Author Archives: Nicola Dowson

About Nicola Dowson

Nicola is Senior Library Services Manager for Research Support at the Open University Library. Her role involves working in partnership across the University to develop products and services that support the University’s research activity.

New academic writing mini-collection

We have a new mini-collection of books on academic writing, purchased on the recommendation of PACE (Professional and Academic Communication in English) in order to support postgraduate reseachers.

There are a handful of print books, which are housed on the second floor of the Library building alongside the research methods print books (near The Park). They are available on a reference basis (i.e. they cannot be taken out of the library) in order to maximise the number of people who can use them.

There are also a number of ebooks, which you can access online:

We will be adding a few more titles to this collection in the near future.

We hope you enjoy using them and do feed back any comments regarding the collection!

New research methods print books

In response to feedback from postgraduate researchers, we now have a collection of over 70 print research methods books.

They are housed on the second floor of the Library building (near The Park) and are available on a reference basis (i.e. they cannot be taken out of the library) in order to maximise the number of people who can use them.

These titles were recommended by postgraduate researchers and cover many topics, including:

  • literature searching
  • writing research proposals
  • surveys
  • SPSS
  • ethnography
  • qualitative data analysis
  • mixed methods research

There are specific titles addressing subject areas such as education, business, management and the social sciences more broadly.

We hope you enjoy using them and do feed back any comments regarding the collection!

Public speaking and presentation skills for early career researchers

The Charlesworth Group, a publishing services company, are running a webinar on public speaking and presentation skills for early career researchers.

It’s on Tuesday July 30th @ 10:00am or @ 14:00pm BST and you can get more info and sign up here on their webinar schedule for the year:

https://www.cwauthors.com/article/webinar-schedule-2019

 

What is a systematic review and how does it differ from a ‘regular’ literature review?

There are a lot of different types of literature review and there is a lot of different terminology surrounding literature reviews.

This creates confusion and there is a particularly large amount of confusion regarding systematic reviews. The term, strictly speaking, refers to a specific and particularly rigourous method that has its origins in biomedicine and healthcare (although it is adapted and used in other disciplines). However, many people use the term to refer to a ‘regular’ literature review that is methodical and comprehensive.

In short, if somebody asks you to carry out a systematic review, it is worth clarifying exactly what they have in mind.

Here, we will spell out the differences between ‘regular’ literature reviews and systematic reviews as we see them:

‘Regular’ literature reviews

A regular literature review involves finding, analysing and synthesizing relevant literature, then presenting it in an organised way to the reader.

Regular literature reviews can be methodical and comprehensive. They can involve attempting to find all the literature there is on a topic, recording results and reflecting on strategies. We could even describe them as being “systematic” in an informal way but they do not employ the full formal methods of a systematic review, as outlined below.

Systematic reviews

In biomedicine and healthcare a systematic review aims to be exhaustive, objective, transparent and replicable, employing specific methods to reach these goals. It typically involves stages such as:

  • Creation of a structured research question to guide the process
  • Writing a protocol or following a previously established protocol, which sets out the methods the systematic review will use
    • A protocol covers things like which databases will be used, why they will be used, what keywords will be used, what other search techniques will be used. The protocol is usually developed through testing and is often peer-reviewed
  • A methods sections, including:
    • A list of all databases and/or journals that were searched
    • The exact keywords, limiters etc. that were used
    • When each search was undertaken
    • How many results each seach found
  • The titles and abstracts of articles found are compared against inclusion criteria
  • Meta-analysis may be undertaken
    • In this context, meta-analysis refers to the statistical analysis of data from comparable studies
  • Reporting on the results of all included studies, highlighting any similarities and differences between them

A systematic review is often preceded by a scoping review, a relatively brief search of relevant databases, which aims to tell you whether your research question, in its current form, is worth pursuing or whether it needs changing. This a process tells researchers whether a recent or ongoing review of the topic already exists – if it does then a new systematic review may not be necessary.

The description above is necessarily brief and partial. We recommend that you consult guidance such as that produced by the Centre for Reviews and Dissemination (CRD) for a fuller explanation of how systematic reviews work in biomedicine and healthcare.

As mentioned, the systematic reviews method has been adapted by other disciplines. For example, the Campbell Collaboration have adopted the method, defining systematic reviews and producing guidance with a focus more on the social sciences. There are also books (e.g. this book we have in print at the Library) and articles (e.g. this article which is open access) on systematic reviews in the social sciences.

If you want to know more about systematic reviews, you can also watch the recording of the online training session by Library Services (OU login required).

