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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.

The Publication Process

The steps of the publication process and, in blue, the changing status of your paper.

    You have written an original research paper and hope to publish it. Well done!
    When you have chosen a journal to submit it to, you must format it as required and make sure your citation style matches the journal's.
    1. Check the Information for Authors section of a journal website for this information. See below for some examples.
    2. If you don't already, consider using a citation manager to make it easier to change the citation style for all of your references.
    Upon submission, the journal editor gives it an initial review to decide if it's potentially worth publishing. If so, they will send your article to a number of peer reviewers, experts in the field, who will read your paper critically to ensure accuracy and originality.
    1. If they think there's merit in your paper, the review reports will be sent to you so you can edit appropriately.
    2. If not, your paper will be rejected by the journal. You can then decide to revise and submit elsewhere. In some cases, the rejecting journal may be able to transfer your submission to another journal from the same publisher.
    Once the paper has been fully edited following peer review and the journal editor approves, you will then be asked to sign a publishing agreement.
    1. If published traditionally (subscription-based), you will sign over your copyright to the journal publisher, which will now own the rights to your paper. You may retain some rights including self-archiving. Check this before signing the agreement!
    2. If published open access (no subscription needed to read), you will retain the copyright of your paper, but may have to pay an author fee to do so.
    The journal editor and staff will then conduct the publishing aspect of the article, including copyediting (proofreading), typesetting (layout), indexing (adding keywords and index terms so it can be retrieved in citation indexes and through web searches), and finally printing, to whatever degree the journal still prints anything.
    The publisher then distributes your article through the journal issue, whether in print or digitally. Publishers with their own journal databases will make the article available through the database, though some may do this prior to the print issue as "articles in press."
    You the author can then self-archive as you choose, perhaps on a personal website or an academic network, depending on the author rights you maintained.

The Publication Process In Action

Here are some examples of the publication process, which you can usually find in a section marked "Information for Authors" or something similar. See the Sherpa Romeo database for the copyright agreements of these and other publishers.


Icons from Noun Project; open access lock is in the public domain.