Instructions for Data Papers



What are data papers?

Data papers are a unique type of article published in Ecology, used to present large or expansive data sets, accompanied by metadata which describes the content, context, quality, and structure of the data. Metadata may contain limited statistical analysis of the data; more detailed analysis of data sets could, however, form the core of a companion article. Data papers are subject to full peer-review; the review process will evaluate ecological significance and overall quality first, but data papers will also undergo further technical review to ensure a high standard of usability, especially with respect to associated metadata.

Ecological Archives provides long-term accessibility and maintenance of data papers. Because data papers are intended to facilitate secondary data use and analysis, periodic updates to the data sets are allowed (and encouraged). Due to the financial liability of long-term hosting and maintenance, ESA charges a one-time fee of $250 at publication for data papers. There is no length limit for data papers and no charge for file size as long as files stay under 10MB (uncompressed). An extra 250 dollar charge applies for file sets between 10MB and 1GB.

For examples of recently published data papers, visit the Ecological Archives section for data papers. Any further questions may be directed to the data editors.


Two parts: data and metadata

Data should be logically and consistently formatted. Our primary goal is to ensure that your files will be accessible and legible to every user, on every platform, for the forseeable future - as such, we avoid posting files in a proprietary format. The most commonly submitted proprietary format submitted are Excel (.xls) files - we do not accept Excel files for posting to Ecological Archives. Excel spreadsheets should be converted to a plain text format, such as comma-separated values (.csv) or tab-delimited ASCII text (.txt). Software should be submitted both as source code and compiled (executable) code. Submitting compiled code without accompanying source code is not acceptable.

Generally, synthetic data (e.g., figures) can accompany, but not substitute for, raw data in data papers; such synthetic results normally should be placed within the accompanying metadata text.

Multiple files should be compressed and submitted together as self-extracting .ZIP or .RAR archives. If your operating system doesn't have built-in functionality for compressing files into an archive, programs such as 7-Zip or WinRAR are capable of doing this.

Metadata fully describes the content, context, quality, and structure of the data. The metadata ideally should be submitted in a single .DOC, .DOCX, or HTML file. Metadata content should adhere strictly to the Ecological Archives metadata content standards derived from Michener et al. (1997; Ecological Applications 7:330342); questions about relevance of specific fields should be directed to the Data Editor.


Preparing metadata

Metadata text should generally adhere to the instructions for ESA print journals; begin by checking the author instructions for print manuscripts. Write with precision, clarity, and economy; use the active voice and first person wherever appropriate; avoid footnotes. Please italicize scientific names and the symbols for all variables and constants except Greek letters. Italics should not be used for emphasis. Use leading zeroes with all numbers < 1, including probability values (e.g., P < 0.001). Use the International System of Units (SI) for measurements. Consult Standard Practice for Use of the International System of Units (ASTM Standard E-380-93) for guidance on unit conversions, style, and usage. An abbreviated version may be downloaded from the ASTM website (.rtf file).

Title. Titles should conform in style to those found in ESA print journals.

Authors and data compilers. For each author, state the relevant address--usually the institutional affiliation of the author(s) during the period when all or most of the data were collected. The authors' present address(es), if different from this, should appear in parentheses. Provide a current, corresponding e-mail address to which questions regarding the dataset can be directed. Inform the Data Editor when contact e-mail address(es) change.

Abstract and keywords. An abstract and key words should be included in the metadata. The abstract should be brief ( < 350 words) and provide a brief summary of the database, including the purpose, methods, and results of completed analyses. Avoid speculation in the abstract; if included, speculation about possible interpretations or applications of your data should play a minor role. Do not include any literature citations in the Abstract. Common names may be used when convenient after stating the scientific names. Please supply up to 12 key words for indexing purposes.

Metadata. The organization of the metadata should correspond to the Ecological Archives Metadata Standard (see recent examples of data papers) and all appropriate fields must be completed.

The motivation or purpose of your research should appear in the "Research Origin Descriptors", where you state the questions you sought to answer, and the background of those questions. In the "Methods" section you should provide sufficient information to allow someone to repeat your work. A clear description of the experimental design, sampling procedures, and statistical procedures is especially important in metadata describing field studies, simulations, or experiments. If you list a product (e.g., animal food, analytical device), supply the name and location of the manufacturer. Give the model number for equipment used. Supply complete citations, including author (or editor), title, year, publisher, and version number, for computer software mentioned in the metadata.

Particular attention should be paid to providing comprehensive documentation of the physical structure of the data, known data anomalies, and quality assurance and quality control procedures employed. Contributors to Ecological Archives are encouraged to provide comprehensive documentation of supplemental descriptors that would facilitate secondary data use and interpretation. Before submitting the data paper, contributors should thoroughly review the metadata and verify that physical structure descriptors are sufficient to permit secondary usage of the data.