What was the first academic journal?

Well, like most things in academia, the question of which academic journal came first is contested.

Usually, it’s seen as being between Journal des sçavans, which was based in Parisand Philosophical Transactions, produced by the Royal Society of London.

It is not contested that Journal des sçavans was the first of these to be published. The first issue was published on January 5th 1665 whereas the first issue of Philosophical Transactions was published 60 day later.

However, the issue seems to be whether historians consider Journal des sçavans to be a “true” academic journal, with some believing that it didn’t contain enough original science to count.

Either way, the history of scholarly communications is fascinating and I look forward to digging into it some more to see what it can tell us about the future of academic publishing.

References

History of Philosophical Transactions. (n.d.). Retrieved June 27, 2019, from The Secret History of the Scientific Journal website: https://arts.st-andrews.ac.uk/philosophicaltransactions/brief-history-of-phil-trans/

McClellan, J. E. (2005). Scientific Journals. In A. C. Kors (Ed.), Encyclopedia of the Enlightenment (online). Retrieved from https://www.oxfordreference.com/view/10.1093/acref/9780195104301.001.0001/acref-9780195104301-e-652 (subscription-based resource)

The Royal Society. (2019). History of Philosophical Transactions. Retrieved June 27, 2019, from The Royal Society website: https://royalsociety.org/journals/publishing-activities/publishing350/history-philosophical-transactions/

Spinak, E., & Packer, A. L. (2015). 350 years of scientific publication: from the “Journal des Sçavans” and Philosophical Transactions to SciELO. Retrieved June 27, 2019, from SciELO in Perspective website: https://blog.scielo.org/en/2015/03/05/350-years-of-scientific-publication-from-the-journal-des-scavans-and-philosophical-transactions-to-scielo/#.XRSE8uhKiUm

Swoger, B. (2012). The (mostly true) origins of the scientific journal. Retrieved June 27, 2019, from Scientific American Blog Network website: https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/information-culture/the-mostly-true-origins-of-the-scientific-journal/

Plan S – a primer

What is Plan S?

Plan S is a radical proposal regarding open access (OA) to research publications.

It was created by cOAlition S, a group of research funders co-ordinated by Science Europe. It includes UKRI (UK Research and Innovation), Wellcome, the European Research Council (ERC), the European Commission and The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

What does Plan S propose?

The crux of Plan S is that peer-reviewed research publications resulting from grants that the coalition allocate:

“must be fully and immediately open and cannot be monetised in any way”

cOAlition S believe they have a duty of care towards research as a whole. Thus they favour OA because it helps research function more efficiently and have greater impact on society. They feel there is no justification for keeping research publications behind paywalls and that progress towards OA needs accelerating.

More specifically, Plan S requires that all peer-reviewed research publications funded via calls posted from 1st January 2021 must be:

  • Published in an OA journal where the content is OA immediately (gold OA)

OR

OR

  • Published in an OA repository where the content is OA immediately (green OA with no embargo)
      • At The OU, authors could comply by depositing their work in ORO, as long as the work meets all other Plan S requirements

Making research data and other outputs OA is encouraged and a statement clarifying policy regarding monographs and book chapters is expected by the end of 2021.

Other headlines include:

  • Publication in hybrid journals (i.e. subscription-based journals that charge a fee to make articles OA) will not be supported…
    • …unless the journal moves towards becoming fully OA within a defined timeframe under a “transformative arrangement”
  • Authors or their institutions must retain copyright
    • CC-BY is the preferred license
  • Publishers should charge reasonable fees for OA and make the structure of these fees transparent
    • Funders may even standardise and cap the fees they pay
  • A commitment to the responsible evaluation of research when allocating funds
    • The coalition states it will judge research on its own merit and not on things like the journal it was published in or metrics such as Journal Impact Factor
  • Compliance with Plan S will be monitored and non-compliance will be sanctioned

However, the devil is in the detail – there are a lot of elements to Plan S and we recommend reading it yourself to see which aspects might impact you.

What are people saying about Plan S?

There have been a LOT of reactions to Plan S and these are, predicatably, mixed. Some of the themes I have noticed are:

  • Many people support the aims of Plan S
  • There is concern it is too STEM-focused and will negatively affect AHSS researchers
  • There is concern regarding some of the implementation detail
    • e.g. the technical specifications regarding publications, OA repositories and other OA platforms
  • Some believe it will impinge academic freedom
    • i.e. to choose where and how to publish
  • There is concern about the effects it will have on smaller publishers and learned societies
  • The timescale is too ambitious
  • We have been here before
    • There have been statements, reports and policies made in the past which did not push through the radical change anticipated

 

What is next for Plan S?

