With all the money invested in obtaining research funding, universities should invest more in the end product of that research, namely the publications. That is the argument made by the authors of a recent paper on improving the medical research literature.
The authors identified 3 targets that could help universities improve the publications from their researchers: introducing publications officers into the academic environment, training researchers how to be authors, and training researchers how to be peer reviewers.
Introducing Publications Officers
To do so, they suggest creating a position called a Publication Officer, a person with responsibilities such as:
- Providing guidance on preparing manuscripts for submission to journals (including adherence to relevant reporting guidelines and the submission process
- Developing seminars on how to write to get published
- Harnessing existing resources relevant to manuscript preparation and publication, addressing research integrity and publication ethics
- Facilitating internal peer review of manuscripts before submission to journals
- Facilitating in-depth training on using reporting guidelines
- Conducting regular seminars on issues about publication ethics and research integrity and responsibility
- Explaining open access options
Training Authors and Peer Reviewers
Researchers learn to be authors during their careers, some better than others. Often this learning process in an informal one, thorough trial and error or feedback from mentors. The authors suggest that researchers get formal training in:
- Complete and transparent disclosure of the experiments
- Use of reporting guidelines
- Issues related to authorship (attributing authorship, author order, author responsibilities)
Researchers usually receive minimal, if any, training to be a peer reviewer, though this is a responsibility that is universally expected of academic researchers. The authors suggest creating a curriculum that addresses the core competencies that peer reviewers should exhibit. This training would ultimately provide researchers with “the skill set needed to detect manuscripts that are not fit for purpose and help authors to improve them.”
View from my desk
I operate at both ends of the research cycle – helping researchers write clear, persuasive grant proposals and helping researchers write clear, accurate scientific publications. From my personal experience, universities tend to put more resources (i.e., money) toward writing grant proposals than scientific publications.
Improving the quality of scientific research literature could have many positive effects. I would argue that the scientific community would benefit by having a more accurate and thorough report of experiments.
I also believe that if universities invested in the aforementioned targets, their researchers would output higher quality publications (I’ve seen the direct influence of this in my work). These publications would likely be published by higher prestige journals and garner more acclaim from colleagues, both of which could raise the profile of the authors on the manuscripts and their respective institutions. A higher profile could increase the likelihood that researchers obtain external funding for their projects, thereby bringing more money to their institutions.
If you would like to hire a publications officer or train your researchers how to be authors and peer reviewers, I can offer advice on the resources to use and how to set up the training. Please email me.