With so many public software repositories and places for documentation, it can be difficult for developers to write and publish credible papers that others can reference. The newly announced Journal of Open Source Software (JOSS) wants to tackle this problem of software papers and help authors gain the credibility they deserve.
The Journal of Open Source Software is a developer-friendly journal for research-focused software packages that make it easy to create a report about the program they just published. The purpose of each JOSS paper is to enable citations to the authors of research software, according to GitHub scientist Arfon Smith, who is part of the JOSS team.
He wrote that there are a few journals dedicated to reviewing papers, but in most cases, submissions are full-length papers that combine a description of the software and some research results generated using the software.
“If software papers are currently the best solution for gaining career credit for software, then shouldn’t we make it as easy as possible to create a software paper?” wrote Smith. “Building high-quality software is already a lot of work; what if we could make the process of writing a software paper take less than an hour?”
JOSS “papers” are different because they are deliberately short and can only include the following: a short abstract describing the functionality of the software, a list of authors and their affiliations with the software, and a list of key references, including a link to the software archive.
Smith wrote that papers should not include things like API functionality, which is something that should be included in the software documentation.
The process of getting a software paper through JOSS is by a peer review and a first-class editorial board who are experienced at reviewing high-quality research software. This is designed to improve the quality of research software papers getting through.
“Our review process is based upon the tried-and-tested approach taken by the rOpenSci collaboration, and [it] happens openly on GitHub,” wrote Smith. “Peer reviews of software papers rarely improve the code submitted, but they do often improve the documentation, a critical part of making usable software, so our review process is about making sure the pieces are in place for open, (re)usable, well-documented code.”
Those interested in JOSS can help in two ways. One is to cite JOSS software papers when they exist for a piece of software that have been used, or by volunteering to help review things on GitHub. For those who are interested in submitting something to JOSS, they can do so by looking at the JOSS author guidelines, and provide feedback to the JOSS team.