There is still a lot of uncertainty regarding the detail and implementation of Plan S, so all concerned will need to keep a watching brief.

What are responsible metrics?

“Responsible metrics” refers to the ethical and appropriate use of citation-based metrics (e.g. citation counts, Journal Impact Factor, H-index), altmetrics (e.g. how many times research is mentioned, used, saved and shared on blogs, social media and social bookmarking services) and other quantitative means of evaluating research.

It applies to everyone involved in using or producing these metrics e.g.:

  • researchers
  • funders
  • institutions (i.e. universities and other bodies that employ researchers)
  • publishers
  • organisations that supply metrics

The idea is to offer guidelines for good practice that help prevent scenarios such as:

  • a journal article being judged solely on the journal it is published in rather than on its own merit
  • universities focusing on improving their place in a ranking list, when the completeness of data and appropriateness of measures the list uses are contested
  • employers using arbitrary metric thresholds to hire and/or fire staff
  • the assessment of research in general being skewed by the fact that metrics can be gamed and/or lead to unintended consequences

Adopting a responsible metrics approach is seen as good practice across the research community.

The Metric Tide is an important report published in 2015, which helped foreground and frame discussion of responsible metrics (in the UK at least). It states:

“Responsible metrics can be understood in
terms of a number of dimensions:

Robustness: basing metrics on the best possible data in terms of accuracy and scope;

Humility: recognising that quantitative evaluation should support – but not supplant– qualitative, expert assessment;

Transparency: keeping data collection and analytical processes open andtransparent, so that those being evaluated can test and verify the results;

Diversity: accounting for variation by field, and using a range of indicators to reflectand support a plurality of research and researcher career paths across the system;Reflexivity: recognising and anticipating the systemic and potential effects ofindicators, and updating them in response”

Other important milestones in responsible metrics include the San Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment (DORA), formulated in 2012, and The Leiden Manifesto for research metrics, which was published in 2015.

Expect to hear more about this issue as research funders begin to implement the principles of responsible metrics and demand that organisations receiving grants from them do likewise – see Plan S and Wellcome’s Open access policy 2021.

CANCELLED – Shut Up and Write sessions for postgraduate researchers (PGRs)

*Edit – 28.05.19 – Just to let you know that, unfortunately, the Shut Up and Write pilot has been cancelled due to extremely low interest.

This means that there will be no Shut Up and Write on Wednesday 29th May or Wednesday 5th June.

Please accept our apologies for any inconvenience caused.

We will investigate whether to try running it at a different time later in the year.

If you have any feedback, please contact library-research-support@open.ac.uk *

Library Services are starting Shut Up and Write sessions for postgraduate researchers (PGRs) on campus in Milton Keynes*. Sessions involve meeting with other PGRs in the Library building, writing for 25 minutes at a time then taking a 5 minute break. The idea is to make academic writing more productive and social.

If you are a PGR then simply turn up, bringing anything you need to write and to make yourself comfortable.

The first session is Wednesday 1st May, 13.00-15.00, using desks on the second floor of the Library. Signs will be put up on the day to guide you.

Subsequently, sessions will take place every Wednesday, 13.00-15.00 in the same place (unless notified otherwise). This will run on a pilot basis for 6 weeks in the first instance. If successful, Shut Up and Write will be continued.

Contact library-research-support@open.ac.uk if you have any questions.

 

*Details of the Betty Boothroyd Library’s location can be found on our Contact us page and on the campus map.

Cite Them Right – help with citing and referencing different sources

Cite Them Right (OU login needed) is a service that helps you cite and reference different sources – accessible courtesy of an OU Library subscription:

If you have a specific source type in mind, all you need to do is use the search feature and choose from the results. If you’d prefer to explore Cite them right, you can browse using the categories in the menu bar. Each category expands to show you different types of sources you can reference. The ‘Basics’ section is a good place to start if you are looking for general advice about referencing.

Once you’ve found the source type you’re interested in, you can use a dropdown menu to view that source using different referencing styles. The You Try feature enables you to easily construct your own reference by replacing the example text with information relevant to your information source. You can either copy/paste your reference into your assignment or email it to yourself for later.

Cite them right works on your tablet or smartphones, so you’ll always have the guidance you need at hand.

It covers a wide variety of source types from books and journals to computer games, live performances, government and legal publications. It also covers a variety of citation styles, such as APA, MLA, Chicago and Harvard (author-date).