From now on, Nature authors will be able to include more experimental details in their papers.
When in 1960 Theodor Maiman reported the creation of the laser, he did so in about 300 words. Most of these were about the principles. The experiment was described in two sentences (see Nature 187, 493–494; 1960).
Until now, Nature's style of research papers — although more generous in the space allowed than it once was — has been grounded in this telegraphic tradition, allowing comparatively little space for experimental detail. Consequently, with the advent of the Internet, the supplementary material published online has grown voluminous, and nearly ubiquitous — appended to every Article and Letter in this week's issue, for example. And some of it isn't supplementary at all — it is essential for anyone trying to replicate the work.
We have now taken steps to do better justice to what authors have to say, by letting them present full experimental methods as an integral part of their paper. It is clear that more and more people read papers only in their online versions. So we are expanding the online versions of our Articles and Letters, while condensing some of the technical detail in the printed version.
To be specific: in those papers requiring a separate methods section, the online version of the paper will allow authors to include enough detail to satisfy their peers. This is not a 'supplementary' methods file, but a component of the paper, with all the virtues of full-text linking and functionality. It will appear in all online versions, including the authors' versions of papers that can be loaded into PubMed Central and other open-access repositories six months after publication.
But Nature also rejoices in being a print publication. We have no wish to leave print readers lacking sufficient understanding of what was done to appreciate the authors' achievements. Accordingly, the print version will include a 300-word summary of the methods. This will also appear in the online version.
Norman Lockyer, the founding editor of Nature, might well deplore the loss of brevity in today's scientific reports. But our authors should bear in mind that readers still value succinctness — and that Nature's editors and copy-editors will continue to insist on it.
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EMBO reports (2007)