future we want to provide the best possible place to expose and explore research. But it is not a project with a deadline, it is our never-ending quest to explore better ways to deliver the formal published record. It is an ongoing journey with milestones, collaborations, results and ideas.”

One of those collaborations has taken the form of a partnership with 150 researchers from a range of disciplines who have been consulted each step of the way during the project’s process, via user interviews, behavior studies and tests. Together with Elsevier, they have focused on three main areas: content, context, and presentation.


Authors can now add their own discipline-specific and rich content such as interactive plots, chemical compounds, or interactive maps. Furthermore, new possibilities such as graphical abstracts and research highlights will enable users to more efficiently skim articles.


The context element offers authors opportunities to add a range of valuable connections to the published article, for example related research data sets, author information and research groups. Commonly used entities in the article can also be tagged and linked to databases, e.g. Genbank and Protein Data Bank, and context can also be pulled from these databases into the articles.

While many of the new content and context features will apply to all journals, others will be domain-specific.

Sheehan explains: “For example, Google maps (an application that enriches an article with research data visualized on an interactive map) has already been added to earth sciences, life sciences and social sciences journals and can be rolled out to other journals as needed.”


Presentation looks at the ‘readability’ of the article and aims to surpass the current HTML and traditional PDF with new content elements and better navigation.

Sheehan says: “One clear message we received during the partnership process was that researchers do want all the domain-specific bells and whistles that technology can add to a scientific paper, but they also want to simply focus on the message in that paper, which led us to a very clean reading pane in the middle of the three-pane view.”

The left pane will contain navigation options enabling quicker exploration of the article, while the right pane will allow for new article content elements and context exploration beyond the paper.

An Article of the Future prototype in the field of Parasitology and Tropical Diseases

Aalbersberg adds: “As the three-pane design separates navigation and extensions from the core article, it minimizes distraction and unobtrusively and intuitively connects the clean reading with the new content and context.”


As with many findings uncovered by the Article of the Future project, the three-pane view will be released on SciVerse ScienceDirect. Please take a few moments to view the prototypes at www.articleofthefuture.com and complete the short online questionnaire.

Have you seen the Article of the Future? If so, we'd love to hear your views via our comment function at the bottom of this page.

Author biography

Marie Sheehan

Marie Sheehan
Marie is Head of Communications for the Innovation and Product Development department in Elsevier’s S&T Journals division. Since joining Elsevier in 2002, she has held various marketing and communications positions in the publishing organization.

Archived comments

Jim Robins says: June 14, 2011 at 7:19 pm

The “article of the future” model will be more applicable to natural science journals in the near term. In many of the humanities, social sciences, and business, the “article of the future” too closely resembles the popular media of the present. Innovations of this type will be undertaken only slowly and will be led by the most prominent journals in the respective fields. Far from conveying an advantage, an early move to this format would undermine the legitimacy and respectability of a second-tier academic journal in areas other than natural sciences.

Tony Roche, Elsevier Publishing Director says:

Dear Jim, thank you for your comments on the Article of the Future. We value input from all areas of the research community as we continue to test new approaches in the digital environment. Much of the feedback on the early Article of the Future prototypes in business and psychology has been positive, for example the value of article highlights in helping readers who navigate to article level via mobile devices. The content of the peer-reviewed article itself remains fundamental, and this will not be affected by new innovations.

Fernando Lopez says: July 25, 2011 at 6:17 am

Please, excuse me for my poor english. I was very exited when I review the “the article of the future” that I decided to share my thoughs, and make a very little contribution. I think the model “the article of the future” is a big step to aproach the “Web 2.0/HTML 5” wave and all the innovative interactions are welcomed. But in my opinion there are some other issues that were great to see in your model. For instance, a feed subscription system alerting for relevant events by twitter, sms, or any other media. The idea behind is to turn the journal into a information portal with advanced tools for the users, like these offered by Amazon and other www-companies.

Jan Golembiewski says: August 1, 2011 at 7:31 am

After reading the Article of the Future article, I couldn’t help thinking of all the times I haven’t been able to send in an article because it doesn’t fit the standard format (whatever that may be – typically Introduction, Method, Results, Discussion). This development is promising, but when will Elsevier publications migrate over to accept these new formats?

IJsbrand Jan Aalbersberg, Elsevier VP Content Innovation says: August 26, 2011 at 10:33 am

Thanks for your comment. The Guide for Authors (which can be different for each journal and which can be found on the journal’s homepage) is the document that explains what the standard format for submissions to that journal should be. That is distinct from the presentation format and layout of articles shown in the Article of the Future prototypes, which show the final published article. For this change of presentation, no submission changes are expected, unless new content is being added (like with the interactive maps or plots). Submission changes with regard to new content will be gradually introduced over time (we already accept interactive maps – see http://www.elsevier.com/googlemaps).

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