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Best Practices for Digital Scholarship

RSA Best Practices for Digital Scholarship 2020


(Based on American Musicological Society Best Practices 2016)

The RSA Digital and Multimedia Committee has formulated a set of best practices for producing, publishing, and evaluating digital scholarship. While our recommendations are subdivided by audience, we recognize that several recommendations will be relevant to multiple audiences, and that many individuals play more than one role within the same project.

Table of Contents


For Publishers and Editors

For University Committees (Hiring, Evaluation, and Tenure)

For Graduate (and Undergraduate) Program Directors

For Scholars

Criteria for Evaluating Digital Scholarship

 

For Publishers and Editors

  1. Publishers can clearly explain in what forms and circumstances authors can circulate their work in advance of publication without negatively affecting their interests. In the absence of such statements, we think it best practice to define forms of pre-publication such as public presentations, blog posts, working drafts, or versions of work shared via social media or institutional sharing sites as wholly separate from peer-reviewed publication.
  2. Modern scholarship work often involves the use of multimedia, statistical, or other evidence that is essential to the argument at hand. Translating these expressions of thought to other media, such as static print and image, can lose the essence of research. Journals and publishing houses will publish and host multimedia, statistical, and other evidence, and be familiar with all legal issues (including allowable Fair Use) involved.
  3. In publishing multimedia both publishers and authors can aim to strike a balance between ensuring sustainability and durability of resources and allowing for forms of expression whose long-term accessibility has not yet been demonstrated. Sustainable media forms are sometimes non-proprietary and/or widely used, with the best being both. For media such as images, sounds, and video, several sustainable formats are generally available. The lack of a durable format, for instance for interactive figures or for computer software, is not in itself a compelling reason not to include such evidence in the publication.
  4. Publishers and scholars can consider material in the peer-review process that might eventually be hosted beyond the print or PDF product itself. In some instances, the software used to process a body of data or the ways that this software is used will need to be part of the peer review. Once work is accepted for publication, changes to this material (software, applications, etc.) will be reviewed by editorial staff to ensure accordance with the initial approved proposal while also permitting users to validate results obtained with the original system. Robust systems of effective dating and version control will help to clarify changes in software or other tools.
  5. Reviews and discussions of digitally focused projects can clearly distinguish between those that announce a project to be completed and those that evaluate a project that is completed or at a sufficiently mature state to use the results (see below).

For University Committees (Hiring, Evaluation, and Tenure)

  1. The Modern Language Association's "Guidelines for Evaluating Work in Digital Humanities and Digital Media,"(https://www.mla.org/guidelines_evaluation_digital) provide a good guide for members of institutional committees faced with the challenge of evaluating digital scholarship in the context of personnel decisions. These guidelines include four points for committees:
  • Delineate and communicate responsibilities
  • Engage qualified reviewers
  • Respect medium specificity when reviewing work
  • Stay informed about accessibility issues, and look for provisions for long-term preservation and accessibility
  1. Meanwhile, colleges and universities can craft and document written policies concerning the evaluation of online, digital, and otherwise non-traditional forms of scholarly communication (including those not subject to traditional peer review). Faculty can make themselves aware of institutional expectations for and modes of evaluating such non-traditional forms at the time of their appointment. The weight that will be given to a project of this type (e.g., whether it is considered equivalent to a peer-reviewed article) should be clearly articulated to the researcher before the project begins and documented as part of the evaluation file. The written policies concerning the evaluation of non-traditional work can also be given to any external experts asked to take part in the assessment of a scholar's dossier or an individual project.

For Graduate (and Undergraduate) Program Directors

  1. Programs can offer training in the digital tools of modern scholarship work already at the outset of the curriculum. These tools include but are not limited to principles of metadata, digital, using and creating online databases, general information literacy, and principles of Fair Use and intellectual property.
  2. Students can receive instruction (or at least be pointed to resources) to educate them about intellectual and cultural property laws and protocols, licensing options, open-source work, and other best practices in scholarship and pedagogy.
  3. Students should be encouraged (and supported) to attend digital scholarship workshops organized by their institutions those sponsored in various international programs. They should also be introduced to external faculty or experts who may offer advice on digital aspects of their work when knowledgeable program faculty are not available. There should also be afforded every opportunity to share their digital work in progress with their peers.

For Scholars

  1. A digital project created by someone else can be cited in papers and publications if it proves useful to the scholar’s work, even if the same material could have been found elsewhere. For instance, a project making all of Martin Luther’s writings searchable would be cited even if the given document could have been consulted in a printed source; what is significant is that it was found through a digital project, not that it could have been discovered elsewhere.
  2. Scholars responsible for digital resources can clearly identify and explain the stages of development represented in their various manifestations. For instance: "Preliminary Working Model, version 1.0, launched September 1, 2014" or "Beta 2.0 version, updated August 15, 2015" or "dataset as presented at conference ABC, November 1, 2016", or other appropriate designation.
  3. It is a good practice for all or nearly all aspects of a project to be released openly, so that data can be queried not only using the public web interface (if any), but also so that scripts or data might be reused in other projects, subject to the particular intellectual property preferences of the creators (which are best when articulated clearly in the projects themselves).

Criteria for Evaluating Digital Scholarship

The RSA suggests that the following criteria be used to evaluate specific projects:

  • Interdisciplinarity (the extent to which the project brings together specialists from different disciplines in Renaissance studies, or combines the work of scholars with that of librarians and information science specialists)
  • Outreach / span of the project (the scope of the project should be broad enough to be of interest to more than a very narrow set of specialists, or it should provide clear indication of how the approach, tools, or concepts used here could be readily adapted to another project)
  • Use of Vocabularies (the deployment of various kinds of controlled vocabularies for the description of objects, documents and other evidence is a key part of digital scholarship, ensuring the development of concepts, descriptors, and categories that help participants work together, and help others build upon their work)
  • Use of Linked Open Data (LOD and other Semantic Web technologies will be a key part of the sustainable discovery systems for digital work) for the foreseeable future and its adoption should be cultivated whenever possible
  • Use of Metadata (not all projects will be able to translate their particular metadata into open standards, but explaining how the given metadata are modelled, collected and made available to others are a key best practice;
  • Collaboration (in the form of teams of specialists, and often involving students, including statements of intellectual property and responsibility)
  • Organization of Critical Feedback (showing how work in progress was put before qualified specialist peers and consultants, or through presentations)
  • Long-term Preservation and Accessibility (showing how the project plans for changing technology; plans for the preservation of data and metadata; how the work is made available to the public; or how the work makes use of principles of Universal Design)
  • Public Presentation (of work in at all states of development in workshops, seminars, conferences)
  • Innovation (through the application of some novel methodology or tools; or in enabling the novel use of research in the classroom)
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