Newer content formats for research have the potential to redefine both discoverability and impact

This post is the second in a series of posts on research discoverability. The first was on how research discoverability could potentially be a bigger problem than paywalls. Here, I discuss examples of how newer content formats for communicating research can influence discoverability and impact.

Scholarly publishing, meant for driving discovery and innovation, has ironically lacked innovation in terms of publishing and dissemination. The consumption of even cutting-edge research has been largely limited to the traditional long-form journal article with the odd article in the newspaper, as opposed to impacting society in the ways it was perhaps meant to.

While it is important that research published in journals doesn’t stray from what we know and are familiar with, the fact is that the format in which it is presented has largely remained the same for a while now. And, this does call for some thinking. For example, the need for limiting the number of articles in each issue seems at odds with how the consumption of published research largely happens online. But, that discussion is for another time. The focus here is research discoverability.

Although newer formats such as infographics and videos can supplement, as opposed to replacing the “research manuscript,” they could also potentially help researchers to zero in on the specific aspects of their work. A good infographic, for example, can summarize an entire research paper and be consumed much faster than a 6000-word manuscript.

In other words, a researcher could browse through, say, 20 infographics much faster than the same number of manuscripts to decide on which study is more allied with their research interests.

The tweet below shows how a well-done infographic can visually summarize a study effectively. The key is to use the right keywords and graphical design elements and keep the target audience in mind when designing the infographic.

The use of newer effective formats in research communication might aid in enhancing the discoverability of more relevant studies for researchers, especially those working in multidisciplinary fields. Infographics can help highlight the relevance of a finding, which is a lever of discoverability. There could be various other tools that could potentially be employed to influence various other levers of discoverability.

Think of why posters are used in conferences instead of a snapshot of an abstract? It’s because visual and animated formats go a long way in not only communicating research and engaging the general public and audiences from associated fields but also help with the consumption of research output.

On a separate but related note, abstracts have seen some level of innovation with the emergence of graphical abstracts, video abstracts, and tweetable abstracts, to name a few. Importantly, abstracts are central to the discoverability of a study. These newer formats might have enhanced discoverability, but there is scope for improvement.

Video abstracts, for example, serve as “audio-visual summaries” of not just the abstract but the entire research paper along with practical applications. Examples of such video summaries are already out there in the public domain. This video on habitual toe-walking in children is a personal favorite.

I found this video to be particularly interesting because my nephew had this nagging habit of toe-walking and wouldn’t give it up! We were all concerned about how this habit would affect the development of his ankles. This video was quite reassuring, and as it turns out, my nephew did spontaneously cease toe-walking by the time he was 10! In short, this video is just one example of how more visual representations of research output can touch lives around the globe.

Video summaries of high-impact research papers or projects could even include the proposed impact on society and show how a study has achieved its goals in terms of making a difference to the world we live in.

This, in turn, would help enhance the “real-world impact” of research. Moreover, easy-to-understand research summaries encourage dissemination beyond the realms of traditional stakeholders within the scientific community. Dr. Pavlo Basilinskyy’s research on helping cars talk better to humans is a very good example of how video summaries can be employed to help funders effectively publicize the impact of the research they sponsor.

In one of my conversations with David Wojick, a veteran consultant in the scholarly publishing industry, he mentioned that for these newer formats to gain more popularity and acceptance, they would have to be highly standardized—just as journal articles are—so people can quickly find the information they are looking for. Standardization could indeed be an indication of the maturity of new formats.

That said, it’ll be a while for these newer formats to gain a foothold in science communication. But given how these newer formats make a considerable difference when it comes to communicating real-life impact, it might be safe to say that science communication is ripe for a paradigm change. Exciting times ahead!