Academic Publishing: An Overview

1 01 2013

Academic publishing describes the subfield of publishing which distributes academic research and scholarship. Most academic work is published in journal article, book or thesis form. The part of academic written output that is not formally published but merely printed up or posted on the Internet is often called the “grey literature“. Most scientific and scholarly journals, and many academic and scholarly books, though not all, are based on some form of peer review or editorial refereeing to qualify texts for publication. Peer review quality and selectivity standards vary greatly from journal to journal, publisher to publisher, and field to field.

Most established academic disciplines have their own journals and other outlets for publication, although many academic journals are somewhat interdisciplinary, and publish work from several distinct fields or subfields. There is also a tendency for existing journals to divide into specialized sections as the field itself becomes more specialized. Along with the variation in review and publication procedures, the kinds of publications that are accepted as contributions to knowledge or research differ greatly among fields and subfields.

Academic publishing is undergoing major changes, as it makes the transition from the print to the electronic format. Business models are different in the electronic environment. Since the early 1990s, licensing of electronic resources, particularly journals, has been very common. Currently, an important trend, particularly with respect to scholarly journals, is open access via the Internet. There are two main forms of open access: open access publishing, in which a whole journal (or book) or individual articles are made available free for all on the web by the publisher at the time of publication (sometimes, but not always, for an extra publication fee paid by the author or the author’s institution or funder); and open access self-archiving, in which authors themselves make a copy of their published articles available free for all on the web.

One of the earliest research journals is the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, created 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, with estimates suggesting that around 50 million journal articles have been published since the first appearance of the Philosophical Transactions.

The Royal Society was steadfast in its not yet popular belief that science could only move forward through a transparent and open exchange of ideas backed by experimental evidence.

The Journal des sçavans (later renamed Journal des savants), established by Denis de Sallo, was the earliest academic journal published in Europe. Its content included obituaries of famous men, church history, and legal reports. The first issue appeared as a twelve page quarto pamphlet on Monday, 5 January 1665. This was shortly before the first appearance of the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, on 6 March 1665.

In the 1960s and 1970s, commercial publishers began to selectively acquire “top-quality” journals which were previously published by nonprofit academic societies. Due to the inelastic demand for these journals, the commercial publishers lost little of the market when they raised the prices significantly. Although there are over 2,000 publishers, three for-profit companies (Reed ElsevierSpringer Science+Business Media, and John Wiley & Sons) account for 42% of articles published. Available data indicate that these companies have high profit margins, especially compared to the smaller publishers which likely operate with low margins. These factors have contributed to the “serials crisis” – from 1986–2005, the number of serials purchased has increased an average of 1.9% per year while total expenditures on serials has increased 7.6% per year.

Unlike most industries, in academic publishing the two most important inputs are provided “virtually free of charge”. These are the articles and the peer review process. Publishers argue that they add value to the publishing process through support to the peer review group, including stipends, as well as through typesetting, printing, and web publishing. Investment analysts, however, have been skeptical of the value added by for-profit publishers, as exemplified by a 2005 Deutsche Bank analysis which stated that “we believe the publisher adds relatively little value to the publishing process… We are simply observing that if the process really were as complex, costly and value-added as the publishers protest that it is, 40% margins wouldn’t be available.”

A crisis in academic publishing is “widely perceived”; the apparent crisis has to do with the combined pressure of budget cuts at universities and increased costs for journals (the serials crisis). The university budget cuts have reduced library budgets and reduced subsidies to university-affiliated publishers. The humanities have been particularly affected by the pressure on university publishers, which are less able to publish monographs when libraries can’t afford to purchase them. For example, the ARL found that in “1986, libraries spent 44% of their budgets on books compared with 56% on journals; twelve years later, the ratio had skewed to 28% and 72%.” Meanwhile, monographs are increasingly expected for tenure in the humanities. The Modern Language Association has expressed hope that electronic publishing will solve the issue.

Several models are being investigated such as open publication models or adding community-oriented features. It is also considered that “Online scientific interaction outside the traditional journal space is becoming more and more important to academic communication”. In addition, experts have suggested measures to make the publication process more efficient in disseminating new and important findings by evaluating the worthiness of publication on the basis of the significance and novelty of the research finding.

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) who check that the content of the paper is suitable for publication in the journal. A paper may undergo a series of reviews, editions and re-submissions before finally being accepted or rejected for publication. This process typically takes several months. Next there is often a delay of many months (or in some subjects, over a year) before an accepted manuscript appears. This is particularly true for the most popular journals where the number of accepted articles often outnumbers the space for printing. Due to this, many academics self-archive 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 now generally made available in electronic form as well, both to individual subscribers, and to libraries. Almost always these electronic versions are available to subscribers immediately upon publication of the paper version, or even before; sometimes they are also made available to non-subscribers, either immediately (by open access journals) or after an embargo of anywhere from two to twenty-four months or more, in order to protect against loss of subscriptions. Journals having this delayed availability are sometimes called delayed open access journals. Ellison has reported that in economics the dramatic increase in opportunities to publish results online has led to a decline in the use of peer reviewed articles.

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 are sometimes scandalous. The Bogdanov Affair in theoretical physics is one example. The Sokal Affair is another, though this controversy also involved many other issues.

Rena Steinzor wrote:

Perhaps the most widely recognized failing of peer review is its inability to ensure the identification of high-quality work. The list of important scientific papers that were initially rejected by peer-reviewed journals goes back at least as far as the editor of Philosophical Transaction’s 1796 rejection of Edward Jenner‘s report of the first vaccination against smallpox.

