Skip to Main Content

Academic Publishing: How It Works and Where You Fit

An introduction to the industry of academic publishing, how it came to be, and how it works now.

Academic Publishing

Academic publishing shows the progress of a discipline and the current state of the work in that discipline.

This guide explains how the publishing process works for authors who seek to publish their research.


The Record of Research

Academic or scholarly publishing involves a specific set of characteristics that have been developed over time and which combined provide a structure through which knowledge is advanced and built upon. This structure includes:

  • The claiming of a research topic by the author(s) who are working on it;
  • The verification of the research being done through peer review;
  • The distribution and dissemination of the research through the published article; and
  • The preservation of the research for use in future advancement.

However, as these steps originated in Europe and have been imported and further developed in the U.S., it is important to recognize that the scholarly publishing system in operation today has historically privileged some knowledge and researchers over others.

Academic Publishing Today



3,344,037: Number of articles published worldwide in 2022

Source: National Science Board, National Science Foundation. 2023. Publications Output: U.S. Trends and International Comparisons. Science and Engineering Indicators 2024. NSB-2023-33. Alexandria, VA. Available at

Most papers published by very few commercial publishers
  • Elsevier, Taylor & Francis, Wiley-Blackwell: published 41% of all papers in the Social Sciences and Humanities in 2013 (Larivière et al., 2015, p. 3-5)
  • Elsevier, Wiley-Blackwell, Springer Nature: published 47% of all papers in Natural and Medical Sciences in 2013 (Larivière et al., 2015, p. 3-5)
  • Also in the top 5 of academic publishers: Sage Publishing and ACS


The scientific article has essentially become the only way science is systematically represented in the world. … If you control access to the scientific literature, it is, to all intents and purposes, like controlling science. (Buranyi, 2017)

  • For-profit publishing + researcher need to publish in high-impact journal = emphasis on exciting and positive, no attention paid to quotidian and negative
  • Monopoly on research: “one article cannot substitute for another” (Buranyi, The Guardian, 2017)
  • More articles published leads to a greater rate of article retractions: More than 10,000 articles retracted in 2023 (Van Noorden, Nature, 2023)
  • Prohibitive access costs lead to greater piracy of academic research, both domestically and internationally