Helping researchers publish their work, not waste it: welcome to the EQUATOR Canada Publication School

While scientists will receive formal training in most aspects of the scientific process, learning best practices in publishing their work can often be left to trial and error. An article recently published in BMC Proceedings describes a course delivered by the EQUATOR Canada Publication School which looks to address this gap in training. Here, authors of the article, Jacqueline Galica and Nancy Butcher, tell us about the event and why training researchers with skills in Journalology is so important.

Sharing new research findings through publication in peer-reviewed journals is a critical component of the scientific process. Authors typically learn how to plan, prepare, write, and submit academic publications through a process of trial and error and from their academic supervisors during their graduate training. They rarely receive any formal training in best-practices in publication methods.

As many authors new to academic publishing quickly realize, scientific writing is a skill and there is much to navigate between the first manuscript draft and eventual publication. In the widespread absence of training in modern publication methods, it is not surprising that issues of poor reporting and biases, such as selective reporting bias, are now well documented in the scientific and medical literature. These avoidable problems limit study reproducibility, interpretability, transparency, and critical appraisal – rendering the research essentially unusable to several players, including patients and funders.

The EQUATOR Canada Publication School

To address the gap in the training of Canadian researchers in publication science, researchers at The Hospital for Sick Children, in collaboration with the EQUATOR (Enhancing the QUAlity and Transparency Of health Research) Canada Centre, hosted the inaugural EQUATOR Canada Publication School in October 2017. The event brought together expert faculty, including leaders in Journalology (i.e., the science and study of publication practices), with 32 attendees that included clinicians, researchers, and trainees competitively selected from 12 institutions across Canada.

Funded by the Ontario Strategy for Patient-Oriented Research Support Unit (OSSU), the EQUATOR Canada Publication School represented a natural extension of the work of the international EQUATOR Network. The EQUATOR Network is a collaborative effort dedicated to improving the quality and transparency of health research reporting.

Sessions covered topics and strategies that encompassed how to prepare and submit journal articles for publication (e.g., using reporting guidelines in academic writing), choosing an appropriate academic journal for submission, identifying and avoiding predatory journals, giving and receiving constructive peer review, the use and abuse of scholarly metrics, current issues in publication ethics, and interactive sessions on involving patients and caregivers in research from study design to publication.

Attendees suggested that this type of training should be offered and integrated into formal training and course curriculum

Putting lessons into practice

The response of the attendees to the EQUATOR Canada Publication School was extremely positive. The results of the course evaluations indicated that the course content was highly relevant and valuable across a wide range of scientific and clinical backgrounds. Notably, attendees suggested that this type of training should be offered and integrated into formal training and course curriculum such as graduate schools, fellowship programs, and physician residency training.

To promote awareness of the need for training in publication science, and to put their learning from the EQUATOR Canada Publication School into practice, a team of Publication School attendees, led by Dr. Jacqueline Galica and supervised by Publication School co-director, Dr. Nancy Butcher, was formed. Published today in BMC Proceedings, a description of the course and the perspectives of the attendees on the topics covered is available here.

The paper concludes that in light of the importance of academic publishing in the scientific process, there is a need to train and prepare researchers with skills in Journalology. The EQUATOR Canada Publication School – which was hosted for a second time in Spring 2018 at The Hospital for Sick Children – provides an example of a successful program that addressed the needs of researchers across career trajectories and provided them with resources to be successful in the publication process.

This approach can be used, modified, or adapted by curriculum developers interested in designing similar programs, and could be incorporated into academic and clinical research training programs.

In the era of increased scientific accountability and transparency, our institutions have an opportunity and a collective responsibility to help lead the charge towards improved quality of the academic record by providing training on not only how to do science, but how to share science.

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