There was a very interesting article in the Washington Post in May 2014 arguing that “the solutions to all our problems may be buried in PDFs that nobody reads.” Citing research from the World Bank, the article indicated that a large number of research projects disseminate their findings as PDFs, but that unfortunately few of them are downloaded and read.
We have also looked into this issue and found that one influential factor is the way that Google searches the information contained in PDFs.
Our response has been to encourage UNU researchers to publish a summary of their research outcomes as an article in html format on the UNU website and in the Our World magazine. These articles could be accompanied by a link to download the full research in PDF format.
This is an approach adopted elsewhere. For example take a look at this Brookings Institution research report on The Geography of Foreign Students in U.S. Higher Education. The full report is available as a PDF download, but at the same time there is a very rich article online, with infographics and data for the reader to explore.
Our goal would be for every researcher at the UNU to publish at least once each quarter an article about their work or an expert commentary on contemporary affairs. In order to facilitate this on Our World, for instance, we could host a feature section that would spotlight a preferred topic (or more than one) for each institute. As an example, we could create a feature on “Global Health Challenges” for UNU-IIGH.
If you have an idea for an article you may want to check out the “Write for us” guidelines that we have prepared.
Also, if a UNU researcher publishes an article about their work elsewhere, we hope that you will negotiate with the publisher to have that article replicated on either the University website or Our World.
Finally, recognizing that researchers are all very busy people, we can also suggest two rather low effort options that could help get UNU research findings or expert views online.
First, researchers could share a short “Academic Reading List” (or if you prefer less formal, ”What’s on Your Nightstand?”) with the Office of Communications through which they indicate the latest papers/books that they find important to inform their work (or again, personal interest). All they need to supply is the article/book title and we can flesh the list out with brief descriptions of each article/book (based on abstracts). These recommended readings need not be UNU or UN only, but could be an opportunity for open exchange with other colleagues — for example, we could share the list via Twitter and tweet it to them so they know they are included.
Second, researchers could respond to a Q & A we pose, perhaps catching up on what’s new in their work/institute or, if they would like to suggest a focus for the Q&A (perhaps tying into current world events), we could develop the questions together.
With the implementation of these approaches more extensively across the University, we hope we can increase the outreach and visibility of our research online.