Statistical analysis of the data can appear in the metadata section, but it should be kept to a minimum. Such detailed analyses of datasets could, however, form the core of a companion paper submitted to an ESA print journal.

Acknowledgments. Be brief.

Literature cited. Before submitting the metadata, check each citation in the text against the Literature Cited to see that they match exactly. Format references to conform in style to the ESA print journals.

Tables, figures, and appendices. Tables and figures should be embedded in the metadata where appropriate. Tables should be in HTML and figures should be embedded .JPG, .GIF, or .PNG files. Appendices are not acceptable parts of data papers.

Assembly of metadata file. Assemble the metadata file in the following order: Title, Authors (data compilers), Authors' addresses, Abstract, Key Words, Metadata, Acknowledgments, Literature Cited.

Review. All data papers will receive at least two independent reviews; final acceptance of data papers is by the Data Editor or the Editor-in-Chief.


Instructions for reviewers

The following instructions are sent to each data paper reviewer, along with directions for how to access the data and metadata.

Confidentiality. This data paper is a privileged communication. Please do not show it to anyone or discuss it, except to solicit assistance with a technical point. If you feel a colleague is more qualified than you to review the data paper, do not pass this responsibility on to that person without first requesting permission to do so from the Data Editor. Your review and your recommendation should also be considered confidential.

Time. In fairness to the author(s), you should return your review within 3 weeks. If it seems likely that you will be unable to meet this deadline, please e-mail the Data Editor today.

Conflicts of interest. If you feel you might have any difficulty writing an objective review, please contact the Data Editor. If your previous or present connection with the authors, data compilers, or an author's institution might be construed as creating a conflict of interest, but no actual conflict exists, please discuss this issue in the cover letter that accompanies your review.

Comments for the authors. What is the major contribution of the data paper? What are its major strengths and weaknesses, and its suitability for publication? Please include both general and specific comments bearing on these questions, and emphasize your most significant points.

General comments

  • Importance and interest to Ecological Archives' users and readers.
  • Scientific and technical soundness of the database.
  • Originality.
  • Degree to which metadata fully describe the content, context, quality, and structure of the database.

Specific comments

Support your general comments with specific evidence in "Comments for the Author(s)". Comment on any of the following matters that significantly affected your judgment of the database:

  • Metadata presentation. Are the metadata logically organized and do they adhere to the Ecological Archives Metadata Content Standard (see recent examples of data papers)? Do the title, abstract, and key words accurately and consistently reflect the major point(s) of the database? Is the writing concise, easy to follow, interesting?
  • Metadata completeness. Are the metadata complete and sufficient to facilitate interpretation and secondary use of the data? What portions of the metadata should be expanded? Condensed? Deleted?
  • Data organization. Are the data logically and consistently organized? Is the data format consistent with the format defined in the metadata?
  • Data quality. Were suitable methods employed to maintain the integrity of the original data and datasets? Are all data anomalies well-documented? Are the metadata sufficient to allow a secondary user to determine how outliers were identified and treated?
  • Data integrity. Have adequate procedures been employed to allow a secondary user to determine whether errors may have been introduced during data transmission (e.g., checksum techniques, file size)?
  • Methods. Are they appropriate? Current? Described clearly enough so that the work could be repeated by someone else?
  • Study design. Is the design appropriate and correct? Can the reader readily discern which measurements or observations are independent of which other measurements or observations? Are replicates correctly identified? Are significance statements justified?
  • Errors. Point out any errors in technique, fact, calculation, interpretation, or style. (For style we follow the "CBE Style Manual, Fifth Edition," and the ASTM Standard E380- 93, "Standard Practice for Use of the International System of Units.")
  • Citations. Are all (and only) pertinent references cited?

Fairness and objectivity. If the research premise for the database is flawed, criticize the science, not the scientist. Harsh words in a review will cause the reader to doubt your objectivity; as a result, your criticisms will be rejected, even if they are correct! Comments directed to the authors should demonstrate that:

  • You have carefully and thoroughly reviewed the data and metadata.
  • Your criticisms are objective and correct, are not merely differences of opinion, and are intended to help the data originator improve his or her data paper.
  • You are qualified to provide an expert opinion about the research that served as the impetus for the data paper.

If you fail to win the data originator's respect and appreciation, your efforts will have been wasted.

Anonymity. You may sign your review if you wish. If you choose to remain anonymous, avoid comments to the authors that might serve as clues to your identity.