Data papers… and FAIR

In a scientific ecosystem increasingly oriented towards the perspective of Open Science, data papers are a new species of scholarly publication, especially in the social sciences and humanities (SSH).


Defining data papers

Schöpfel et al. (2019) define the data paper as searchable metadata documents whose main purpose is to describe a dataset, including the conditions and context of their acquisition and their potential utility. The authors state that data papers focus on information on the what, where, how, and who of the data instead of focusing on original research results. They are full articles published in the form of peer-reviewed articles.

In the classical research paradigm, as the authors explain, there is a clear distinction between datasets (research findings), articles (analysis and discussion of such findings), and abstracting/indexing (the description of such datasets and articles). In this traditional framework, the focus is on articles presenting the findings while the research data is useful for the validation of such findings.

The inclusion of the data paper in the scholarly publication environment represents a shift in knowledge organization, blurring boundaries and changing priorities as the data paper interlinks datasets, papers, and metadata. The paper is thus useful to “inform about and link to research data on data repositories, contributing to their findability and reusability” Schöpfel et al. (2019).


Data papers and SSH

Data papers are a form of publication that has emerged in fields accustomed to presenting data and making them interpretable and verifiable; however, in the SSH we still stumble over the (recurrent) question: what do research data look like, as in this field they can take so many different forms? Kembellec and Le Deuff (2022) asked other questions, such as: how did this object from the so-called “hard” sciences arrive at the doorstep of our practices in social sciences and humanities? Can we compare the methods of description of corpora from generated data with those of patiently collected and filtered data?

This last question takes us to the potential differences we can find between data papers from SSH and those from STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) disciplines.  In this regard, Kembellec and Le Deuff (2022) state that the data paper cannot be a scientific space for debate or detailed presentation of research results. According to the authors,

[i]n STEM, a data paper is a short descriptive scientific article, of no more than 10 pages in the case of data in brief: it is therefore not a space of epistemic posture. (…) In the social sciences and humanities, the data paper is an emerging concept (…). We think of it as being above all an accompanying piece of writing. It uses the codes of the data paper in STEM, while respecting the literary tradition. The data paper accompanies the data set presented and to a certain extent the project associated with it.

Kembellec and Le Deuff (2022)

Data papers and FAIR Principles

Through enriched metadata description, the main purpose of the data paper is to increase the findability and reusability of the datasets.  Gay (2021) explains that documenting the process of data production and ensuring that it conforms to FAIR principles are both time-consuming and yet necessary for the reproducibility of research.

In this context, the data paper is a tool that can allow data producers to have their scientific contribution recognized by making their data easily citable, but also by improving the relevance and the scope of the reuse of their data.

Gay (2021)

Most data journals are a pure product of this new ecosystem of Open Access, open (and big) data, and new forms of selection and dissemination, making them different from other academic journals, which makes them particularly interesting for the requirements of the FAIR Principles. Schöpfel et al. (2019) detailed how data papers contribute to FAIR principles compliance in different ways.

F2. Data are described with rich metadataData papers enrich existing metadata of datasets.
F4. (Meta)data are registered or indexed in a searchable resourceThe enriched metadata are registered, indexed and preserved on the data journal platform.
A2. Metadata are accessible, even when the data are no longer availableThe accessibility of metadata published via data papers does not depend on the datasets’ accessibility in a data repository.
I1. (Meta)data use a formal, accessible, shared, and broadly applicable language for knowledge representationAt least some of the data journals insist on the application of formal, standard language (vocabularies) for the description of datasets. As a minimum, they reproduce the data repositories’ own formal dataset representation
I3. (Meta)data include qualified references to other (meta)dataData papers can (and usually do) provide links to other related resources, e.g. research papers, institutional affiliations, similar or related datasets, etc.
R1.1. (Meta)data are released with a clear and accessible data usage licenseMost data papers are published with an open license; whenever the data paper is derived from the original metadata, this license may depend on the repository’s initial licensing and reuse rights.
R1.2. (Meta)data are associated with detailed provenanceOne of the main functions of data papers is to provide detailed knowledge about where the data came from, who to cite, who generated or collected it and how it has been processed (workflow).
Adapted from Schöpfel et al. (2019)

Video series

To learn more about new form of publication in SSH, The road to FAIR recommends a series of three videos co-produced by EOSC-Pillar, in the framework of the Work Package dedicated to establishing FAIR Data services, in collaboration with CNRS (Huma-Num) and CO-OPERAS IN (OpenEdition).

The videos are based on interviews with French professors, researchers, journal editors and focus on the definition of data paper, its ecosystem, and its impact.

Video 1/3

Besides defining data papers, the first video of the series discusses the structure of this kind of paper, the criteria for its evaluation, the importance of the data management plan, and the ways of making it FAIR.

Video 2/3

The second video focuses on the data paper ecosystem and some of its constitutive elements (tools, data repositories, data journals) and obstacles to the production of data papers. 

Vide 3/3

The final video is about the impact of data papers: sharing data and methods, functioning as an educational tool, increasing citation, data download, and possibilities for collaboration.



Gay, Victor. 2021. “Un Data Paper En SHS : Pourquoi, Pour Qui, Comment ?” In #dhnord2021 – Publier, Partager, Réutiliser Les Données de La Recherche : Les Data Papers et Leurs Enjeux. Lille, France: MESHS.

Kembellec, Gérald, and Olivier Le Deuff. 2022. “Poétique et Ingénierie Des Data Papers.” Revue Française Des Sciences de l’information et de La Communication, no. 24 (January).

Schöpfel, Joachim, Dominic J. Farace, Hélène Prost, and Antonella Zane. 2020. “Data Papers as a New Form of Knowledge Organization in the Field of Research Data.” Knowledge Organization 46 (8): 622–38.

Cite this blog post
Karla Avanço (2022, June 17). Data papers… and FAIR. The road to FAIR. Retrieved May 30, 2024, from

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