Intended for healthcare professionals


Is that it? How online articles have changed over the past five years

BMJ 2002; 325 doi: (Published 21 December 2002) Cite this as: BMJ 2002;325:1475
  1. Tony Delamothe, deputy editor (
  1. BMJ, London WC1H 9JR

    Five years ago BMJ readers responded to the challenge of predicting what online articles would look like in the future in five general medical journals. Has the development of electronic publishing lived up to their predictions?

    Our 1997 Christmas issue carried several descriptions of what an online scientific article would look like by now.1 We asked readers for their predictions and promised a prize, based on comparisons with contemporary articles “appearing in online versions of the Annals of Internal Medicine, BMJ, JAMA, Lancet, and New England Journal of Medicine (should they still exist).”

    These five general medical journals still exist. While all now have full text online versions, you'd be hard pressed to see much change in their articles over the past five years. Nevertheless, on closer inspection, vague hints of change are detectable, although for their full blooded realisation you'll need to look elsewhere.

    Box 1: Reality check

    Five common themes emerged in the published views:

    • The article will become a living document (realisation: 1/10)

      ”Electronic publishing will turn scientific ‘papers’ from dead documents into live ones“; “the live publication will evolve continuously”; “there may never be a ‘final version’ of the work”

    • The online article will be a superset of the current paper article (realisation: 3/10)

      Online articles will have fuller methods sections; readers will have access to all the raw data and be able to manipulate them, drawing their own conclusions

    • Links will proliferate greatly (realisation: 5/10)

      “Hypertext links will make each individual scientific paper a gold mine of supporting information”; references will link to the full text of the cited works

    • Articles will be available in different formats and at different levels of complexity (realisation: 2/10)

      Users will be able to choose the onscreen appearance of the article they want to read, and at which …

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