Putting researchers front and centre: enhanced support for Wellcome-funded researchers to describe and share their data

Comprehensive data records and tailored advice now available as part of the Research Data Support pilot

Sep 02, 2019
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Last July, Springer Nature and Wellcome announced a pilot partnership to provide data curation services to Wellcome-funded researchers. Today, the scope of this service has been expanded to include comprehensive one-to-one support from a research data editor, providing tailored advice starting with a researcher’s manuscript, and best practice guidance on deposition for all supporting data. This approach puts research and researchers’ needs front and centre, ensuring that they have adequate support in both the engagement with, and sharing of their research. You can read more about the pilot and register your interest here

To date, through the pilot, we have supported researchers with data files that they were ready to share, helping to organise their data in a presentable and useful way, supporting visibility, making data easier to find and cite, and saving time for researchers in data management. Researchers receive a detailed metadata record in Springer Nature’s figshare repository and are offered support in drafting a data availability statement and adding data citations to related manuscripts. This dataset is an example of a Research Data Support output holding a variety of data related to sustainable catalysts in chemical transformations, with the related article published in Wellcome Open Research. For more detail about the original launch read the announcement here

This funder-led model has been a significant development in enabling skilled data management at no individual cost to researchers, supporting Wellcome’s policy on data, software and materials sharing. Working with Wellcome researchers and their data has also enabled our Research Data team to work directly with the community we are supporting, receiving feedback to develop our standards and processes, including how we can work with researchers to ensure participant identities are protected while still making useful data openly available. 

Expert consultation on research manuscripts

Based on what we have learned so far, we are now adding more support for authors who cannot share their data openly, whose data are suitable for a specialist repository, or who are not sure their research includes data that could be shared. The starting point for this more in-depth service is a research data editor working with a researcher to identify what data underpin their paper.

Handling sensitive data

In speaking with researchers over the past year, we learned that there are many who have not been able to utilise Research Data Support with its initial focus on datasets that can be shared publicly in a general repository such as figshare. A key example is clinical sensitive data. Our team has been able to work with researchers to deidentify data (for example see this case study dealing with paediatric ward admissions in a rural Kenyan hospital), making it possible for data with potential for reuse to be published openly, while minimising risk to participant privacy. The enhanced service now enables us to create metadata-only records where data are too sensitive to be shared openly at all (see an example here). This provides readers with context of what data are available and how they were produced, improving on a simple ‘available on request’ statement in the manuscript.

Creating comprehensive metadata records

We are now able to offer authors data records that summarise all data related to their research publication, as opposed to a data record only applicable to files that have been shared publicly. The Research Data team has developed new approaches to capturing and creating metadata to support these comprehensive records - that support a specific study, rather than a single dataset. This example of a comprehensive metadata record describes all data behind an npj Breast Cancer article: data in a specialist repository (NCBI Gene Expression Omnibus), sensitive data available on request from the authors and processed data suitable for sharing in a generalist repository.


Researchers taking up this expanded offering will still be able to submit data files to figshare where appropriate. All will receive a comprehensive data record in figshare, even if their data files are stored across a number of locations or need to be stored privately to protect participant identities. The development of these ‘metadata-only’ records has been a key addition to support researchers who work with human data, in particular within health sciences. 

Addressing researchers’ needs

Building on the Research Data Support service in this way helps us to address more of the issues that researchers have identified as barriers to data sharing, in particular ‘not knowing which repository to use’. In terms of benefits to the researcher, a large-scale analysis of journal articles has identified an average 25% increase in citations where links to supporting data are included. By addressing the challenges in data sharing through more specialist support, a wider range of researchers and disciplines can benefit from better data sharing practices.

Wellcome-funded researchers can submit a manuscript for assessment, a dataset for curation, or both. A dedicated research data editor will then provide guidance on depositing data in the most suitable location, create a detailed metadata record, a data availability statement and data citation(s), as well as offering advice on best practice for data sharing.

If you are funded by the Wellcome Trust and have data files or a research manuscript you would like support with, register your interest here.


Graham Smith

Research Data Editor, Springer Nature

At Springer Nature I work to develop and promote data publishing tools, initiatives and policies across the organisation. I have an academic background in geology and geophysics, specifically studying seismics at live volcanoes. I have previously worked in a similar data-focused role at the Natural History Museum, managing data pathways and curation practices for big taxonomic and collection data.

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