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Next: A modular presentation of Up: Effective and efficient communication Previous: Non-linearity

2.4 Communication criteria for electronic articles

In the previous sections, we have discussed the needs of the scientists engaged as senders and receivers in scientific communication, as well as the characteristics of the electronic medium. In this section, we summarise the `communication criteria' that the electronic scientific article  itself, and in particular its structure, must fulfil to satisfy the interactants' needs.

Firstly, the representation of the information has to satisfy the following `retrieval requirement': the representation has to be characterised completely, sufficiently precisely, correctly, clearly and relevantly in order to allow the receiver to locate, by means of complex search operations, the information that satisfies his information needs.  

Communication criteria for the characterisation:

Secondly, once the receiver has obtained the message, that message has to fulfil the requirements of quantity, clarity, quality and relevance. Structuring the article adequately can contribute most to the fulfilment of the quantity and the clarity requirement. In particular, the representation of the information in an article has to satisfy the following `reading requirements' in order to allow the receiver to assimilate it.
Quantity: The requirement of quantity implies sufficiency and no excessiveness: all information necessary to fulfil the receiver's information need has to be provided, but all unnecessary information must be avoided.

Communication criteria for the quantity:

  • Each issue that will presumably be considered a separate subject by part of the target audience has to be dealt with in a separate unit.
  • Each unit has to be self-contained, so that it can be located, retrieved, consulted, cited and used repeatedly as a separate entity
Clarity: The representation of the information is required to be clearly structured.

Communication criteria for the clarity:

  • The representation of research information should have a structure reflecting the process of the research itself (reconstructed as a problem-solving process, not as a depiction of the day-to-day proceedings).
  • The representation has to contain explicit, precise connections between the related parts of the article and between (parts of) the article and related (parts of) articles, so that:
    • the accounts of subsequent steps in the problem-solving process are connected (for content-oriented coherence: what depends on what);
    • the steps in the line of reasoning are connected (for argumentative or rhetorical coherence);
  • The structure of the article in particular, and of the collection of articles in general, must be made explicit in a clear overview.

  • The representation of information in a publication unit (or in a coherent collection of units) has to form a `readable' discourse .
    • Receivers must be able to follow the main line without being bogged down in details or background information.
    • All details and background information that are necessary for the members of the target audience to understand the discourse have to be made explicitly available. There is tension between the need for full detail and the need for a clear line of discourse mentioned above.
    • The discourse has to contain summarising remarks that facilitate the receivers' understanding of large and complicated parts of the discourse.
    • The same information should not be unnecessarily repeated in a coherent discourse.
      The repetition can be necessary 1) in summaries (following the previous criterion) or 2) to meet the criteria of self-containedness in order to meet the quantity requirement of receivers who do not follow the entire discourse. In the last case, there is tension between the need for repetition by  selective receivers and the need for a smooth discourse by  comprehensive receivers.
  • A distinction has to be made between main points and side issues, and between new information and background information.
Quality: The information is required to be based on adequate grounds for belief, i.e. to be correct given the current state of affairs in science. To guarantee this claim of quality, the information has to be:
  • controllable by the receiver;

    Communication criterion: Details about all methods used in the research and about its outcome (in particular about their restrictions) must be made available to the receiver, to justify the reliability of the work.

  • certified by an accepted authority (e.g. a referee, a PhD committee). In addition, the authenticity and the integrity must be guaranteed.

    Communication criterion: The certification and authenticity must be expressed in metadata that must be made explicit and grouped for every publication unit in such a way that they can easily be consulted by receivers of the publication.

Relevance: The information represented in the article is required to be relevant to the problem of the article.

Communication criterion: If the relevance of the information to the problem is not immediately clear, it has to be justified.

Thirdly, the publication format has to fulfil the following authoring requirements.
From the authors' perspective, the quantity requirement means that they do not have to do more work than necessary.

Communication criterion: Information has to be represented in a way that allows for multiple use of the presentation by means of reference to a previous publication.

The requirement of clarity implies that the prescribed format has to be clear, so that the author understands how and where he should represent the information.

Communication criterion: The format has to be systematic, allowing the author to follow practical guidelines and to get used to it.  


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