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Making data beautiful: the importance of supplemental material

11th November 2014
 | Katy Alexander

SONY DSCWritten by Elaine Devine, Communications Manager (Author Relations), Taylor & Francis.

2014 began with Taylor & Francis announcing our partnership with figshare, enabling authors to see their supplemental material in a new light as it was hosted on Figshare and the Figshare widget was embedded on Taylor & Francis Online.

At Taylor & Francis we all thought this was highly exciting, but why should researchers submitting their paper to one of our journals think the same? Well, as someone tweeted the day we announced it, ‘it made data beautiful’ and when you look at this you can see why they reached that conclusion. There’s just something about those little images that just makes you want to click on them. My personal favourite is still ‘Mythical Creatures of Europe’. What’s not to love about ‘an extremely swift immortal horse, which can speak’?

All those involved in research know the value of data (and for it to be supplemental material it doesn’t need to be a dataset but can be anything from a video to a presentation, map to an audio file). Supplemental material informs the research story and allows others to explore the figures, images, text or sound that led to the article. As Dr David Green, Global Publishing Director at Taylor & Francis, said when we launched Figshare on Taylor & Francis Online,

‘Using Figshare will enable us to make supplemental material, which is fundamental to the research process, discoverable to us all, in as useable a fashion as possible. ’       

We started with 468 articles across twelve Environment and Agriculture journals. As the year has progressed we’ve seen the number of journals rise to 139 (by the end of September), and have now been able to open up the functionality so all disciplines can host their supplemental material in this way. Given that our journals range from the social sciences to the humanities, technology to science, this should mean a huge variety in the type of material Taylor & Francis adds to figshare, an opportunity for authors to showcase their research in a different way, and for others to have another route to discover their article.

Checking our stats on Figshare today, there are some 3,169 uploads from Taylor & Francis journals, with some 23,534 views and 766 downloads. As we highlight to authors how easy including supplemental material is when you submit a paper to one of our journals (i.e. just send it to us and we’ll do the rest), we’re hoping to see these numbers grow.

Seems all a bit straightforward? Well, before writing this I talked to our production and e-products teams (who worked directly with Figshare to implement the partnership) and asked them what had been the challenges in introducing it on Taylor & Francis Online, and into our production system. Their response was,

‘The initial challenge for us was to find a way to integrate figshare, without having to make extensive changes and developments to our production workflow. Figshare came up with a solution for us that fitted in to our existing workflow, keeping the internal development time to a minimum.

 Hardly a challenge… but that’s about the best I can come up with.‘

I’ve removed the smiley face but I think you get the picture. As a publisher with an extensive list, it wasn’t practical to retrospectively add the Figshare widget to all of our articles but we did need to ensure that a good number used it from launch, showcasing the functionality and encouraging others journals and lists to introduce it. This approach seems to have worked, as the number of journals included has grown each quarter.

So what of the future? Plans for the rest of the year include highlighting the partnership again to our journal editors and continuing to promote the importance of supplemental material to authors, via our Editor Resources and Author Services websites. With some 1,800 journals publishing with Taylor & Francis there’s still huge scope for growth but, given that making research more discoverable benefits everyone, whether author, editor or publisher, we see this as an opportunity rather than a challenge.

As someone who works with authors I’d say if you’re considering submitting your paper to one of our journals, make sure you send your supplemental material too. Don’t let it languish on your PC. Including it gives people another way to discover your research when they’re googling a specific term, preserves it for the future, means people can cite your article and supplemental material, and increases the impact of your research. And all you need to do is just send it with your paper. What could be simpler?

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