Preparing tables for research papers

How to effectively prepare tables for research papers

Tables and illustrations are important tools for efficiently communicating information and data contained in your research paper to the readers. They present complex results in a comprehensible and organized manner.

However, it is advisable to use tables and illustrations wisely so as to maximize the impact of your research.They should be organized in an easy-to-understand format to convey the information and findings collected in your research. The tabular information helps the reader identify the theme of the study more readily. Although data tables should be complete,they should not be too complex. Instead of including a large volume of data in a single unwieldy table, it is prudent to use small tables to help readers identify the important information easily.

Here are some points you should consider before drafting the tables in your research paper:

  • Finalize the results that are required to be presented in tabular form.
  • Include the data or results that are relevant to the main aim of the study without being choosy and including only those results that support your hypothesis.
  • Create each table in a lucid manner and style without cluttering it with in-table citations.
  • Number the tables in a sequence according to their occurrence in the text.
  • Don’t mix tables with figures. Maintain separate numbering systems for tables and figures.
  • Create tables in a storytelling manner. Remember that your tables communicate a story to the reader that runs parallel to the text.
  • If you are using or reproducing tables from other published articles, obtain permission from the copyright holder (usually the publisher) or/andacknowledge the source.
  • Do not repeat the tabular contents in the text again; that will create confusion among readers.
  • Use clear and informative text for each table title.
  • Take extra care while extending the data in your tables. If you have too many tables, consider using them as appendices or supplementary materials.
  • Create tables with sufficient spacing in the layout so that they do not look messy, crowded, or cluttered.
  • Do not forget to spell out abbreviations used in the tables, ideally in the footnotes.

For the reader, a research paper that is dense and text-heavy can be tiresome. Conversely, tables not only encapsulate your data lucidly, but also welcome a visual relief for the reader. They add value to the layout of your paper. Besides, and more importantly, reviewers often glance at your tabulated data and illustrations first before delving into the text. Therefore, tables can be the initial draw for a reviewer and deliver a positive impact about your research paper. If you can achieve an optimum balance among your text, tables, and illustrations, it can go a long way toward being published.

Self-Plagiarism : Unethical Practices in Scholarly Publications

Is it wrong to reproduce one’s own content partially or completely in another publication? The answer is YES, although many people believe to the contrary.

Self-plagiarism is an unethical practice, and is almost as undesirable as plagiarism somebody else’s work. In the world of journal publications, self-plagiarism—or plagiarism for that matter—leads to two major problems: duplicate publications and simultaneous publications. Let’s look at these terms in greater detail.

Self-plagiarism or simultaneous submissions is an unethical practice.

Publication of a paper that has substantial similarities with a paper already published in some other journal is known as a duplicate publication. In duplicate publications, authors source the contents from a prior publication of their own or from the work of others without proper permission. When sourcing any information from published papers, it is mandatory for you to seek prior permission from the publishers as they often hold the copyright to the published paper and not the author of the paper. Another alternative is to use the reproduced information within double quotation marks and clearly indicate the original source. However, the latter solution will only work when the reproduced text is just a sentence or two and used to support your own text.

Submission of the same manuscript to two or more journals at the same time without informing the publishers is known as simultaneous submissions.It is considered as an ‘unethical publishing behavior’ because it could engender a copyright dispute. In addition, publishing the paper at two separate places leads to waste of resources of the publishers and the scientific and academic fraternity as a whole. However, a paper written in a particular language can be translated and published in a different journal after acquiring the necessary permissions.

Duplicate publications and simultaneous submissions have serious consequences. An author engaging in such unethical practices is liable to be summarily rejected by the publishers. Worse still, the offenders could be banned from submitting any paper in the future or blacklisted, which means that they will not be able to get their paper published in any journal.

The scholarly ability and integrity of authors come under the scanner when they use such illegitimate means to get their work published. It is very important to keep the dos and don’ts in mind while publishing a paper and follow the guidelines specified by the target journal. If information published elsewhere is critical for your own research, you need to ensure that you do not violate the time-honoured code of publication ethics. This is because honest and ethical publications area sine qua non for the development of the scholar community.

Preparing your figures for research papers

How to prepare your figures for research papers

Often a research paper is embedded with loads of data and complex results and it might not be viable to include all them in the space-constrained paper. Hence, this calls for effective presentation of the information in the form of figures or diagrams. In fact, figures are the most powerful tools that leave a strong visual impact for both reviewers and readers.

