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Needle in a haystack
 
Nathan S. Blow, Ph.D.
Editor-in-Chief, BioTechniques
BioTechniques, Vol. 53, No. 5, November 2012, p. 267
Full Text (PDF)

As any researcher can tell you, a tremendous amount of work goes into publishing an article. There is the experimental planning, the data collection, the analysis, interpretation, manuscript writing, submission to a journal in the field, further editing, revising, and finally, a published article appears. The road can be quite long and winding, but the end result is worth it — the chance to communicate your findings to the greater scientific community.

One benefit of the recent rise in online-only journals has been the opportunity to publish such findings more rapidly than in the past. Here at BioTechniques, we have an online-only track for rapid publication of new methods and techniques called Rapid Dispatches. Although it was launched only six months ago, Rapid Dispatches continues to build interest among both authors and readers alike. In this issue of BioTechniques, we are printing three recent articles published through Rapid Dispatches in an effort to further acquaint our audience with this format.

As with anything new, time reveals those points or factors that might have been overlooked. While our intent with Rapid Dispatches was to provide methods and techniques of interest and utility faster than ever before for readers (which is happening), an important question came to me after Rapid Dispatches had been live for several months: Are these articles being found by those who need them in as quickly as we are publishing them? Rapid is only rapid if the information reaches those who need it. I believe that this question is actually bigger than Rapid Dispatches because as more journals move online exclusively, or develop online components capable of publishing larger numbers of articles at a faster pace, we have to consider who is getting lost in the shuffle.

The question is fair to ask these days, and is something authors need to keep in mind as the number of available journals is constantly growing, with new ones launched regularly. Don't misunderstand, I think this is a good thing as science only advances with discoveries and publications, and the faster these appear, the faster research and science advances. When it comes to Rapid Dispatches, our initial idea was to publish articles immediately and then follow with an electronic table of contents on a bimonthly basis listing new articles. But is this enough exposure for these methods? Does this do enough to help our authors expose their research and its implications to a wider audience? I worry this might not be happening, and not only for us. So, we are starting several new initiatives that I hope will further enhance delivery of Rapid Dispatches articles to readers — expanding access and awareness of these valuable contributions.

First, starting this month, Rapid Dispatches articles published online will be followed immediately with an alert email to readers. Our goal is to make everyone aware of new methods and techniques on the day they are published. In addition, beginning in late November, we will be offering readers the opportunity to receive digital collections of Rapid Dispatches articles published in certain key categories. Initially, these categories will include molecular biology, biochemistry, and chemical/cell biology methods. These digital collections will provide exposure for articles in selected categories to those scientists interested in specific areas of methods and methods development.

Online publishing comes with many upsides, but we need to be careful not to create a Twitter-like environment when it comes to peer-reviewed research articles, where if you miss that first posting of an article, you will only learn about the information from a random PubMed or Google search. This also increases the opportunity for unintentionally duplicated results to appear in the scientific literature. Authors deserve more for their efforts (as does the scientific community), and it is our hope that the changes we are implementing will further enhance Rapid Dispatches as a publishing option and maybe even lead to expanded discussion on the best ways to distribute scientific articles for maximum exposure and impact. I hope you take the opportunity to peruse the Rapid Dispatches articles featured in this current print issue of BioTechniques, and be on the lookout for our digital collections and alerts in the near future. Please share your thoughts with us by posting at our Molecular Biology Forums under “To the Editor” (http://molecularbiology.forums.biotechniques.com) or sending an email directly to the editors ([email protected]).