APS News

PRL Launches New Feature to Improve Accessibility

In January Physical Review Letters launched a new feature designed to enhance accessibility and encourage readers to look at papers outside their own specialty. Each week, the PRL editors are selecting several papers to designate as “Editors’ Suggestions.” These “Suggestions” are intended to be papers that are well-written and of interest to a wide range of physicists.

“The main goal is to enhance the unity of physics by getting people to read beyond their main areas of research,” said Robert Garisto, a PRL editor and Chair of the committee selecting the Suggestions.

PRL has been growing for a long time, and because of the large number of papers published and the increasing specialization of those papers, it has become harder and harder for people to venture beyond their own fields. The journal editors have been considering ways to make the journal more accessible, and they recently hit upon the idea of the Suggestions.

Editors’ Suggestions are based on potential interest in the results presented and on the success of the paper in communicating its message, especially to readers from other fields. They are not intended to be taken as the most important papers in a particular issue. “Many papers that are equally or more important are not designated as Suggestions,” said Garisto.

Arriving at the Suggestions each week is a two step process. Each PRL editor can nominate potential Suggestions, taking into account the paper itself and referees’ comments. Then a group of PRL editors from different areas of physics looks at all the nominations and decides which papers to designate as Editor’s Suggestions for the week. Roughly five Letters per week are selected. These papers are marked with a version of a printer’s mark that appeared on the covers of all sections of the Physical Review until about a decade ago.

PRL Editors’ Suggestions was launched in the first week January. Several weeks after its launch, Garisto said the program seemed to be working well. “The preliminary data seem to indicate that suggestions are downloaded several times more than the average,” he said. So far, the editors have received “some positive feedback and no really negative feedback” about the Suggestions, he added.

In addition to encouraging people to read outside their field, the editors also hope that the Suggestions will encourage people to write better papers, said Garisto.

The journal Physical Review Letters started in 1958 as an experiment by Physical Review Editor Sam Goudsmit. It took the short articles that would have been published as “letters to the editor” in Physical Review, and collected them in a separate journal. The goal of the new journal was to cover all areas of research and make important results available quickly.

Over time, the journal grew substantially, and the number of subfields represented increased. This led to a shift in acceptance criteria from “general interest” to “broad interest.” Today papers published in PRL are still expected to be important in their own and related subfields, but they have become more specialized and less accessible to readers outside the subfield.

The editors hope the Suggestions will make a small step towards restoring the ability of PRL to give readers a broad view of current research. The announcement of this new feature can be found at http://prl.aps.org.

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Editor: Alan Chodos
Contributing Editor: Jennifer Ouellette
Staff Writer: Ernie Tretkoff