ZBW MediaTalk

In the Open Scholarly Communications in the Social Sciences (OSCOSS) project we seek to create the components of a workflow that will allow social scientists to author and review texts with all advantages of the modern web. As we see our construction come together, we realize that this may be a setup also interesting for the technically skilled people in the natural sciences and beyond. The issue is well-known by anyone who has spent time in a social science environment: Text creation is at least as central as it is in other faculties, but the authors are likely more skilled in areas other than IT. The result is that most texts are written using Microsoft Word because most are familiar with its interface. Besides not offering much science-related support during the writing process, the publication process becomes a nightmare as editors struggle to guess the semantic intention of the formatting used and/or trying to standardize the look of the citations to comply with the citation style used in a specific journal. The labor needed for the publishing process and consequently the costs associated with it are well beyond what should be needed and the consequence of misunderstandings in the review and publishing process mean that the result is of a lower quality than what should be possible.

The OSCOSS project has looked at how to provide some relief: In late 2015 it started working with Fidus Writer, at that time a still somewhat unstable semantic and What-You-See-Is-What-You-Get (WYSIWYG) web-based scientific text editor that had been developed since 2012, as well as several other projects that in various ways could be connected with it. While the Fidus Writer project concentrated on modernizing and stabilizing the editor and add plugin capability, the OSCOSS project provided testing, development suggestions and wrote two new plugins as well as core features in areas needed for integrating with the rest of the workflow of social scientists.

Integration with citation source databases

Fidus Writer does come with a citation management system – which also has been improved quite a bit while we were working on OSCOSS. But the bibliography system relied on users typing in bibliographic information by hand or by uploading BibTeX files. We believed there had to be a better way. So we created a plugin for Fidus Writer to allow searching in citation databases such as Sowiport, Datacite and Crossref. The user now only has to fill out a search box to find the right source and with a few clicks, the citation will be added to the article the academic is working on.

Future improvements to this plugin may add more options to the search box and more citation databases, but the overall structure of this is already in place and is working.

Integrating the peer review process with the authoring software

The largest piece of code and most useful new thing we have programmed so far is an integration between the open source peer review management system “Open Journal Systems” (OJS) and Fidus Writer. The integration takes the form of a plugin each for Fidus Writer and OJS, which make the two systems work as one integrated system. This saves a lot of work and complications that come when authors use two different tools and always have to remember which the most recent file they worked on was.

Instead, users can author their text in one software, then click through some menus to submit the text to a journal. Once reviewers are chosen by the journal in OJS, these reviewers can then automatically access a comment-only version of the text in Fidus Writer. Once reviewers are done with their first round of reviews, the original author can see the comments and make an updated version for revision, and so on. And because the final version is marked up upon semantics, it can automatically be converted into a PDF without any further human intervention.

Integrating with the old world

The original Fidus Writer team was very visionary in its approach of doing everything semantically. This was great to make a big splash with an entirely new idea of how things should be done, but it also required users to make a clean break with most of the tools they had used hitherto, and that was just not an option for most. For this reason we thought we should try to see if there was not a way to integrate the two a little more. Mahdi Jaberzadeh of the University of Bonn created a DOCX ⟷ Fidus Writer converter programme. Inspired by Mahdi’s demonstration, Fidus Writer created a DOCX exporter directly integrated into the Fidus Writer software. This means that it is now possible to directly export Fidus Writer documents into a DOCX or ODT file, using a template to emulate the looks of known article submission styles.

Future additions may focus on adding more options to our template system to make more complex template requirements possible. However, the exporter already works quite well and we have found it to come in handy when submitting articles we collaboratively author in Fidus Writer to journals that still only receive DOCX files.

Decentralizing server control

A more experimental feature we have been looking at is putting Fidus Writer on a Network Attachable Storage (NAS) server, which is a small and relatively inexpensive (90-250 Euros) home server that can be run even by non-techies and which comes pre-installed with a point-and-click installation system and a dynamic Domain Name System (DNS) which allows editors of small journals to set it up at home or in the office and run the entire process from that with a little more control over the data and little administrative burden.

From here into the future

We have been quite busy testing and creating software. We have also started using this software ourselves. The next step will be to have more social scientists try it out and let us know how it is working for them. We are running an instance of Fidus Writer at a server with frequent backups at GESIS with open signup for social scientists.

Of course, the software development also needs to be continued. Fidus Writer 3.2 with the plugin system is currently being released as the third version since OSCOSS has started, but we are already looking at a version 3.3 in a few months with various additions that should make it even more usable for the average social scientist.


This work was funded by DFG, grant no. SU 647/19-1 and AU 340/9-1; the OSCOSS project at GESIS and University Bonn. A great number of people have been working on the OSCOSS project in various capacities since its launch, among them are: Mana Azamat, Niloofar Azizi, Babak Hashemi, Mahdi Jaberzadeh, Firas Kassawat, Aleksandr Korovin, Fakhri Momeni, Christoph Lange, and Afshin Sadeghi.

Authors: Johannes Wilm (PhD in anthropology from Goldsmiths, in 2012 one of the Fidus Writer founders and currently working at GESIS as part of the team implementing the OSCOSS project / @johanneswilm), Philipp Mayr (Dr. phil, Berlin School of Library and Information Science, team lead “Knowledge Technologies for the Social Sciences” at GESIS / @Philipp_Mayr).

The ZBW – Leibniz Information Centre for Economics is the world’s largest research infrastructure for economic literature, online as well as offline.

Next Post