Hiya, publishers. I’m a big fan of having research articles accessible with a few clicks. It can sometimes be a bit aggravating to get full access, having to copy and paste proxies or go through my institutions library, but I can get over this.
What I have trouble getting over is how awful your HTML versions of full-text are! Do you actually ask people using your sites what they think? Or do you leave it to your coders to decide what we, your readers, need, want, and will use whether we like it or not?!?!
I really want to like electronic versions of articles, but I find them so difficult to read! PDFs are annoying because the multi-column formatting used for hard copies means I have to keep scrolling down, then up, then down… So I try the html versions, but often they are less readable than the PDFs. Why? Well, let me share an example:
This particular example of suckitude comes from Elsevier’s ScienceDirect, the portal for a quarter umptillion of the journals I regularly access, and producer of what could be one of the worst html formats in science publishing (feel free to point me to worse offenders, if you’ve found them).
First, let’s address the text and article container formatting. Note how the text doesn’t actually fit in its container. I don’t like my cup to runneth over because it makes a mess. Likewise, when text runneth over, it makes a mess. Then there’s the text spacing–it isn’t uniform! Any time there’s a superscript or subscript–which, shockingly enough, occurs quite often in scientific literature–the spacing changes. It leads to that sense that something isn’t quite right, even if you can’t put your finger on what it is. I’m also not a fan of the 8 pt sans-serif font, but that might just be an issue of personal preference.
Another offending element in the text is those friggin’ dashed lines under probably 30% or more of the text. I appreciate that you’re trying to “enhance” the online experience or some shit like that, but in a long article, those lines are just distracting. For shits and giggles (well, really to see what this annoying crap was about), I clicked on one of the linkies, which produced this pop-up:
I don’t particularly care how many sentences “inflammation” was used in. A description or definition of the underlined word might be helpful in some cases… but that’s not there. The related content tab doesn’t add a great deal. The one good thing that came out of clicking on the link is that I found the option to disable “underlining terms” to make ScienceDirect articles a little less obnoxious. If you want to include that extra info/functionality, why not drop it into that nice, wide sidebar that is mostly blank?
Moving onto figures… Thumbnails are generally not very helpful. ScienceDirect provides the option of switching to full-size images in the article. Of course, this option will likely require jumping back and forth between the text and figure. You can open figures in new tabs or windows, but most platforms only link to that single figure. I prefer the figure navigation pop-out implemented by PLoS, which allows you to jump between figures and between figures and text easily.
However, even PLoS fails in integrating supporting figures and tables into the main article. With all publishers I’ve encountered, you need to navigate to the bottom of the page, then download the files separately. Sometimes they’re all grouped into a single PDF. Other times there are multiple documents and images that have to be downloaded to review. Part of the advantage of electronic publishing is the ability to include these materials because you’re not restricted by page and figure limits for printing. If these supplementary figures and movies are important enough to merit their inclusion with the manuscript, then why not make them an integral part of the html article instead of footnote?
All these small things and others culminate to make the html article so irritating that, more often than not, I end up downloading the PDF and printing it out so that I can actually get some use out of the article. I’m sorry, dear trees, for killing more of your siblings, but you should really take it up with the publishers.