September 3, 2019, by Susan Lim

Enhancing research transparency

In this blog post, I’d like to highlight several innovative opportunities to publish your research methodologies in ways that promote good study design, data collection and analysis, rather than delaying until the final result. These new formats help to uphold the integrity of scholarship across disciplines.


All academic staff share a sense of pressure to publish. In Malaysia recently this topic has reached the local media channels covering the intense debates that have been ongoing in local universities about academic integrity, particularly on unethical practices like exploitation, plagiarism and stealing of students’ work by academics. On a more global scale, there is a move to shift conventional practices of the quality of research outputs are evaluated; one outcome of which is the San Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment (DORA) signed by the University of Nottingham earlier this year.

In this fast-paced world, rapid publication has many advantages, but conventional print publication can still be very slow. Pre-print repositories have recently become big news in the scholarly publishing field, but what exactly are they? Preprint repositories are solely online resources and contain works or data associated with various scholarly papers that are not yet peer-reviewed or accepted by traditional academic journals. Papers undergo basic screening and are checked for plagiarism. Once posted, readers can upload comments and you (as author) can submit revised versions of your papers at any time. Preprint servers are a great way for you to share and receive feedback on work in progress, especially STEM subjects that are rapidly moving. They can also protect you from plagiarism by others since the pre-print provides a reference that is evidence that a study is your idea and is currently ongoing. What’s more, is that they are free to use! And subsequent submission of the completed work to a conventional peer-reviewed journal is not compromised.

Five popular preprint servers are:

BioRxiv pronounced “”bio-archive” is a USA preprint repository for biology and includes pharmacology and neuroscience.

arXiv is a USA preprint repository for mathematics, computer science, quantitative biology, finance, statistics, electrical engineering, and economics.

engrXiv is part of the same family and covers all aspects of engineering.

PsyArXiv is also part of the same family and covers neuroscience, life sciences, social and behavioural sciences. I’ve used this personally, and it’s easy.

The Winnower is a USA post-publication repository that enables you to publish a range of outputs including conference talks and blogs.

Registered reports In a registered report, you submit a study protocol to a journal before your study begins. This is essentially a detailed plan for your research project including the research question to be asked, a description of the study design and methodology, and a detailed analysis plan. If this passes peer review, the journal provisionally commits to publishing your paper when the study is completed, regardless of the results. They avoid publication bias. This is where journal editors, reviewers and authors can favour positive, sometimes eye-catching results over negative findings. The quality of your study can be improved when you receive constructive peer-review comments before data-gathering begins. Crucially, potential problems in study design can also be identified and addressed before it’s too late to make changes. Around 200 journals have eagerly adopted this initiative, including the Nature Research family of journals.

Both Pre-print repositories and Registered reports challenge past traditions of academic publishing. Please do consider how they could enhance your own research outputs at UNM.

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