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Academic publishing describes a system of publishing which bases itself on peer review in order to achieve the greatest form of objectivity possible. The "system," which is probably disorganized enough not to merit the title, varies widely by field, and is also 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 about the early 90's, 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.


Among the earliest research journals was the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society in the 17th century. At that time, the act of publishing academic inquiry was controversial, and widely ridiculed. It was not at all unusual for a new discovery to be announced as an anagram, reserving priority for the discoverer, but indecipherable for anyone not in on the secret: both Isaac Newton and Leibniz used this approach. However, this method did not work well. Robert K. Merton, a sociologist, found that 92% of cases of simultaneous discovery in the 17th century ended in dispute. The number of disputes dropped to 72% in the 18th century, 59% by the latter half of the 19th century, and 33% by the first half of the 20th century. The decline in contested claims for priority in research discoveries can be credited to the increasing acceptance of the publication of papers in modern academic journals.

The Royal Society was steadfast in its unpopular belief that science could only move forward through a transparent and open exchange of ideas backed by experimental evidence.

Academic paper

In academic publishing, a paper is an academic work that is usually published in an academic journal. It contains original research results or reviews existing results. Such a paper, also called an article, will only be considered valid if it undergoes a process of peer review by one or more referees (who are academics in the same field) in order to check that the content of the paper is suitable for publication in the journal. A paper may undergo a series of reviews, edits and re-submissions before finally being accepted or rejected for publication. This process should and may take some years, particularly for the most popular journals where the number of acceptable articles outnumbers the space for printing. Due to this, many academics offer a 'pre-print' copy of their paper for free download from their personal or institutional website.

Some journals, particularly newer ones, are now published in electronic form only. Paper journals are often made available online to members of academic institutions. Sometimes these electronic versions are available immediately upon publication of the paper version, but more frequently the publisher will insist on a delay of two to five years before making electronic download available in order to protect revenue streams.

Peer review

Main article: 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 Sokal Affair is arguably one example, though this controversy also involved many other issues).

Publishing process

The process of academic publishing is divided into two distinct phases. The process of peer review is controlled by a journal editor and is complete when the content of the article, together with any associated images or figures, is accepted for publication. The peer review process is increasingly managed online, through the use of proprietary systems, or commercial software packages such as ScholarOne ManuscriptCentral, Aries Editorial Manager, or EJournalPress.

The production process, controlled by a production editor, then takes an article through copy editing, typesetting, inclusion in a specific issue of a journal, and then printing and online publication. Copy editing seeks to ensure that an article conforms to the journal's house style, that all of the referencing and labelling is correct, and that there are no spelling or grammatical errors. Typesetting deals with the appearance of the article — layouts, fonts, headings etc., both for print and online publication. Historically, these activities were all carried out in-house in a publisher, but increasingly are subject to outsourcing. The majority of typesetting is probably now done in India, and copy editing is frequently done by local freelancers, or by staff at the typesetters in India. Even printing and distribution are now tending to move overseas to lower-cost areas of the world, such as Singapore.

The author will review and correct proofs at one or more stages in the production process. The proof correction cycle has historically been labour-intensive as handwritten comments by authors and editors are manually transcribed by a proof reader onto a clean version of the proof. Recently, this process has been streamlined by the introduction of e-annotations in Adobe Acrobat.

Publishing by discipline


Main article: Scientific literature

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.

Social sciences

Publishing in the social sciences is very different 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 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.

Current status and development

Research journals have been so successful that the number of journals and of papers has proliferated over the past few decades, and the credo of the modern academic has become "publish or perish". Except for generalist journals like Science or Nature, the topics covered in any single journal have tended to narrow, and readership and citation have declined. A variety of methods reviewing submissions exist. The most common involves initial approval by the journal, peer review by two or three researchers working in similar or closely related subjects who recommend approval or rejection as well as request error correction, clarification or additions before publishing. Controversial topics may receive additional levels of review. Journals have developed a hierarchy, partly based on reputation but also on the strictness of the review policy. More prestigious journals are more likely to receive and publish more important work. Submitters try to submit their work to the most prestigious journal likely to publish it to bolster their reputation and curriculum vitae. A quantitative (and not uncontroversial) measure of the prestige or importance of a journal is its impact factor, which is increasingly used as a criterion for promotion and in the awarding of tenure.

