What are the types of academic publications?

Academic publishing represents one of the most significant aspects of the work of faculty members as well as graduate students. One’s success in academic publishing fundamentally determines one’s success in higher education. Publishing is vital for getting a faculty position and critical in the tenure decision. Unlike other aspects of faculty work such as teaching or service, the high stakes world of academic publishing is fraught with complications. What counts? How is one type of publication weighted compared to another? These questions are quite context-specific depending on your discipline, institution, and department. In today’s post, I want to help unpack academic publishing and research by exploring the question of what are the different types of academic publications.

Photo credit: Sam Churchill

Like the broader publishing world, academic publishing has changed dramatically in recent years. Universities have closed academic presses and the need to turn a profit, while always present, has grown exponentially more relevant to publishing decisions.

The ratcheting up of tenure expectations with institutional aspirations has led to journals and presses being inundated with mediocre manuscripts.

Despite the pressures of publish or perish, the Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA (HERI) found that fewer that just a little under a third of faculty in U.S. colleges and universities have not published at all in the last two years.

If you’re on the tenure clock at an institution that expects publication for tenure, you simply can’t afford not to be publishing.

Few things will sink a tenure case as quickly as an insufficient publishing record.

But what do we mean by publishing?  There are more outlets for publication than ever thanks to the advent of open access and online journals, blogs, and other online publications.

Each discipline has different expectations when it comes to publishing. Some disciplines primarily value books while others count conference proceedings. While the value placed on different publications may vary, there are nine different types of academic publications that you should be familiar with when thinking about publishing research.

Types of academic publishing

1.  Books and monographs

Books and monographs are long-form publications examining a scholarly topic. Books provide broad treatment of a subject while monographs are more detailed examinations of a specialized subject or piece of a larger subject. The necessity of books and monographs vary dramatically by discipline, but across fields are generally considered a significant accomplish and evidence of major research contributions to the field. Due to the variety of books, the evaluation for tenure can be quite different, but should include the overall quality of the manuscript, data, and arguments, quality and stature of the publisher (major university presses are considered most prestigious), book reviews, and citation evidence.

2.  Edited book

These books are a collection of chapters on a similar subject from different authors compiled by an editor. The editor has the responsibility for gathering the chapters, editing them, and working with the press. As a result, the process can be quite time intensive for the editor particularly editing the individual chapters. Edited books are evaluated based on the quality of the press, quality of the chapters, and the stature of the contributing authors.

3.  Journal article

Journal articles are manuscripts that share the findings of specific scholarly work published as a part of a regularly published periodical. Journals may be called academic journals, peer-reviewed journals, scholarly journals, or other similar terms. Journal articles are the backbone of academic publishing and a wonderful source for research on specific questions. Articles in scholarly journals are typically evaluated with some combination of the following criteria: peer review status, acceptance rates, impact factors, stature of editor or editorial board members, and the number of times the article is cited.

4.  Book chapters

A book chapter is a chapter inside of a larger volume. Typically, each chapter is written by a different group of authors. Two types of book chapters are commonly found:  edited and refereed. Edited book chapters are part of a collection gathered and reviewed by an editor around a specific topic. These chapters are rarely considered to be peer reviewed and their quality is evaluated based on the stature of the press publishing the book, the editor, and other contributors. Refereed book chapters appear in handbooks (i.e. research handbook) and have been reviewed by peer reviewers (sometimes these are blind reviews, sometimes not). A refereed chapter is evaluated largely based on the quality of the publication and the citation record of the chapter.

5.  Book reviews

Book reviews are short evaluations of a book that provide an overview of the book as well as a critical discussion of the content, style, and rigor. This form of academic publishing allows authors to analyze and provide reactions to the book. Rarely are book reviews peer-reviewed or given significant weight as research in tenure decisions.

6.  Conference proceedings

This publication type is a collection of papers presented at a professional association meeting, symposia, or similar gathering. Conference proceedings are most common in science and engineering fields although even in these fields their prominence is declining. Even inside disciplines that consider proceedings as part of evidence to support research, they are not given much value.

7.  Technical reports/scientific reports/white papers

This category is fairly broad including a wide-range of manuscripts that describe the process or results of research or consider the current state of a problem. Reports of this type do not undergo peer review and are commission by an organization or agency. There are no real standards or processes meaning there can be great variety even among reports examining similar issues. Most evaluators give reports limited consideration as part of tenure. To the extent that the are included as evidence, the impact of the report, stature of co-authors and the originating organization, and overall quality of the report are factors used to determine the level of contribution to the scholarly and professional community.

8.  Blogs and other forms of online writing

Despite their growing prominence, blogs and writing that appears online is valued less in the tenure process. While there may be exceptions with individual cases, the vast majority of writing online will not be considered as research for tenure and promotion. At best, blogs and online writing are considered non-peer reviewed publications. At worst, they are given no value or even lead to questions as to why the candidate is publishing in these outlets.

9.  Op-eds, columns, and other publications for the public

The final form of academic publishing is not really academic publishing but is sharing scholarly expertise with the broader public. This type of writing might be an op-ed in a newspaper or short piece in a magazine. Overall, this publication type includes any writing for the public that shares the results of research or scholarly understanding. Tenure committees will not give this writing value on the surface, but it can be a useful way to share your expertise outside of traditional academic publishing. Faculty committees will not assign weight to this writing, but administrators appreciate faculty that share their research outside of academe and get press for the institution.

Many variations

I have described the broad categories to understand what are the types of academic publications. There are many smaller variations of these and complicating factors such as open access and self-publishing. Understanding the role of these requires contextual knowledge of the department, institution, and discipline. Ultimately, these categories should provide a starting place to think about academic publishing and how different outlets influence the evaluation of a tenure case.