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Evaluating scientific publications


Since the purpose of scientific research is to increase our knowledge and understanding, it is through its publication that we really add our newly acquired piece of understanding to the global knowledge database of humanity. For publicly funded research a resulting publication should be considered an essential part of the research process. (Commercially funded research may imply some restraint in publishing and the property rights of the funders may be safeguarded by patenting and copyright protection instead.)

Evaluating such publications is a fundamental process, for evaluating projects as much as researchers and research teams, because they play an essential role in the valorisation of performed research. In its broadest definition, a “scientific publication” can take any format for communicating the outcome of research to the general public (available either for free or on payment), on condition that it has some permanent (or archival) character. Articles in scientific journals and books are traditionally the most common formats, but also reports, web pages and maps are fine examples. (Private communications and internal reports for the funders of contract research do not qualify for our definition.)

The approach to evaluation adopted here focuses initially on the evaluation of scientific papers, around which most of the discussion will revolve. The evaluation of journals will in the first place use similar criteria, but a number of dimensions, typical for journals will be added. The same will be done for books and other publications. The texts here do not only cover principles of good practice, but they also consider a few operational recommendations.

Objectives of evaluating scientific publications

The authors of a specific guide must very explicitly and very clearly formulate the objectives to which their guide responds. What is it that the evaluators want to know in this specific case? What will be done with the answers?

Beyond strictly providing guidance to the authors of specific guides, the present Guidelines have three other, closely related purposes:

  1. To help researchers
    • to decide where to submit a manuscript, depending upon their personal and institutional objectives, and depending sometimes upon the preferences of their sponsors. More generally, to guide authors from the South in publishing more in local journals.
    • to write scientific articles. How to coach researchers in such topics?
  2. To contribute to the strengthening of researchers and research institutions.
  3. To strengthen journals, in the South in the first place, but also any journal which publishes or wishes to publish research results relevant for development, but which has not yet enough recognition.

Such objectives are examined in detail below, in each of the pages on evaluation of scientific papers, of journals, and of other publications.

Strengthening of research capacity

One of the main long term objectives of the present Guidelines is to eventually contribute to the strengthening of researchers and institutions. How should they write a scientific paper? How should they choose the journal to which the manuscript will be submitted?
But in addition: How can we coach researchers in such matters? How can we strengthen journals – journals in the South in the first place, but also any journal which publishes or wishes to publish research results relevant for development, but has not yet enough recognition?
These different aspects may be considered by the specific guide authors whenever relevant: that is quite often!

Dimensions in the evaluation of scientific publications

In our case (development research) three fundamental dimensions must be assessed in any evaluation of a scientific publication: scientific quality, relevance for development, and valorisation of research. While such three dimensions are necessary, other dimensions may be justified by the context, the evaluation objectives, the evaluation’s sponsor’s requirements, operational and ethical considerations, etc.