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Show your work. Peer-Reviewed Protocols

Author: Iain Hrynaszkiewicz, Publisher, Open Research

To support increased sharing of open research methodologies — and in an exciting extension to our partnership with protocols.io — we are announcing two new peer-reviewed article types in PLOS ONE in 2021: Lab Protocols and Study Protocols.

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These new article types are intended to address three issues familiar to researchers: the rigor and reproducibility of research, efficiency in getting feedback, and recognition for developing and sharing diverse research contributions.

Lab Protocols have been developed in close collaboration with researchers and the protocols.io team. They describe verified, reusable methodologies including computational techniques, and consist of two interlinked components:

  1. A step-by-step protocol posted to protocols.io, utilizing specialized tools for communicating methodological details, including reagents, measurements, formulae, video clips and dynamic flow charts–an array of features that facilitate the direct use of the protocol at the bench. 
  2. A peer-reviewed PLOS ONE article contextualizing the protocol, with sections discussing applications, limitations, expected results and sample datasets from using the protocol.

We are also introducing Study Protocols, an established article type that allows researchers to share detailed plans and proposals for funded research projects that have not yet generated results. 

Both Lab Protocols and Study Protocols will be open to research in all fields of study within PLOS ONE’s inclusive scope.

Why protocols, why now?

Many researchers share Lab Protocols informally with peers and, in our work to better understand researcher needs, we learned that a motivation for sharing protocols is to seek feedback to improve them. The importance of methods development and sharing also deserves increased recognition, via a peer-reviewed publication. Understanding the exquisite details that make methods work is also essential for reproducibility and for accelerating science. Researchers who develop methods, especially those early in their careers, deserve more recognition than a footnote in a research article.

Study Protocols are important for improving rigor and transparency by sharing a study’s design, recruitment and analysis plans before research has been carried out. This practice is especially important — and already common — in healthcare research, including systematic reviews. Study Protocols complement our offering of Registered Reports. Researchers are not required to submit the results of their Study Protocol  to the same journal, which  provides more researchers with Open Access options to share their peer-reviewed research plans.

These article types in PLOS ONE offer new ways to share research according to the principles of open science, bolstering transparency, reproducibility, and accelerating research. We also hope that they provide opportunities for researchers who have experienced lab closures in 2020 to remain engaged with their research, and explore more ways to demonstrate their productivity and contributions.

Beginning a roadmap for improved methods papers

After iterative development with researchers of a new format for Lab Protocols, which includes prominent reciprocal linking between platforms, we will be launching the article type as a pilot in 2021. By partnering with a specialist platform in protocols.io we can offer authors enhanced functionality for sharing and displaying their protocols in actionable ways alongside the features of a peer-reviewed publication. Researchers will also benefit from dynamic functionality of protocols.io, for modifying and sharing new versions of protocols in the future.

As another unique feature, authors of Lab Protocols at PLOS ONE who are new users of the protocols.io platform can receive free support from the protocols.io editorial team to upload and format their protocols as part of the publication process in PLOS ONE.

During 2021 we will gather more feedback to inform potential future directions for the article format and author workflow. The launch of the pilot is the first phase of exploring continuous improvement of the experience of publishing and reading protocols.

PLOS and protocols.io are committed to developing our services and future plans based on community feedback. And we want to hear the full spectrum of feedback from different communities around the globe. If you have questions, feedback, or ideas please reach out to Iain Hrynaszkiewicz (ihrynaszkiewicz@plos.org) or Emma Ganley (emma@protocols.io), or leave a comment below.

To hear some more about peer-reviewed protocols please listen to the this episode of the Minor Tweak Major Impact podcast from protocols.io where Veronique Kiermer, Chief Scientific Officer at PLOS, discusses this initiative, among others things.

Discussion
    1. Thanks for reaching out to us. Our usual waiver policy will apply for protocol articles as they do for research articles. Myanmar is included in our list of countries in which researchers are not charged an article processing charge.

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