Virginia Chanda
Virginia Chanda
Executive Editor, Current Protocols
Source: pilipphoto / Thinkstock
Source: pilipphoto / Thinkstock

A major concern of researchers is the reproducibility of experimental results. Earlier this year, Francis Collins and Lawrence Tabak discussed the steps the NIH was considering to address consistency and reproducibility in biomedical research.  They noted that many factors have contributed to this problem, including poor training of researchers in experimental design and limitations in published materials and methods sections, such that basic (and important) elements of the protocol and materials used are often left out of papers (Nature 27 Jan 2014).

One of the main goals of the Current Protocols program is to bring users reliable, efficient methods that will ensure dependable results. The success of the program is due to the editing process and strict adherence to format and style that ensures consistency in experimental approaches.

What are Current Protocols?

Current Protocols articles are step-by-step instructions for doing experiments. Each protocol features materials lists, which often list manufacturers and item numbers for key materials in an experiment. Instructions with helpful hints, and figures and tables (and videos where possible) help the user plan and perform the experiments. Each article also has an extensive discussion section with Critical Parameters (what is important for the experiment), Troubleshooting (how to fix the experiment if it doesn’t work), Anticipated Results (what results you will get if the experiment worked well) and Time Considerations (how long it will take to do each experiment).

Our Editing Process

There are three levels of editing for Current Protocols content. First, each title has an editorial board of respected scientists who are experts in their area. They meet regularly to discuss the scope of their title. They plan the content and decide who to invite to write the protocol. The boards are careful to highlight techniques that they know will work. They will often discuss cutting-edge research, but before a method is published in Current Protocols, they make sure several labs have used the method successfully. They want users to have the best experience possible.

The editorial boards also review the published content to see if anything needs to be updated. The updating is an important part of Current Protocols to make sure the methods are current. Finally, they perform peer review of the articles that are submitted.

Next, Current Protocols Ph.D. developmental editors interact with the authors and editorial boards to oversee the content. They perform peer review, provide feedback and ask for revisions (if necessary), and then prepare the manuscripts for the copyeditors.

Finally, Current Protocols copyeditors, who are also scientists, ask for details about an experiment to make sure the user will have no questions. The protocols are edited with care and detail for anyone to be successful. Materials lists and buffer recipes are checked. The copyeditors also make sure the format and style are consistent with Current Protocols requirements. This ensures the same kind of information and level of detail is in each article, and across titles, for consistency and quality.

The careful choice of content, the three-step editing process, and a meticulous attention to detail make Current Protocols a key publication to ensure reproducibility in research.