Here are few tips on how you can improve the presentation of figures in your research paper.

  • Ensure that the components of the figures are clearly visible including the lines and text.
  • Always use a standard font style and size for the figure text.
  • Every figure needs to have a legend. The legend should support your figure entirely. The reader should be able to understand your figure, paired with its legend, without going to the results or method sections.
  • All abbreviations in the figure legends need to be consolidated and spelt out.
  • All parts of the figure need to be labelled. The symbols, lines, colors, abbreviations, error bars, scale bars, and other components need to be defined and described properly.
  • If you are using photographs of your human subjects, don’t forget to obtain an informed signed consent for the same.
  • Do not be afraid to use lengthy figure and table captions—better that than confusing or incomplete ones.
  • Do not forget to cite the figure that has been taken from another source and supports your present study. Use the same citation style throughout the paper.
  • All journals have their specific requirements for formatting figures, such as file format, font size, font style, image resolution, style of numbering, etc. Adhere to these guidelines before submission.
  • Cite figures in the main text at the appropriate place where the text is supported by a particular figure.

The figures in your research paper communicate a parallel story to the reader. In fact, the reader can derive a fairly good idea of your paper by just scanning the figures in the paper. Remember that figures are not just tools to beautify your text; they are the heart of your research and an intrinsic part of your research paper. This highlights the importance of organizing the figures well so that they are able to perform as an excellent prop for your text.

Research problem: A statement of intent

Research problem: A statement of intent
How do I devise my research problem?

A research problem is a statement based on the area of research, which is the first step in a research process. Devising an appropriate research problem depends on the in-depth knowledge, skills, and expertise of a researcher in their particular subject field. Therefore, a researcher needs to devote considerable time to select a suitable research problem.

Steps to formulate a research problem

There are two essential steps to follow while selection:

  • Identification of a research problem
  • Selection of a broad research topic and narrowing it down to a precise statement.

Sources to derive a research problem

Several factors, both extraneous and intrinsic to the research per se, help the researcher in identifying a research problem. They include the following:

  • Field conditions: The rich experiences in the field provide relevant ideas for developing an apt research problem.
  • Personal experience: This might help generate new ideas for formulating the research problem.
  • Previous related researches and theories, and critical review of the available literature: Relevant questions might crop up in our mind when we evaluate the articles, reports and reviews related to the subject area.
  • Expert advice: Subject matter experts are vastly experienced in the field of study. Hence, they may help the researcher find the current problem related to the research, and even devise a research problem.

What should be the nature of the research problem?

There are several guidelines that need to be followed while selecting a research problem. Your research problem needs to be:

  • An original and unique one.
  • An encapsulation of the nature of research.
  • Feasible vis-a-vis time required for its completion.
  • A realistic statement that can be achieved with the available financial resources.
  • Backed by support from your affiliated institution and peers.
  • Formulated in accordance with ethical considerations.
  • Based on recent or current problems persistent in the field of study.

Types of research problems

Research problems can vary according to the field of study and the scope of the research. Basically, there are three types of research problems:

  • Descriptive
  • Relative
  • Casual

A well-framed and appropriate research problem presents the researcher’s view in a clear and lucid manner, and helps readers understand the purpose of the research better.

Post-publication peer review under the spotlight

Peer review is necessary

Peer review is a cornerstone of scientific publications. Prior to the publication of a work in a journal, it is sent to an independent expert, who quickly and anonymously evaluates its quality. In fact, peer review is the best option for evaluating scientific papers.

However, open evaluation of papers is a new trend. Open evaluation is the ongoing post-publication process of transparent peer review and assessment of papers, with a promise to address the problems in the current system of scientific publishing. In an open peer-review system, writing a review is equivalent to starting a discussion similar to an online forum.

Journals seem to have little interest in validating the papers they have published. This is justifiable because, in some situations, such validation may invite the risk of questioning the process of pre-publication peer review.

It is rare for scientific conversations to be published on mainstream media. However, dedicated websites like Pub-Peer allow users to discuss and review scientific researches completed by authors across the globe. This site encourages academicians and readers to engage in post-publication peer reviews and offers a platform to highlight the shortcomings in several high-profile papers.

In a recent case, the high-profile retraction of a paper on stimulus-triggered acquisition of pluripotency (STAP) by Nature in July, five months after publication, caught the headlines. This is one of many cases where post-publication peer reviews are triggering retractions and allegations of scientific fraud.