The process of academic publishing is divided into two distinct phases. The process of peer review is organized by the journal editor and is complete when the content of the article, together with any associated images or figures, are accepted for publication. The peer review process is increasingly managed online, through the use of proprietary systems, commercial software packages, or open source and free software.

Once peer review has been completed, the original author(s) of the article will modify their submission in line with the reviewers’ comments, and this is repeated until the editor is satisfied.

The production process, controlled by a production editor or publisher, then takes an article through copy editingtypesetting, 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 China, and copy editing is frequently done by local freelancers, or by staff at the typesetters in India or China. Even printing and distribution are now tending to move overseas to lower-cost areas of the world, such as Singapore.

In much of the 20th century, such articles were photographed for printing into proceedings and journals, and this stage were known as camera-ready copy. With modern digital submission in formats such as PDF, this photographing step is no longer necessary, though the term is still sometimes used.

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. In recent years, this process has been streamlined by the introduction of e-annotations in Microsoft WordAdobe Acrobat, and other programs, but it still remains a time-consuming and error-prone process.

Academic authors cite sources they have used. This gives credit to authors whose work they use and avoids plagiarism. It also provides support for their assertions and arguments and helps readers to find more information on the subject.

Each scholarly journal uses a specific format for citations (also known as references). Among the most common formats used in research papers are the APACMS, and MLA styles.

The American Psychological Association (APA) style is often used in the social sciences. The Chicago Manual of Style (CMS) is used in businesscommunicationseconomics, and social sciences. The CMS style uses footnotes at the bottom of page to help readers locate the sources. The Modern Language Association (MLA) style is widely used in the humanities.

Scientific, technical, and medical (STM) literature is a large industry which generated $19 billion in revenue; 60% of that revenue came from North America. Most scientific research is initially published in scientific journals and considered to be a primary source; see that article for details. Technical reports, for minor research results and engineering and design work (including computer software) round out the primary literature. Secondary sources in the sciences include articles in review journals (which provide a synthesis of research articles on a topic to highlight advances and new lines of research), and books for large projects, broad arguments, or compilations of articles. Tertiary sources might include encyclopedias and similar works intended for broad public consumption or academic libraries.

A partial exception to scientific publication practices is in many fields of applied science, particularly that of U.S. computer science research. An equally prestigious site of publication within U.S. computer science are some academic conferences. Reasons for this departure include a large number of such conferences, the quick pace of research progress, and computer science professional society support for the distribution and archiving of conference proceedings.

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 demography, have significant shared interests with professions like law and medicine, and scholars in these fields often also publish in professional magazines.

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.

Scholarly publishing requirements in the humanities (as well as some social sciences) are currently a subject of significant controversy within the academy. The following describes the situation in the United States. 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 beforetenure. 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.

An academic paper typically belongs to some particular category such as:

Note: Law review is the generic term for a journal of legal scholarship in the United States, often operating by rules radically different from those for most other academic publishing

An alternative to the subscription model of journal publishing is the Open access journal model, also known as “author-pays” or “paid on behalf of the author”, where a publication charge is paid by the author, his university, or the agency which provides his research grant. The online distribution of individual articles and academic journals then takes place without charge to readers and libraries. MostOpen access journals remove all the financial, technical, and legal barriers that limit access to academic materials to paying customers. The Public Library of Science and BioMed Central are prominent examples of this model.

Open access has been criticized on quality grounds, as the desire to obtain publishing fees could cause the journal to relax the standard of peer review. It may be criticized on financial grounds as well, because the necessary publication fees have proven to be higher than originally expected. Open access advocates generally reply that because open access is as much based on peer reviewing as traditional publishing, the quality should be the same (recognizing that both traditional and open access journals have a range of quality). It has been argued that good science done by academic institutions who cannot afford to pay for open access might not get published at all, but most open access journals permit the waiver of the fee for financial hardship or authors in underdeveloped countries. Moreover, all authors have the option of self-archiving their articles in their institutional repositories in order to make them open access whether or not they publish in an open access journal.

If they publish in a Hybrid open access journal, authors pay a subscription journal a publication fee to make their individual article open access. Other articles in such hybrid journals are either made available after a delay, or remain available only by subscription. Many of the traditional publishers (including Wiley-BlackwellWiley-VCHOxford University PressSpringer Science+Business Mediaand Wharton School Publishing) have already introduced such a hybrid option, and more are following. 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, and evidence to that effect is emerging. It remains unclear whether this is practical in fields outside the sciences, where there is much less availability of outside funding. In 2006, several funding agencies, including the Wellcome Trust and several divisions of the Research Councils in the UK announced the availability of extra funding to their grantees for such open access journal publication fees.

In recent decades there has been a growth in academic publishing in developing countries as they become more advanced in science and technology. Although the large majority of scientific output and academic documents are produced in developed countries, the rate of growth in these countries has stabilized and is much smaller than the growth rate in some of the developing countries. The fastest scientific output growth rate over the last two decades has been in the Middle East and Asia with Iran leading with an 11-fold increase followed by the Republic of Korea, Turkey, Cyprus, China, and Oman. In comparison the only G8 countries in top 20 ranking with fastest performance improvement are, Italy which stands at tenth and Canada at 13th globally.

Iran, China, IndiaBrazil, and South Africa were the only developing countries among the 31 nations that produced 97.5% of the most cited scientific articles in a study published in 2004. The remaining 162 countries contributed less than 2.5%. The Royal Society in a 2011 report stated that in share of English scientific research papers the United States was first followed by China, the UK, Germany, Japan, France, and Canada. The report predicted that China would overtake the United States some time before 2020, possibly as early as 2013. China’s scientific impact, as measured by other scientists citing the published papers the next year, is smaller although also increasing.

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