Introducing the ‘data paper’ in the Research Data Journal for the Humanities and Social Sciences

We’re delighted to introduce the first two social science papers that have been recently published in the social sciences section of the Research Data Journal for the Humanities and Social Sciences (RDJ), the social science section of which is edited by Louise Corti. Hosted by the publishing house Brill, the RDJ is published in collaboration with the Data Archiving and Network Services (DANS), and is a new peer-reviewed, online only, open access data journal, designed to comprehensively document and publish deposited datasets and to facilitate their online exploration. It was established by DANS in 2015.

The RDJ contains short publications (data papers) in which researchers describe their dataset: the context of their investigation of the problem and methods used. This is followed by an overall profile of the dataset, for example in terms of general characteristics or remarkable results. Conclusions as an ordinary scientific paper are not required, but there is room for concluding remarks. Readers can respond via a comments field to the content. One absolute requirement is that the data is deposited in a trusted repository, such as via DANS or the UK Data Service. Published data papers receive a persistent identifier (DOI).

The role of the data paper

Data papers are a relatively new venture for the humanities and social sciences, and we have had to work hard to show potential authors the value of them as a valuable output, to complement not only their own research publications, but to promote their published datasets.  Peter Doorn of DANS and Chief Editor says that “The Research Data Journal will give researchers more credit for publishing data sets and provides an additional way to cite them via peer-reviewed articles”. Louise Corti, Director Collections Development and Data Publishing at the UK Data Service, and editor of the new Social Science section, adds that “RDJ contributes to transparency of research, accelerates dissemination and fosters reuse of scholarly data”.

The UK Data Service already has experience of data papers through acting as host repository for Springer Natures Scientific Data and offering peer review of data for the journal via our self-deposit system, Reshare. Through our research data management training and advice on transparency in research, we also highlight the value of the data paper, showing how it features as a valuable connector and contextual bridge between the grant details, the formalised and succinct data description via a data repository, and substantive publications.

Experiences of editing and contributing

Doorn and Corti comment that their experience with commissioning, editing and publishing the data papers has been an interesting time: at times challenging but also rewarding. Corti notes “our two first authors worked closely with us to establish how best to write and present a data paper, what should be featured and what images could be used to bring the text and the data to life. I want to thank Simon Parker and Deb Wiltshire of the UK Data Service with their help on this aspect; and some of our staff who took the time to comment on the first draft.“ Our two recent authors provided us with some feedback on their experiences.

Dr Edzia Carvalho, one of the investigators on the Qualitative Election Study of Great Britain (QESB) and Lecturer in Politics in the School of Social Sciences at the University of Dundee, reflects that, “Our experience of writing for the Research Data Journal gave us insight into two aspects of sharing data: how to make focus group data interesting and how to make them accessible. In response to the first question, we decided on using the handwritten response sheets by participants as data artefacts. Doodles, exclamation marks, scribbles, and other ways used by our participants to express their emotion on paper made their responses visually interesting.

A more pressing issue was how to give researchers an easy way into researching what could be seen as hundreds of pages of words in dozens of transcript documents. We decided to use the participants’ metadata (on their demographic and behaviour) and the question structure to frame access points into the data. These access points help answer the age-old question when faced with reams of data: where do you start? Our solution: start with the basics”.

Author, Dr. Gundi Knies, Research Fellow at the Institute for Social and Economic Research at the University of Essex added “There is a lot of interest in how place shapes individual level outcomes and studies like Understanding Society are an excellent resource to find out empirically. Writing this Research Data Journal article provided a great opportunity to take a closer look at commonalities and differences in some of the neighbourhood classifications that are widely used with the study – typically only one classification is used at a time – and to see how the choice of measure matters in terms of numbers of people who experience a change in neighbourhood context. Talking about numbers, quantitative research involves a large number of cases and gets reported in lots of tables – it was great to see the numbers come to life in infographics.”

Tom Harris, currently a labour market economist at the Institute for Fiscal Studies, who has worked on preparing South African panel microdata is currently writing a paper on that topic as we speak. He notes that “there is a rising focus on data-driven research across various research domains, with data becoming increasingly recognised as a ‘research output’ in-and-of-itself. My recent exposure to the ‘data paper’ literature has been rather eye-opening, to say the least. I believe this rising literature holds substantial value for academics, policy makers, and researchers across a variety of disciplines and contexts. It will go a long way toward ensuring that the growing pool of data available for research is publicised, shared and used to develop evidence-based research, rather than sitting idle within a data catalogue”. We look forward to receiving his paper.

The papers

Research Data Journal for the Humanities and Social Sciences (RDJ)

Gundi Knies, Exploring the Value of Understanding Society for Neighbourhood Effects Analyses

Kirsty Winters, Edzia Carvalho and Thom Oliver: The 2015 Qualitative Election Study of Britain

An invitation to contribute!

We warmly welcome contributions from our social science community and, the RDJ will be covering the submission fee for the next 12 months. It’s a straightforward submission process: before publication the data paper is assessed by peer reviewers and data specialists who offer feedback to the author and indicate improvements for acceptance.

We look forward to your submissions! Drop Louise a line if you’d would like speak about an idea at





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