Connecting all the dots – looking at the research paper & beyond


Research catalyzes research, which catalyzes more research…  



At PLOS, we’re connecting the dots between our publications and the plethora of outside content discussing the research.  On every article, we now showcase the rich tapestry of activity surrounding the research paper.  They are pulled together by our staff and are now collectively shared with the article.  We surface stories about the research covered in news media, blog commentary, as well as a diverse set of contexts.  As a whole, these stories enrich the research narrative and offer a vivid view into broad scholarly and public activity surrounding the article.

1. An expanding universe of research artifacts

The nature of the scientific process is fundamentally generative.  But a hundred years from now, humans looking back at records just ten years ago might just scratch their heads in wonder of the veracity (or degree of veracity) of this statement.  All they would see are research articles, not the rich conversations that might occur at conference dinners; lab meetings; presentation Q&As; email/mail correspondence; etc.

That said, the tide is rapidly turning.  Today, the digital environment provides ever new and increasing ways in which researchers share results that did not fit into the format of the paper published and scholars engage with the results shared.  We see a proliferation of this engagement with the research in a variety of ways.  Depending on the type, these external entities may offer background and context that enrich the research story itself, reveal the ongoing conversations in the community, provide critique & commentary to expand the work encapsulated in the paper, etc.  The research article is part of an increasingly expanding universe of scholarly and lay activity.

2. PLOS Article Coverage

With this explosion of content surrounding the paper, how is a researcher able to find relevant pieces that enrich the research narrative when sprinkled across the vast celestial spaces?  We now display them together as links in the Related Content tab where they exist as a set of curated links made available to the community.  They are broadly organized into three groups: news media coverage, blog coverage, and related resources.

Media techblog1

Who creates the content?  While it is no surprise that science writers and journalists are most often the source of news media, these external pieces also originate elsewhere.  To begin, the scholarly community is creating significant content as a byproduct of their discussions about the work.  This includes not only online commentary by others discussing the research, but the authors’ own as well.  Videos, stories about the research process, related experiments in the project, etc. may be connected to the article (ex: author blog post for this PLOS article).  We consider these companion pieces to the article that make it possible for authors to further enrich the narrative in the published article of record.  By exposing these discussions alongside the research narrative, we better support the process of scholarly inquiry as well as encourage the community to engage with the content in meaningful ways.

What types of content are included?  The curated links are a rich & diverse set in their type, provenance, and format.  They often provide a far broader and richer view of the research and/or the researcher in the diversity of connections between the paper and external content.

Content type: The wealth of links include news media and blog pieces (good examples here and here).  But they are more far-ranging than the traditional set and may include links to discussion boards, podcast and video-sharing sites, lab websites, governmental agency resource pages, institution or funding institution pages, etc.  These examples only begin to demonstrate the wealth of links already connected to PLOS articles:

Content provenance:  PLOS articles have reach across the globe, and they generate content in many countries and languages.  For this PLOS ONE article, we see pieces written in English; Dutch; Greek; Chinese; French; and German.  Indeed, science may be its own universal language.

Content format: We often lose sight that text is not the exclusive form for communicating ideas, as rich media can be an effective vehicle in unique ways.  This PLOS ONE paper has spawned discussion in a variety of multimedia formats including audio podcast and video.  See also this PLOS ONE paper.

Media techblog2

How does PLOS get the content?  We collect, curate, and then display the links to article coverage.  Links are collected by a custom-built application based on our DOI resolver and supported by additional social media monitoring software.  And since we strongly believe in the power of community input, we’ve created a public form to solicit new links.  Four different applications work together so that we can display the curated set by each article: DOI resolver link harvester application, media curation application, ALM application, and the Ambra publishing platform.  Here’s a glimpse of the media curation tool used by the PLOS editorial staff:

Media techblog6

How does PLOS make the content available?  Curated links are freely available for PLOS articles either directly on the web interface or via the ALM API.  The latter offers two retrieval options: the entire (un-curated) set of links harvested by our DOI resolver link harvester for any set of articles based on your interest OR, separately, the PLOS staff-curated set of links displayed at the article.

3. Connecting the dots

Media techblog3

When we launched the system at the close of 2013, our staff began to review and curate new links for PLOS articles for a subset of our journals.  Previously published papers may have scant or negligible coverage before we backfill the corpus with links predating the system.  Expect to see more appear as we continue to roll this out across all the PLOS journals over the next few months.  You, the community, are an important part of this entire operation.  With your help, we can do this together.  We encourage you to submit links in the article link form available from each article.  As always, we encourage you to send us feedback on this feature.

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4 Responses to Connecting all the dots – looking at the research paper & beyond

  1. Pingback: Social Media and the Seven Twitter Accounts | Green tea and Velociraptors

  2. Pingback: To Open Access, then Beyond | biomolbioandco

  3. I love what you guys are doing! Keep it up!

  4. Terrific idea! In archaeology and art history, there is the critical and well-establish concept of provenance – that part of an object’s meaning is embedded in it’s context. This media coverage reporting functionality you are providing is extending this concept to research you publish. This clearly affords us, especially over time, a far richer sense of the meaning of a given article.

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