However, taking such discussions to social networks such as Twitter, Facebook and personal blogs have also enabled researchers to share their comments openly on papers. This trend is adopting the concept of trial-by-the-Internet, which seems to be gathering attention and pace in several fields. However, it cannot be ignored that in some ways it questions the traditional peer review process.

post publocation peer review highlight the shortcomings in several high-profile papers.

Philip Moriarty from the University of Nottingham in the UK, who has been involved for years in the post-publication debate on striped nanoparticles, recently raised the point of critiquing authors in a public forum.  As he rightly points out, ‘There are cases where the authors have got back and very comprehensively addressed comments, and that’s improved the situation, but of course when you’re critiquing somebody in a public forum like that it can turn nasty very, very quickly.’

Even as publishers look at post-publication peer reviews as a threat, it remains to be seen whether more critics will embrace the idea in the future.

Authorship Disputes: Tips to avoid conflicts

Tips to avoid Authorship DisputesAuthorship’ denotes the practice of providing truthful credits for intellectual contributions and innovative concepts. It not only helps authors acquire the credit for the work, but also ensures that they assume responsibility for the research conducted and presented. Moreover, it is perceived as a tool for personal satisfaction, prestige, and especially, a stepping stone in a writer’s academic career. Though the term sounds interesting, it involves high risks and problems in practice.

The Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE) often receives disputes regarding authorship. These cases usually involve disputes like the omission of a deserving junior researcher’s name from the authors’ list or a proposal by a sponsor for including the name of a non-contributing author. However, it also received a shocking complaint from a female author, who said that her name was replaced with that of her boss in the final version when she was away on maternity leave.

Apart from having a direct impact on the publication in question, authorship disputes can also have repercussions on a writer’s fair credit, collegial relationships, future collaborations, and reputations.

Following the adage that prevention is better than cure, the following are some guiding principles to avoid conflicting situations like authorship disputes.

  • Adhere to the authorship criteria of the publication

Each publisher follows specific authorship guidelines enunciated by organizations such as the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE), World Association of Medical Editors (WAME), Council of Science Editors (CSE), Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE), and Good Publication Practice (GPP2). Non-compliance with the concerned guidelines—i.e., unequal application of authorship criteria, granting authorship to undeserving individuals, and/or omitting authorship to deserving individuals—is considered to be a serious offense in the academic world and can be construed as  research misconduct.

  • Hold prior discussions with co-authors

All the authors of a paper should discuss and finalize the authorship order and contributions along with respective responsibilities before beginning to prepare a manuscript and, if possible, even before starting a study.

  • Stick to the plan of action

In few cases, it has been observed that even if the authors have agreed to the sequence of authorship and contributions, fraudulent authors make last-minute changes in the manuscript or research paper just before submission. This leads to conflicts in publishing the paper, and some even end with retraction of the paper. To avoid such anomalies and unpleasant situations, it is advisable to comply with the agreement made between the author and co-authors.

However, even the best plans sometimes fail. So it is better to track and revisit the issues and monitor any changes or modifications in authorship or contributions. If one discovers any changes before publication, it can be revised after discussions with the co-authors. Conversely, if the detection is made post-publication, one can contact the journal along with the written agreements and evidence of contributions, and request for a correction or a retraction of the paper.

Why are academic journals expensive?

why academic journals are expensive?Scientific or academic journals serve the distinctive purpose of reviewing, verifying, spreading and providing access to quality and valid research work. However, they are generally too expensive for students to buy.

Some time ago, scientific journals were far more accessible for researchers because they were subscribed by libraries and members didn’t need to buy them. But such easy and inexpensive access to the journals affected the sales of the publishers, who gradually accrued losses. The situation became worse for publishers because many readers could access journals through latched-in libraries and their members. There were cases when the researchers did not have to pay for access to the journals or research articles. For instance, you could benefit if you are associated with any college or university that endows you with free access facilities to the journals, either online or offline. Further, many public libraries located in big cities have purchased the same databases or journals, which you can access with your library card at no cost.

On the other hand, the commercialization and monopolization of disseminating information has surely been increased by a few publishers, resulting in unreasonable financial practices. This practice has seen a leap each year.

In addition, the following factors make academic journals expensive:

  • There are many institutions that are insensitive to price rise. They are basically the primary subscribers. They are ready to procure the journals irrespective of the price because getting access to the materials is more important for them.
  • The Content Management System (CMS) vendors take a chunk of profit for the online content.
  • Many libraries are linked to membership organizations, hence making the journals costlier for many and cheaper for few.
  • A high price is usually preferred to maintain a gap between the academia and the outside world.

