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Publishing Your Student Research

A guide for students interested in publishing their academic work

About This Guide

This guide is for students, whether graduate or undergraduate, who are interested in publishing their work in an academic journal. It includes suggested journals and tips on how to successfully navigate the peer review and publication processes.

Here are some benefits of publishing your student work:

  • Gain experience with the peer-review process that will be beneficial if you plan on pursuing an advanced degree.
  • Publications can be added to your resume or LinkedIn page.
  • Share your work with the world! Even as an undergrad, you can engage in and write about impactful original research that people far and wide may want to know about.

What is an Academic Journal?

The following are defining characteristics of academic journals:

  • A title reflecting a particular theme, subject, topic, concern, or issue. By contrast to most well-known popular resources, such as newspapers and news magazines, an academic journal is usually fairly narrow in its focus. A medical journal, for example, could be solely concerned with the treatment of one particular disease, such as diabetes.
  • A peer-review process. This is essentially quality control for scholarship. The actual mechanics of the process may vary somewhat by publication or discipline, but it boils down to the review of articles by experts in the field to which the article belongs. 
  • An editorial board or team, also usually composed of field experts. The roles of different types of editors also vary by publication, but almost always there is a top editor or co-editor who is the first to see submissions and the final arbiter of the publication process.
  • A format that includes strict adherence to one citation style, such as APA or Chicago/Turabian.
  • An annual, biannual, or quarterly publication cycle, sometimes interspersed with special issues. Most journals have a numbering scheme that reflects this cycle.

Institutions that subscribe to academic journals typically have the issues bound and shelved at the end of each publication cycle. Many journals have moved to a primarily or solely digital platform, however, and a growing number use an open-access model, meaning that they do not charge subscription or download fees. Some such journals also do not adhere to a traditional publication cycle, instead publishing submissions on a continuous or rolling basis. Though the reputability of open-access journals may vary by field, they have become an accepted feature of the academic landscape.

How Does the Peer Review Process Work?

The following reflects the peer-review process used by the International Journal of Undergraduate Research & Creative Activities:

  1. The editor receives a submission and gives it an initial read-through. If the format, writing quality, and subject matter seem appropriate, she sends the submission (with the author's name redacted) to 2-3 reviewers with relevant expertise.
  2. The reviewers read the submission and recommend that it be accepted, accepted with revisions, or rejected.
  3. The editor, taking the reviewers' recommendations into consideration, reaches a decision on the submission.
  4. If the editor decides to accept the submission "with revisions," which is a typical outcome for submissions that are not rejected outright, she sends the submission back to the author with the reviewers' commentary (the reviewers' names are hidden).
  5. The author incorporates the reviewers' commentary into a revised version of the submission. If he chooses not to act on one or more pieces of commentary, he explains why in a note to the editor.
  6. The editor does a final copyedit for grammatical and stylistic issues. If she or the author has not done so already, she sets the submission in the format or template used by the journal for publication purposes. She sends the copyedited version back to the author for a final review. This version of the submission is sometimes known as a galley proof, or final form, and represents the author's last opportunity to make changes.
  7. The editor publishes the submission in the current (in the rolling publication model) or upcoming (in the traditional model) issue of the journal.

Beware of Predatory Publishers

There is a dark side to the world of academic journals: predatory publishing. Many shady online publications try to mimic academic journals, usually for motives of profit. Young scholars, who may be less familiar with the leading publications in their field, or more desperate to establish a publication record, are especially vulnerable to their ploys. Generally speaking, you should be suspicious of solicitations from entities that say they want to publish your work for a fee (though there are some reputable publications that do this). Additional hallmarks of predatory publishers include:

  • Either no mention of a peer-review process or a promise of it being swift. Peer review is necessarily slow because there is an element of dialogue to it: theories or findings are presented, criticisms are made, adjustments are made or not made in response to those criticisms. Also, legitimate peer-reviewers tend to be busy academics with classes to teach and their own scholarship obligations to meet.
  • Homepages that are flashy, gimmicky, and/or riddled with spelling or grammatical errors.
  • Listed editorial board members whose existence is hard to verify, or whose area of expertise has nothing to do with the journal's apparent intent. Try reaching out to these people if in doubt - they may also be real people who were listed on the website without their knowledge.

If you're still in doubt, ask an experienced instructor's opinion. The CWU librarians are a good resource, too.