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Academic Publishing

This guide contains information about best practices in academic publishing and information about predatory journals and other pitfalls.

Academic Publishing

The Peer Reviewed Publication

Academic publishing describes the process by which scholarly communications are disseminated. Peer-reviewed, academic publications will make an original contribution of knowledge to an academic field. The standard in academic publishing is the process of peer-review, by which all submissions are subjected to the rigorous review of other experts in the field. The standard publication medium for peer-reviewed documents is the academic journal, although some disciplines also make use of the peer-reviewed book.

The peer-reviewed work will always seek to build on previous scholarship. It is important to view any particular peer-reviewed article as a single contribution within a wider field. Readers must evaluate all peer-reviewed scholarship by a similar relevancy criteria to which they would any other work. The conclusions of older publications may have come to be replaced by newer ones. New evidence may have cast doubt on or disproved previously accepted theories and explanations. In general, this process is the accepted progress by which new knowledge is created and disseminated. 

The academic journal and scholarly book create a record of the scholarly communications within the academic discipline they represent. The newest articles are expected to represent the truth of that discipline as it stands at the current time. Older articles represent the field as it stood at the time of their publication, which might represent a very different consensus of knowledge than held by current scholars. The peer-review process is not without its criticisms, which include allegations of bias and deviation from stated policies of peer-review. Certainly, some published articles have been withdrawn after allegations of plagiarism or proof of a fraudulent methodological procedure. 

Other Academic Publications

Beyond the standard peer-reviewed article, academic publishing also includes the realm of articles, books, textbooks, and editorial pieces that disseminate and discuss the content of an academic field. These works contribute significantly to the academic system, but should not be conflated with peer-reviewed scholarship. 

The Publication Process

Reputable academic journals should be comprised of an editorial board that accurately reflects the scholarly activity of the field and journal they represent. The journal should maintain a rigorous peer-review process that is transparent and free from bias. All reputable journals will have a written policy of peer-review that will be available to the public and to anyone who wishes to make a submission for consideration. Ideally, the journal should have a commitment to the timely review of submissions for acceptance or rejection in addition to the publication of the final product after peer-review. High submission rates or slow review processes give some journals a reputation for being slow in the review and publishing stages of a submitted manuscript.

Peer-review is an editorial process under which accepted submissions must often be revised by the author at least once before they are given the final approval for publication. Unlike at a traditional magazine or popular book press where the editor has the final say on publication, the editorial process of an academic document requires that the peer-reviewers must accept the final revisions to a manuscript before it can be published. The peer-reviewers' opinions are independent of those of the journal's editor. However, the journal's editor will usually make an initial determination on whether or not a submitted manuscript meets the general requirements for that journal before sending it out to the peer-reviewers. It is the editor's responsibility to select peer-reviewers who have the most relevant credentials to evaluate any given manuscript.

In the publishing world, it is usually up to the author to submit a manuscript to the appropriate journal. It is usually considered impolite, even unethical, to simultaneously submit an article for publication to more than one journal. Slow turn-around time among academic journals sometimes tempts authors submit a piece to more than one journal, which creates an issue if it is accepted by more than one publication. All peer-reviewed publications must be original in their content, and not simply rehashed material from a previous project. Submitting the same research twice is considered to be self-plagiarism. 

Authors must think carefully about where to submit their manuscript. It is ultimately their responsibility to select the journal that best matches the research interests of their piece, balancing the concerns about chance of acceptance with the fit of the research with the publication. Potential authors should also be familiar with the journal's stated policies on peer-review and publishing and be mindful of the current editorial board of the journal.

Issues of Cost

There is a distinction in the modern academic publishing world between open access and traditional, non-open access journals. The issue of compensation is contentious. Many journals are owned or disseminated by for-profit publishing houses that charge subscription fees, often large ones, to their subscribers. This publication model is an old one, and it is the standard at many institutions of higher education for the library to purchase access to the journals required by its faculty and students. Publishers incur fees in the preparation of their publications and by providing compensation to their staff and to the editors of the various journals themselves. Some members of the academic community criticize the profit motives of the traditional academic journal publishing model. These traditional publishers do provide a stability and legitimacy to their journals that can be harder for open access journals to replicate, which to the mind of some academics, justifies their subscription policies and profit motivations.

Open Access journals, in contrast, do not charge subscription fees for their journals, which are normally located in full-text format on a publicly available website. Such journals must rely on independent funding and/or on the services of volunteer editorial boards. The presence of open access journals has diversified the available publication outlets for academic journals. However, it also has provided more opportunities for so-called "predatory publishing." Similar to vanity publishing in the book market, a predatory publisher allows an academic author to pay to submit articles for publication to a journal that usually does not practice ethical and rigorous peer-review. Complicating the situation, some legitimate open access journals charge authors some of all of the publication fees associated with their articles.

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