The price issue has increased the non-accessibility of journal articles mainly in developing countries, especially in Africa and Asia. This has kept aloof many potentially lifesaving researches, which could have saved millions of lives if they were accessible for free.

However, there’s always a way out. You can simply find the author’s email address (most are happy to oblige) and drop a polite email asking for the PDF, and subsequently avoid the copy charge.

The Future of Open Access Publishing

The Diamond Model of Open Access PublishingOpen access (OA) publishing is a major contemporary theme that shapes many scholarly discussions today. Scholastics or academics, colleges, corporate publishing houses, non-profit publishers and journals, editors, editorial boards, labor unions representing publication employees, funding agencies, and policymakers are all vital actors in this context. They hold numerous, albeit diverse, opinions on open access.

The discussion on OA is a debate about the future of the academic world without the fetters of copyright and licensing laws. The pros and cons of traditional profit-oriented academic publishing need to be discussed, including touchy issues such as monopoly prices and inequalities in access. Many believe that traditional publishing operates within the ambits of a market economy, which does not go well with, and often inhibits, academic pursuits. Simultaneously, the discussion must also center on the contemporary perspectives on OA that are frequently advanced by the mainstream publishing industry, policymakers and labor unions, and then meet these perspectives head on with cogent arguments in favor of OA publishing.

In recent times, a new term has been added to the debate on open access publishing, viz., diamond open access (DOA) publishing. This kind of publishing gives a chance to reclaim academic commons. DOA is a non-profit academic publishing concept that looks at scholastic knowledge as a common good and encourages job security by providing employment to many in the field of open publishing. It recognizes the true essence of the academic domain as a communication system that produces and disseminates academic knowledge as a commons in the OA process.

Promotion of academic commons through DOA needs public funding, favorable policies, research grants, and a system of rewards for academicians who act as editors, reviewers or editorial board members. After all, DOA works in the interest of the academia.

Existing concepts such as “green open access” and “gold open access” have their own limitations. In particular, the green open access model has been criticized because, like conventional publishing, it also operates in a market economy; authors are asked to pay to get their works published. This often leads to “vanity publishing,” where authors pay to publish researches that are often below par. Second, gold open access works in favor of research areas that have financial backing. For instance, while researchers in fields like life sciences have the cash to pay their way through to publication, others are hard put to get their work published through the gold access model.

DOA seeks to overcome these limitations. For a start, unlike gold open access, authors do not need to pay. Second, the final publication is immediately accessible to the public.

DOA publishing has emerged as a policy intervention and reflection on current issues related to OA publishing. It incorporates the following key questions about OA publishing:

  • What role should OA play in the future of academic publishing?
  • What should the future of academic publishing look like?
  • What academic policy reforms are needed in OA publishing?

Admittedly, the debate on OA has thus far lacked vision and the incorporation of innovative social practices. Therefore, there is a need to trigger a new level of debate with questions directed at contemporary policymakers, the writing and editing fraternity, publishing houses, and OA publishing associations and librarians.

Publication Pollution by Predatory Journals

Publication Pollution by open access publication mode

In a commentary published in the Mayo Clinic Proceedings Journal New York University bioethicist Arthur Caplan convokes scientists and physicians to take a stand against predatory publishing, plagiarism, and fraudulent publications, which are polluting the fields of science and medicine. He also warns that if the medical and scientific communities continue to remain in denial of these trends, the trustworthiness, utility, and value of science and medicine will be irreparably damaged.

In this era of digital publication of research works, the popularity of online scholarly journals has led to the emergence of an open-access publishing mode in which authors are often asked to pay to get their accepted papers published. This mode has become so widespread that some online journals have started misusing it. They use deceitful practices to cheat the author and pollute the network of scholarly publications. This is why they are categorized as predatory journals.

When the problem of predatory publications was posed to Jeffrey Beall, the well-known librarian and associate professor at Auraria Library in the University of Colorado in Denver, he stated that researchers, science communication, and science itself are the victims of this publication pollution.

How do such predatory journals thrive?

