1. Aims and scope

Research Data Journal (RDJ) is a digital open access journal, which is designed to comprehensively document and publish deposited data sets and to facilitate their online exploration. In this way it wants to contribute to transparency of research, accelerate dissemination and foster reuse. The journal concentrates on the social sciences and the humanities, covering history, archaeology, language and literature in particular. The publication languages are English and Dutch.

The RDJ contains data papers: scholarly publications of medium length (with a maximum of 2500 words) containing a non-technical description of a data set and putting the data in a research context. A data paper gets a persistent identifier and provides publication credits to the author, who is usually (but not necessarily) also the data depositor. A data paper contains the following elements:

  1. Abstract (maximum 200 words)
  2. Introduction (background and context of the research project)
  3. Discussion of the research problem
  4. Methods of data gathering and analysis
  5. Description of the data set (through a persistent identifier linked to the deposited data in the data archive where more extensive technical documentation is stored)
  6. Concluding remarks (a real conclusion as in a research paper is allowed but not required)
  7. Literature references

2. Two stage reviewing

The journal uses a two-stage review process:

  1. Before publication a data paper is assessed by editorial advisers, who are part of the editorial board. They will give feed back to the author and indicate what improvements are needed for acceptance.
  2. Once accepted and published, the community of readers may post (short) comments on the paper. In addition the journal aims to promote the writing of expert reviews by specialists in the research field concerned. The review will also be published in the journal and linked to the data paper it discusses.

3. Sorts of data papers

The RDJ accepts two sorts of papers: (1) full papers and (2) overlay papers.

3.1. Full data paper

A full data paper will usually (but not necessarily) be written by the depositor of the data, assuming that this is also the creator and therefore the appropriate expert to discuss the data set. It will get a DOI, has one or more authors, each ideally identified by a DAI, and will thus provide credits to them.

3.2. Overlay data paper

An overlay paper has the structure of a full data paper, but has been compiled on request of the editors by somebody other than the depositor (but preferably in consultation with the depositor). When a data set was deposited some time ago, and the depositor is no longer available for writing a data paper, such documentation is a viable alternative for a full paper. The term overlay data paper is used, because the text is an overlay, based on existing scientific articles from the research project concerned, and on the technical documentation that accompanied the deposited data.

An overlay data paper has the following distinctive features:

  1. It has no author(s) and provides no publication credits.
  2. The depositor is mentioned in connection with the title.
  3. The paper will carry the name of the compiling editor (e.g. ‘overlay paper edited by Leen Breure’).
  4. It summarizes information published elsewhere and, if possible, uses text paragraphs and other content integrally taken (with permission) from original publications. In all cases, the source of each text passage or multimedia object should be completely clear in order to avoid any appearance of plagiarism.
  5. The overlay paper itself must not directly support any scientific claims, but should refer for this purpose to already accepted publications.

4. An enhanced data journal

RDJ will contain enhanced publications, a concept that usually refers to a research article linked to the underlying data, optionally enhanced with interactive facilities and multimedia which make the reading of text and validation of conclusions more convenient.

The journal will make full use of different media, such as images, video, audio, online spreadsheets and databases to facilitate online data exploration. The reader should be able to understand the relevance and scope of the data set relatively easily without downloading and installing additional software first. This concept is implemented through specific features (listed below), most of them relying on the interactivity of an online publication. Each paper comes with a PDF version as well, which can be used for printing and further distribution.

4.1. Images, sound and video

As with normal printed publications, a limited number of illustrations can be added to the text (fig. 1), but some topics may require extra visual documentation. In a web environment different solutions are available, such as a linked image page. If possible, the RDJ prefers an embedded option, which prevents the reader from page hopping. An online paper may display a larger number of pictures through an interactive image gallery or slide show component (fig. 2).

Embedded picture
Fig. 1 –  Normal illustration inserted in the text. Illustration by Ainsley Seago (2014) from Roche DG, Lanfear R, Binning SA, Haff TM, Schwanz LE, et al. (2014), Troubleshooting Public Data Archiving: Suggestions to Increase Participation. PLoS Biol 12(1): e1001779. doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.1001779.


IJzertijd Fig. 2 – An interactive image gallery ('carousel') showing archaeological finds. Source: L.P. Verniers & R. Torremans (2011-04), Spijkenisse, Waterbeheer Putten - Verbreding de Dalle, urn:nbn:nl:ui:13-keu-26e

Images, sound and video can be embedded in the data paper and/or linked to it. The latter option is required, for example, for video clips placed on YouTube or Vimeo.

4.2. Infographics

An infographic is a graphic representation of data or knowledge intended to present complex information quickly and clearly. It is a well-known form of data visualization, used in a variety of information sources, varying from public transport maps, statistical diagrams to interactive maps and timelines.

Its academic usage is intertwined with the history of science. Early examples date from the Middle Ages: medieval doctors carried books on their belts containing hand-drawn diagrams of the human body indicating the best points for bloodletting. Until far into modern times uroscopy charts were widespread, showing flasks with urine samples in different colors with diagnostic information.

A famous modern infographic is the map of Minard. In 1861 Charles Minard made an information graphic on Napoleon’s disastrous march on Moscow; it captured four different changing variables that contributed to Napoleon’s downfall in a single two-dimensional image: the army's direction as they traveled, the location the troops passed through, the size of the army as troops died from hunger and wounds, and the freezing temperatures they experienced (fig. 3).

Minard map Fig. 3 – Infographic: Charles Minard's 1869 chart showing the number of men in Napoleon’s 1812 Russian campaign army,
their movements, as well as the temperature they encountered on the return path. Lithograph, 62 x 30 cm. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Infographics can be static or interactive. Interactivity and online publishing has given a new dimension to their use: information is displayed “just in time”, when the user needs it. For example, an interactive statistical chart shows the precise numerical value when the mouse pointer is moved over a point on the curve and an interactive map can display detailed information that otherwise would have filled a long table (fig. 4). Nevertheless, in most cases a table is still required for printing, but the interactive variant is far more convenient for a quick look-up and understanding of a data set.

The RDJ offers a limited possibility to add interactive infographics. Authors are not expected to create these themselves; they should only provide the data and graphical assets (map, image, data etc.) and specify the purpose of the illustration. The production is outsourced, and design and implementation take place in close consultation with the author.

Gallows in Frisia Fig. 4 – Infographic: Example of concise data display through an interactive map: detailed information about the precise location of gallows in medieval Frisia is displayed when the user clicks on place names. Source: J.A. Mol, Gallows in Medieval Frisia (rich internet publication).

4.3. Data exploration

Last but not least, online exploration of the data set is an important feature of an enhanced data journal. At a time in which trust and transparency of research increasingly have frequently become a topic of discussion, readers should be able to check and to validate scientific claims easily.

Adding a feature as an infographic is a first step into this direction, however it is limited by its predefined pattern. User's interests may go beyond that level and it is often no easy chore to download the entire data set and open it in an appropriate application. Some projects may already have put their data base online, with a user-friendly web interface, which can be linked to the data paper.

When a data set is small, simpler solutions are more obvious, such as an online interactive spreadsheet for numeric data that the user can manipulate without being able to save any changes. If a data base structure is not complicated in terms of linked tables, the content can also be converted to read-only spreadsheets or published in the form of PDF data base reports basically searchable with keywords. Such facilities can be added to a data paper at low costs, may function as preliminary acquaintance with the data set and help to decide whether more effort is worthwhile.