Preprint servers, research papers and finding online courses in scientific writing

Preprint servers, research papers and finding online courses in scientific writing

This year has seen a large increase in the number of research papers published in scientific journals related to Covid. A search in Pubmed using Covid as keyword indicates that there are nearly 90 thousand scientific manuscripts published in relation to Covid.

Several thousand of these manuscripts are what it is known as “preprint” manuscripts. These manuscripts are published by students and scientists in specialized publication servers without undergoing peer-review. However, such large proliferation has happened when Universities, in general, do not offer proper training programs in scientific publishing and writing to students, faculty and researchers. They continue to rely on the decade’s old way of learning how to publish, which is basically looking at what your peer is doing.

This lack of specialized training may induce researchers to write too many papers in a subject, publish their results too soon, publish in journals that put their manuscripts online as fast as possible or in places, like preprint servers, that do not require the lengthy process of peer review.

For this reason, as mentioned in this online course in scientific writing students in the sciences, particularly undergrad and graduate students, as well as researchers with relative little experience on how to write a research paper should look for online training that can help them learning how to write an outline for a research paper, writing an introduction for a research paper or how to write a literature review for a research paper.

In general, while there are several websites with online courses in the broad area of “science writing”, the terminology becomes confusing because some courses refer to science journalism, and others are focused on the writing techniques, rather than in the publishing and understanding of journal publications.

There is also a lack of affiliate programs that sell or distribute these courses, which could help with the distribution, clarification and access to this market. There is also a lack of comparison of quality and content of the courses offered. Many online courses are hosted in places like edX, Udacity, Coursera and others, but free access to reviews of the content of such courses is difficult to find or are non-existent. Independent providers, with comprehensive scientific writing courses developed by experts in this field may present a better alternative for many students and researchers.

In developing countries the situation is actually a little bit more complex, because students and researchers generally lack access to the published literature, which is normally behind what is known as “pay wall”. This may drive them to publish in preprint servers or in lower quality journals.

In summary, while open access initiatives like the Open-access Plan S may help, it remains to be seen how proper training in publishing techniques can facilitate a better writing of scientific manuscripts by University students.