Academic publishing

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Academic publishing describes a system of publishing that is necessary in order for academic scholars to review work and make it available for a wider audience. The 'system' varies widely by field, and is always changing, if often slowly. Most academic work is published in journal article or book form. In publishing, STM publishing is an abbreviation for academic publications in science, technology, and medicine.

Most established academic fields have their own journals and other outlets for publication, though many academic journals are somewhat interdisciplinary, and publish work from several distinct fields or subfields. The kinds of publications that are accepted as contributions of knowledge or research vary greatly between fields.

Academic publishing is undergoing major changes, emerging from the transition from the print to the electronic format. Business models are different in the electronic environment. Since the mid-1990s, licensing of electronic resources, particularly journals, was very common. Presently, a major trend, particularly with respect to scholarly journals, is open access. There are two main forms of open access: open access publishing, in which the articles or the whole journal is freely available from the time of publication; and self-archiving, where the author makes a copy of their own work freely available on the web.

Peer review

Peer review is a central concept for most academic publishing; other scholars in a field must find a work sufficiently high in quality for it to merit publication. The process also guards against plagiarism. Failures in peer review, while they are probably common, are sometimes scandalous (the 2003 Sokal affair is arguably one example, though this controversy also involved many other issues).[1] In 2013, the peer review process of a number of open-access science publishers was questioned after a deliberate error-ridden paper was published in 157 journals.[2]

Publishing in the sciences

Most scientific research is initially published in scientific journals; see that article for much more information on publishing in the sciences.

Alternative forms of publication in the sciences include Reviews (which provide a synthesis of research articles on a topic to highlight advances and new lines of research), technical reports, for minor research results and engineering and design work (including computer software), and books for large projects, broad arguments, or compilations of articles.

Publishing in the social sciences

Publishing in the social sciences is varies greatly in different fields. Some fields, like economics, may have very 'hard' or highly quantitative standards for publication, much like the natural sciences. Others, like anthropology or sociology, emphasize field work and reporting on first-hand observation as well as quantitative work. Some social-science fields, such as public health or demographics, have significant shared interests with professions like law and medicine, and scholars in these fields often also publish in professional journals.

Publishing in the humanities

Publishing in the humanities is in principle similar to publishing elsewhere in the academy; a range of journals, from general to extremely specialized, are available, and university presses print many new humanities books every year.

However, scholarly publishing requirements in the humanities (as well as some social sciences) are currently a subject of significant controversy within the academy. In many fields, such as literature and history, several published articles are typically required for a first tenure-track job, and a published or forthcoming book is now often required before tenure. Some critics complain that this de facto system has emerged without thought to its consequences; they claim that the predictable result is the publication of much shoddy work, as well as unreasonable demands on the already limited research time of young scholars. To make matters worse, the circulation of many humanities journals in the 1990s declined to almost untenable levels, as many libraries cancelled subscriptions, leaving fewer and fewer peer-reviewed outlets for publication; and many humanities professors' first books sell only a few hundred copies, which often does not pay for the cost of their printing. Some scholars have called for a publication subvention of a few thousand dollars to be associated with each graduate student fellowship or new tenure-track hire, in order to alleviate the financial pressure on journals.


  1. Goldacre, Ben. The Sokal affair, The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 5 June 2003. Retrieved on 8 October 2013.
  2. Staff writer. Paper written as science hoax published by 157 science journals, UPI Science News, United Press International, 3 October 2013. Retrieved on 8 October 2013.