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Reimagining the Journal Article

The Article of the Future Project

IJsbrand Jan Aalbersberg, Elsevier | Nov 01, 2010

How many times have you read through a lengthy article to find the kernel of information you needed? And then gone back to that article sometime in the future and had to repeat the process? Multiply your lost time by the 1.4 million articles (scientific journals alone) published per year and the millions of readers out there, and you have an excellent case for reimagining the journal article.

First strides forward

That doesn’t mean there haven’t been great leaps forward. With Internet technology, articles are available everywhere in the world, disseminated directly after publication, searchable via fulltext search, and deliverable in seconds. They can contain active reference links, supplementary data files (be it a blessing or a curse), and inline videos. At an experimental level, semantic markup and interactive data manipulation have been introduced.

Despite these leaps in accessibility and discoverability, the scientific article itself has not changed much.

  • It is still print-based (though we now call it a PDF).
  • It still requires linear reading.
  • It is still one-size-fits-all, irrespective of the reader’s intended use.

Consequently, there is still room for articles to be digested faster and understood better.

Improving the scientific article

Different readers want different things from an article, based on their task at hand or research discipline — that’s the premise of Elsevier’s Content Innovation initiative. In some situations, scientists want to get a high-level idea of the article’s content, while at other times they might need details to replicate an experiment.

Content Innovation’s Article of the Future project explores how current technology can enable a scientific article with improved usability. As a first outcome, life sciences research articles within Cell Press have been redefined.

  • Tabs allow the reader to enter the article in line with the task at hand, e.g., scan the figures and data, focus on the experimental results, or skim the article at a very high level.
  • A Graphical Abstract (in the life sciences domain) and short and pointed Research Highlights reduce the time required to get an overview of essentials for quick digestion of the article.
  • Supplementary data is integrated where needed and only appears when the reader chooses to see it.

Current technology not only allows articles to be presented in such a new and improved format, but also allows the information contained in articles to be better linked and contextualized. Such links can be to other articles (whether referenced, cited-by or related), but they can also be connections to databases containing the original research data or with properties of certain entities like proteins or chemical compounds — another element of the Content Innovation initiative.

Feedback and rollout

User feedback on the new format and functionality is encouraging. Users like the task-based view, with its quick access to figures, data and contexts; Research Highlights, with their speedy insight; and links to related information, which shorten time spent finding associated facts and information. They also appreciate seeing a Graphical Abstract in those cases where the research can be effectively presented in a single image. We are continuing to improve the Graphical Abstract’s ability to represent the research within the article.

Feedback will help prioritize the rollout of enhancements to Elsevier’s journals and to ScienceDirect and SciVerse. This year most journals will incorporate Research Highlights and many will offer the option of submitting a Graphical Abstract. Enriched (contextual) linking has already been provided in many instances.

As research continues on discipline-specific tools and presentation formats to improve usability, the Article of the Future will be an ever-changing target, evolving to meet the needs of the user community.