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Why ‘context’ is important for research

Context is something we’ve been thinking a lot about at ScienceOpen recently. It comes from the Latin ‘con’ and ‘texere’ (to form ‘contextus’), which means ‘weave together’. The implications for science are fairly obvious: modern research is about weaving together different strands of information, thought, and data to place your results into the context of existing research. This is the reason why we have introductory and discussion sections at the intra-article level.

But what about context at a higher level?

Context can defined as: “The circumstances that form the setting for an event, statement, or idea, and in terms of which it can be fully understood.” Simple follow on questions might be then, what is the context of a research article? How do we define that context? How do we build on that to do science more efficiently? The whole point for the existence of research articles is that they can be understood by as broad an audience as possible so that their re-use is maximised.

There are many things that impinge upon the context of research. Paywalls, secretive and exclusive peer review, lack of discovery, lack of inter-operability, lack of accessibility. The list is practically endless, and a general by-product of a failure for traditional scholarly publishing models to embrace a Web-based era.

While a lot of excellent new research platforms now feature slick discovery tools and features, we feel that this falls short of what is really needed for optimal research re-use in the digital age.

Discovery is the pathway to context. Context of an article is all about how research fits into increasingly complex domains, and using structured networks to decipher its value. With the power of the internet at our disposal, putting research in context should be of key importance in a world where there is ever more research being published that is impossible to manually filter.

Tracking the genealogy of research

Citations are perhaps what we might consider to be academic context. These form the structured networks or genealogies of an idea in their rawest sense. Through citations we gain a small amount of understanding into how research is being re-used by other researchers, and also the gateway to understanding what it is those citations are telling us.

At ScienceOpen, we show all articles and article records that cite a particular research article, and also provide links to similar articles on our platform. These are drawn at the moment from almost 12 million article records, so can potentially form huge networks of information.

In addition we show which articles are most similar based on keywords, and also which open access articles are citing a particular work. You can explore each of these in more depth, and begin to track research networks! So it’s like enhanced discovery, but with a smattering of cherries on top.

Generating context through engagement

One of the great things about context is that it is flexible and can be defined by user engagement. Take peer review for example. This is a way of adding context to a paper, by drawing on external expertise and perspective to enhance the content of a research article. Peer evaluation of this sort is crucial for defining the context of a paper, and should not be hidden away out of sight and use. As we use public post-publication peer review at ScienceOpen, the full discussion and process of research is transparent.

Other ways of generating simple context are through sharing and recommendations of articles. The more this is done, the more you can understand which articles are of wider interest.

Social context

The rise of altmetrics can be seen as the broadening how we think about context. Altmetrics are a pathway to understanding how articles have been discussed, mentioned or shared in online sources including mainstream news outlets, blogs, and a variety of social networks.

On every single article record (almost 12 million at the moment), we show Altmetric scores. You can also sort searches by Altmetric, which provides additional context for which articles are generating the most societal discussion online. This is great if you want to track social media trends in a particular field, and again is all about placing research objects into a broader context.

So these are just some of the ways in which we put research in context, and we do it on a massive scale. Let us know in the comments what you think ‘research in context’ is all about, and why you think it’s important!

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