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Collections as the future of academic-led journals

ScienceOpen Collections are thematic groups of research articles that transcend journals and publishers to transform how we collate and build upon scientific knowledge.

What are Collections

The modern research environment is a hyper-dimensional space with a vast quantity of outputs that are impossible to manually manage. You can think of research like a giant Rubik’s cube: you have different ‘colours’ of research that you have to mix and match and play around with to discover how the different sections fit together to become something useful.

CC BY-SA 3.0,  Booyabazooka (Wikipedia)
CC BY-SA 3.0, Booyabazooka (Wikipedia)

We view Collections as the individual faces of a Rubik’s cube. They draw from the vast, and often messy, pool of published research to provide an additional layer of context and clarity. They represent a new way for researchers to filter the published record to discover and curate content that is directly relevant to them, irrespective of who published it or what journal it appears in.

Advantages of Collections

Perhaps the main advantage of Collections to researchers is that they are independent of journals or publishers and their branding criteria. Researchers are undoubtedly the best-placed to assess what research is relevant to themselves and their communities. As such, we see Collections as the natural continuing transformation of the concept of the modern journal, acting in almost full cycle to return them to their basic principles.

The advantage of using Collections is that they provide researchers with the power to filter and select from the published record and create what is in essence a highly-specialised virtual journal. This means that Collections are not pre-selective, but instead comprise papers discriminated only by a single criterion: research that is relevant to your peers, and also deemed relevant by them.

Filtering for Collections occurs at different levels depending on scope or complexity of research. For example, Collections can be designed to focus on different research topics, lab groups or research groups, communities, or even departments or institutions. Collections can also be created for specific conferences and include posters from these, published on ScienceOpen. You define the scope and the selection criteria.

Collections are a non-redundant research output that incorporates only pre-existing resources from article records to fully open access articles and pre-prints. As they are structured on top of the published literature, they provide a way of dealing with an overload of scientific information. A suitable analogy is the problem of finding a needle in a haystack: Collections filter out the needles based on their context and overall relevancy to different research communities.

How do Collections work

Collections are started by either a single Editor or a group of Editors on ScienceOpen. Editors can select papers from our archive of over 11 million article records (and growing!) seeded by more than 2 million full text open access articles from arXiv and PubMedCentral. Editors then have full curatorial management over Collections, with major responsibilities including commenting on these papers with editorial oversight, and performing assessments of quality control and community moderation. This professional community-based mode of selectivity is in itself a form of peer review, as are the presentation of these articles by the Editors.

Collections are like the focal points of research networks. (Source)
Collections are like the focal points of research networks. (Source)

For early-career researchers and students, Collections are a great way of getting both important experience and post-publication prestige or recognition. Getting measurable outputs early on in your research career is important, and creating a Collection is a great to demonstrate your skill, while providing and engaging with a valuable community service. However, we realise that building a Collection can be time consuming work. Therefore, we recommend that they be administered by groups of Editors to divide the responsibility.

How peer review works for Collections

Editors can invite their peers to formally review papers as part of our standard public post-publication peer review service. Additionally, Collections support a full voluntary service for engagement so that anyone can publicly comment on articles. Importantly, this means that reviewing is not limited to a narrow time frame, and reviews can be cited and are assigned CrossRef DOIs and a CC BY license for further re-use.

Often the utility of post-publication peer review is questioned based on a perceived lack of quality due to the fact that it is essentially a voluntary act. Peer review can be managed by Collection Editors in the same way that the traditional pre-publication works; the main difference is that instead of forcing researchers to review papers they don’t want to, we allow them to decide which papers they are most suited to reviewing based on their expertise. It can also provide a forum to give feedback on the reproducibility of experiments, comment on protocols, share experiences and enter into a dialogue with the author of a work. Scientific results can only really have an impact if the community can build on them.

The implication for this is that quality is not then defined by the venue of publication. Quality is achieved and measured by how information is re-used and digested by research communities through selection, reading, citing, and participation in continuous public scientific discourse.

Collections are therefore flexible and dynamic, acting as ‘living journals’ that incorporate all of the positive and beneficial aspects of peer review and of journals, but move away from the idea of publisher-set pre-selective criteria. They are a new instrument that have all of the values that historically journals were designed for, but coupled with the advantages that a digital research framework allows.

The future of Collections

Collections have the possibility to leverage the power of megajournals. These are journals, such as PLOS ONE or SpringerOpen, which publish research papers irrespective of the topic, as long as they meet the basic editorial criteria for being scientifically sound. However, as they cover all research fields, they do not provide any constant level of filtering or content digestion, which is where Collections come in. For example, you can have all of your favourite journal articles from PLOS ONE in the fields as diverse as Breast Cancer or Dinosaurs, all in one place. The main advantage though is the ability to mix and match papers from across all journals and publishers, which goes a step beyond those offered exclusively at the journal level.

Collections are actually very similar to the concept of overlay journals such as Discrete Analysis that launched recently. The key differences are that any researcher can build a Collection, and have full Editorial control over them, drawing on research from any source and for any theme. It would be incredibly easy for any researcher to leverage the power of the arXiv on our site to create their own community-led ‘overlay journal’.

Combined with a fully transparent, open and public peer review process, the concept of Collections is based on the principles of classic journals, but with just a shift in power from pre-publication, publisher-administered management to research community control.

In the future, Collections have the potential to become focal points for different types of publication. Got a clinical trial or some ‘negative’ results but don’t have a suitable venue? Pre-existing Collections become the natural place to publish future work and build upon the results of your research community.

To become a Collection Editor please send a quick statement of interest to our CEO Stephanie Dawson ( or to the ScienceOpen Editorial Office ( (More information can be found here)

5 thoughts on “Collections as the future of academic-led journals”

  1. Sounds great! Apparently, OS-collections have already been in the pipeline for a long time (since 2012?), but take-up by the research community remains slow, probably because of the current information overflow. Another issue may be, that OS-collections build a new layer on top of existing scientific information management services. It is similar in that respect to Eugene Garfield’s initiative of the 70es with his “Citation Indexes”, from which our now famous ISI-ranking developed. So, give it a chance, never know what will come out of it! I wish you much success!

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