Andrew Odlyzko, an academician with a large number of published research papers, has argued that research journals will evolve into something akin to Internet forums over the coming decade, by extending the interactivity of current Internet preprints. This change may open them up to a wider range of ideas, some more developed than others. Whether this will be a positive evolution remains to be seen. Some claim that forums, like markets, tend to thrive or fail based on their ability to attract talent. Some believe that highly restrictive and tightly monitored forums may be the least likely to thrive.

Distribution and business aspects

It was a fact of pre-technology life that, no matter how dedicated, one person can only give a limited number of lectures to the small groups of students who can travel to hear them; and, if articles are to be written and distributed, only a small number of copies can be hand-written or typed. The development of the printing press therefore represented a revolution for communicating the latest hypotheses and research results to the academic community and supplemented what a scholar could do personally. Ironically, this improvement in the efficiency of communication created a challenge for libraries which have had to accommodate the weight and volume of literature. To understand the scale of the problem: about two centuries ago, the number of scientific papers published annually was doubling approximately every fifteen years. Today, the number of published papers doubles about every ten years. But the new reality of internet technology is that it is far cheaper to send out electronic versions of a paper than to have it printed in a journal. Unlike their medieval counterparts, modern academics can now run electronic journals and distribute academic materials without the need for publishers. Not surprisingly, publishers perceive this emancipation as a serious threat to their business model. In reality, the interests of scholars and publishers have long been in conflict. The purpose of copyright is to protect the capital invested in the "work" by the publisher and the wish of the scholar is to have the work as widely distributed as possible.

Publishing academic journals and textbooks is a large part of an international industry. The shares of the major publishing companies are listed on national stock exchanges and management policies must satisfy the dividend expectations of international shareholders. Although some specialist academic publishers used to take a less commercial view of their business, the industry has been consolidating and, as smaller units are absorbed into the larger, standardised accounting and profit-oriented policies have dominated the industry. Critics have claimed that these policies now constrain more altruistic leanings of academic publishing.

The rival to this corporate model is the open access (a.k.a. "author-pays" model), i.e. the online distribution of individual articles and academic journals without charge to readers and libraries. Committing to the open access community means dispensing with the financial, technical, and legal barriers that have been designed to limit access to academic materials to paying customers. The Public Library of Science is a prominent and successful example of this model in practice.

Corporate interests used to criticize the principle of open access on quality grounds — it was free, therefore, it could not be of a high-quality. Such a challenge would be difficult to defeat if the omission of payment required sacrificing any of the advantages of traditional publishing. Open access advocates claim that no sacrifice is necessary. They argue that because open access is as much based on peer reviewing as traditional publishing, the quality should be the same. More importantly, some sites now include an open source element, i.e. academics are allowed to post unreviewed material and the forum community freely comments on the material and interacts with the authors to optimise quality with an efficiency not achieved by traditional publishers.

One counter-argument that has been made about the open access model is that when the author pays the author also benefits, as opposed to the traditional model in which the readers pay and the readers benefit. Another counter-argument that has been made is that good science done by academic institutions who cannot afford to pay for open access might not get published at all. In June 2005 it still remained to be seen whether the open access model will be financially viable when not substantially backed by funding. During 2004, many of the traditional publishers (including Blackwell Publishing, Elsevier, Springer-Verlag and Wharton School Publishing) introduced their own open access models, which made it possible for authors to decide whether their articles should be made freely available. Proponents of open access suggest that such moves by corporate publishers illustrate that open access, or a mix of open access and traditional publishing can be financially viable.


  • William Germano. Getting It Published: A Guide for Scholars and Anyone Else Serious About Serious Books. ISBN 0-226-28844-7.
  • John A. Goldsmith et al. "Teaching and Research" in The Chicago Guide to Your Academic Career. ISBN 0-226-30151-6.
  • Cary Nelson and Stephen Watt. "Scholarly Books" and "Peer Review" in Academic Keywords: A Devil's Dictionary for Higher Education. ISBN 0-415-92203-8.

See also

External links

de:Wissenschaftliche Publikation

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This page uses Creative Commons Licensed content from Wikipedia (view authors).