Wellcome Open Research author survey results

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Author survey shows that publication speed and the ability to share a variety of research outputs are the primary reasons why authors publish on the Wellcome Open Research publishing platform. Michael Markie, Publisher at F1000 and Robert Kiley, Head of Open Research, Wellcome discuss the survey results and what actions will taken based on them.

Wellcome Open Research has now been publishing for just over 6 months and to-date has published 63 articles.

The platform was specifically developed for Wellcome-funded researchers to explore the benefits of immediate publication of articles and other research outputs with no editorial bias, followed by an author-led, transparent, peer review process. As this approach differs somewhat from the traditional publishing model we were keen to reach out to those authors who had used this platform to understand their motivations for publishing here, what they liked and which aspects could be improved.

Consequently, in April 2017 we invited the first 50 submitting authors on Wellcome Open Research to participate in a short survey. We received an impressive 84% response rate and access to the survey results can be found here. Below is a summary of the major findings and what we have learnt from our authors.

What have we learnt?

The author experience with the editorial office and their experience of the overall publication process was very positive. A clear majority said that the submission process was efficient and they were very satisfied with the level of support, speed and responsiveness of the editorial team. Due to this positive experience, most the authors said they would recommend publishing on the platform to a colleague, and said they would also be inclined to publish again.

Speed and variety of article types

We asked our authors explicitly what was their primary reason for submitting to the platform. The two stand out reasons were, one, the speed of publication and two, the fact that the platform publishes all research outputs – not just traditional research articles.

With regard to speed of publication, the median time from submission to publication is 19 days, whilst the median time from publication to when an article has passed peer review and is indexed in PubMed, PMC and Europe PMC is currently 31 days. The speed in which research findings are not only accessible but also discoverable through these major online platforms is a key factor for our authors and one which is driving new submissions.

We are also very pleased that the platform is carving out a niche of publishing a variety of research types that the authors believe should be made publicly available. Currently half the articles we have published are not traditional research articles, but rather a rich mix of research outputs such as software tools, methods, protocols and data notes. Our authors have made it clear there is much research they would like to share with the community but can’t necessarily do so in a traditional journal; Wellcome Open Research is providing a useful venue to facilitate this.

Perception of peer review

The open peer review process, which is author led – suggesting reviewers, and engaging with them in an open, transparent way –  is probably the biggest difference that our authors experience whilst publishing on the platform and, not surprisingly, this aspect of the process is where we have had suggestions of how we can improve.

We received valuable feedback that our competing interest’s criteria about co-authors may be too stringent, as in some cases previous co-authors and collaborators are the most appropriate people to review a certain article and so shouldn’t be automatically excluded. This is a valid point and something we will look more closely at.  Ultimately, we need to balance the need of ensuring we receive an unbiased review against an ambition to allow the author to select the right reviewer for an article, which in some cases might be someone they have previously worked with in the past.

The survey also highlighted an interesting dilemma around attitudes to open peer review.  So, whereas only 14% of respondents disagreed with the statement that “the ability to select the referees improves the publication process”, a third of respondents felt that author-driven selections would result in reviews being less critical.  Whether this is the case is impossible to determine, but it is worth noting that reviewers have been prepared to “not approve” papers and that the reviews – all publicly available – are on occasions highly critical.

Responding to survey results

Our authors also felt that the information about the peer review process could be clearer, especially with regard to how and when to respond to their online reviews and at what point they should make their revisions. In light of this, we intend to streamline the authors user experience so they are fully aware what steps are needed and at what point to follow them. With the author having more autonomy in the peer review process and in the absence of an editor, it is important that the instructions and tools we provide to the author enables them to navigate the process in a simple and intuitive way.

Finally, our referee finder tool was well received, though only half the authors made use of it.  For those who did use it, it not only helped find potential reviewers, but also helped to identify new collaborators by bringing the authors attention to research groups they were previously unaware of.  In the words of one researcher:

“We chose referees relevant to the project, from the selector tool. In fact, one of them is now coming to do a seminar at my institution, so the process has also led to networking and potentially collaboration opportunities for us.”

With this in mind, we will work on making this tool more integrated and visible at the point where authors are selecting the reviewers for their article as it seems to be a very good complement to their own suggestions, and it is helping ensure the correct reviewers are being selected.

We will continue to survey our authors as more of them publish on the platform. We thank those who participated this time around and through this community feedback will make the necessary changes to keep improving the Wellcome Open Research platform.

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