In the initial stage, these publishers approach authors through personalized and deceptive spam e-mails to persuade them to publish their research works in their journals. They also falsify impact factor rankings to allure researchers and authors. However, they hide the names of the owners, editors, and reviewers, and don’t even disclose their business address. They deliberately hide the fact that an article processing fee has to be paid prior to the publication of the paper. Thus, authors remain unaware about publication charges until they receive the invoice from the publication office. Later, they are forced to pay because of a sense of obligation and the urge to get their research published. This style of publishing pressurizes the author to search for alternative means to cover the unforeseen expense. The publishers also include a list of reviewers and editors on their journal pages without seeking their consent.  The journals pay no heed to the requests of authors to remove those names.

This trauma adds to the highly stressful experience of authors as they struggle to publish their research for better job prospects. In a bid to make their CVs more impressive by increasing the list of published works under their belt, authors fall easy prey to predatory journals.

The eagerness to publish articles has led many authors to the path of open-access publishers operating hundreds of journals. Barely four years earlier, the market share was dominated by larger, long-established institutions, each with 100 or more different journals in the field of science. However, according to a survey mentioned by Cenyu Shen and BoChrister Bjork in their research on predatory publications, approximately 8,000 journals of 963 predatory publishers have published nearly 420,000 articles.

These predatory journals are not only deceiving the authors, but are also polluting the academic and scientific research world. Here are some glaring problems in these predatory publications.

Misconduct in Research

Predatory journals encourage plagiarism, self-plagiarism, image and data manipulation, salami slicing of one research into several papers, and host and honorary authorship. Though some of these practices also occur in legit journals, the frequency is much more in fake ones because the prime driver of spurious journals is revenue growth. Therefore, predatory journals publish articles without subjecting them to a stringent review process. As a result, non-science and fake research articles are published in science journals with manipulative data and findings. This weakens the process of academic research. Moreover, the whole scientific research world experiences a breakdown when such articles are cited in other scientific articles in cyclical effect.

Subpar publications

Predatory journals gradually turn out to be a tool for unscrupulous authors who desperately want to obtain the annual published articles margin in their names. With fake journals offering to publish articles within a short span of time, the complicit authors succeed in publishing subpar articles. They don’t even hesitate to publish articles authored by others in their name.

Sudden blackout of such journals

In case the journal disappears from the academic community, authors not only lose their publishing fee, but also their published research work.

Therefore, in order to shield yourself from this pollution, you must carefully review contracts with your publishers and assess the publisher’s rights and assertions. That will help you ensure a long and durable relationship with your publishers. Even if the process of getting your paper published in well-known real journals is tedious and painstaking, it is definitely worth it to protect your research from being misused.

How to promote your published articles for maximum impact

Tips and ways to promote your published research articles

Now-a-days, you need to utilize various online mediums to get the added eyeballs for your research articles and promote your research findings and publications to a wider audience. These mediums include social media, search engine optimization (SEO), and blogs.

Nearly one million scholarly articles are published each year. However, for authors like you, that should not be an end in itself. You must promote your published articles and increase the impact of your research and cultivate a stronger reputation as a researcher. That added exposure can help you move your career forward

Here are some effective ways to promote your published research.

Leverage your social media presence

Once your paper is published, take advantage of the many social media platforms to inform your close peer groups, followers, and other academicians in your network to read and follow your research. If you have an account on Twitter, Facebook, or Google+, you can update your research status by sending them a message. Some social media also offer features to track feedback and count “likes” generated by your article.

Connect with scholarly reference platforms

The top rated scholarly or academic reference managing platforms such as Academia.edu, MyNetResearch, ResearchGate, and Mendeley help keep scholars of the same discipline or research branch connected and updated about their latest achievements.

Link your publication to your academic profile

Provide links to your latest articles on your institutional website and online academic curriculum vitae. Interested readers can read, follow, and cite your latest research and publications.

Blog

Maintain your own academic blog and link your article to your blog to enhance the chances of discoverability on web crawlers and search engines. Moreover, post small write-ups about your published research works. Every day, scholarly articles are receiving approximately 12,000 mentions via blogs, otherwise known as Altmetrics. You could be among them.

Attend scientific conventions

Present your papers at conventions. That will enable not only fellow researchers, but also the journalists covering the conventions, to access your research and promote your publications.

Apart from these post-publication tips, you can also promote your article even before it is published. You can use SEO tools for increasing the number of hits. Use clear and widely searched keywords, especially in the title and the abstract. You can add these keywords while creating headings and subheadings for better visibility in search results. But you need to avoid overdoing this because unnecessary repetitions can have a detrimental effect on the visibility in search results.