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Standing out in a big heap of published research

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With so many papers published each year there is great value in actively sharing published work, says Ben Mudrak of Research Square

Recent estimates report that more than 2.5 million articles are now published each year in nearly 30,000 journals around the world. With this kind of volume, the old technique of leafing through new journal issues for good content is simply not viable anymore.

What began as browsing through tables of contents or library stacks has now become searching on Google Scholar, PubMed, or any number of discipline- or institution-specific platforms. While the ability for any given article to be discovered is getting harder each day, the necessity for being found remains as critical as ever. Career advancement in academia depends on new work being read, cited, and built upon. And science’s impact on society relies on the communication of new findings to the public.

With so many articles published that scientists can’t keep up with their own fields, the sharing of science and scholarship with the public is lagging even farther behind.

How can we help optimise the discoverability of new papers?

Researchers have many options to boost the visibility of their work, but publishers, institutions, and other organisations can all pitch in to help mobilise knowledge to new audiences. As one example for authors to consider, the same kind of techniques that apply to search engine optimisation of web pages can be used for papers. With the advent of sites like Google Scholar, each paper becomes, in effect, a web page.

Short, clear titles with a clear recap of the new finding help draw in viewers (and search engines). Strong keywords that match common search terms and cover a variety of audiences will also help. And of course, publishing open access can broaden the number of views and downloads for a given paper.

Another way to boost an article’s visibility is to repackage its content into new formats or add new content that will engage readers. Potential new formats include a shortened title or written summary designed for lay readers, a video recapping the key findings, or even a blog post about the paper and how it was developed.

Sharing the article on social media (Twitter, LinkedIn, ResearchGate) or through institutional or subject-focused repositories is also a great way to ensure that the original content reaches as broad an audience as possible. The appeal and “shareability” of video content, in particular, led us to develop our latest offering, Video Summaries, in collaboration with Nature Publishing Group. We have since seen researchers use these three- or four-minute videos written for lay viewers in a number of ways: embedding on a lab website, sharing in CVs, playing during presentations, and sending to their university’s press office. All of these activities, in turn, build a wider audience of potential collaborators and interesting members of the public.

Does this extra effort pay off?

With tenure and promotion tied to research output, teaching goals, and service to one’s institution, any efforts that are not perceived as essential can be easy to brush aside.

Is there benefit for researchers to share their work after it’s been published? In our trial with Nature Publishing Group, we saw a clear benefit to adding a Video Summary, with 67 per cent more views of the published paper and an average increase of 531 per cent in Altmetric score compared to matched articles in the same journal issues. These data indicate a bigger audience and more shares on social media, blogs, and news outlets, all of which improve the authors’ chances of being cited and brings more attention to their work.

Video content can require a fair amount of effort, but smaller steps can be taken by authors and publishers alike to improve the visibility of their papers. TrendMD is a platform centered on discovery and promotion of scholarly content. Publishers can engage TrendMD to populate a recommendation widget found on journal article pages, and these recommendations reach millions of academics each month.

Using TrendMD (www.trendmd.com) to help recommend an article leads to a median increase in article views of 87 per cent as early as six weeks from publication. Another sharing service, Kudos (www.growkudos.com) saw a 19 per cent increase in article downloads when papers were given lay summaries and shared through Kudos’ toolkit.

What’s next?

With encouraging results for these extra efforts to share research, authors, publishers, and institutions should consider the effect that lay summaries, video abstracts, or strong keywords and titles would have on the visibility of their work. In these times of too many papers and a public who is used to rapid-fire multimedia content, thinking beyond the published pdf will improve the communication of science both within academia and outside of it.

For more information on Research Square, please visit www.researchsquare.com. To view all Video Summaries created to date, please visit the Research Square YouTube channel: www.youtube.com/researchsquare