Ask HN: Best way to publish papers as a non-scholar?

By MartianSquirrel - 3 days ago

Showing first level comment(s)

As a recovering academic, I believe it would be good to examine why you want to publish in an academic journal. Are you a consultant, for example, and you think it help you get clients? Are you trying to get a better job and you think the paper would help your resume? Or do you just want to increase the sum of human knowledge?

Peer review is a highly flawed process that has an empirically small effect on paper quality [0]. Moreso, rejection of an article is a poor or completely useless predictor of the ultimate impact of the article if it is published.

Getting a paper through peer review is slow and frustrating. You may get reviewers who reject a paper for incorrect or even bizarre reasons. If your paper casts doubts on an anonymous reviewer's work, you are going to have a hard time. It's just not fun.

What are the benefits? Tech employers generally don't care about publications, just the work involved. Clients probably don't care. NGOs and government don't care either. The only people who care whether something is published are academics, in my experience.

Perhaps you are in an industry where this isn't true, in which case you might have more incentive. But don't assume people will care.

You might have a microscopic chance of your paper becoming highly cited, but without a well-know co-author, that is unlikely even if your paper has important content. Most scientific papers fail to make any kind of splash, with numbers of readers numbering in literally the low dozens. After all that work, chances are that nobody would care.

A better solution is to put it all on a blog, and/or ArXiV or one of the other preprint services for other subjects. That way your research will be available unpaywalled for anyone.


cultus - 3 days ago

(edit: my publication experiences are heavily biased towards biotech/biomedical/natural sciences fields. Your CS Experience May Vary, particularly w/r/t the prestige of conference papers.)

The obvious answer that you might not like very much is "write a paper and co-author it with an established group." If you share a lede with an established group, that's immediate credibility.

Journals happily accept manuscripts from first/corresponding authors who don't have PhDs. Graduate students publish regularly; depending on your program this is effectively obligatory.

Self-funding publication in a peer-reviewed journal will raise eyebrows -- so see my first suggestion, which offloads the often substantial publication costs onto a grant. (Our group's last publication cost was ~$4500, for a benchmark. That's higher than normal but it was open access with 6 color figures). Crediting a grant for the work also lends credibility; someone gave you cash to do this thing, so obviously they don't think you're totally nuts.

Publishing preprint-only on the arxiv is well established. I think you need someone to vouch for you the first time, but that shouldn't be too hard depending on the field.

Depending on the field, single-author maunscripts are either basically normal (parts of CS, much of mathematics, some theoretical physics), a giant red flag (experimental physics, biology-adjacent fields), or somewhere in between (economics?).

Do not ever use a vanity publisher for scientific articles. If the journal ever appeared in Beall's list, run, because it's a mark of shame.

Finally, don't necessarily attribute your marginalization to not having a PhD -- the politics of publication are ruthless no matter who you are.

hprotagonist - 3 days ago

I am a computer systems scientist and have participated in several peer-review processes.

I have never seen a case where an author who does not have researcher credentials is marginalized.

However, papers with bad science are rejected and in the worst-case, the authors are blacklisted. It does not matter if the authors have stellar credentials or none to start with. So aim to write papers with good science and forever stop worrying about getting marginalized.

There are several books that explain bad science. I recommend "Craft of Research", "They Say I Say", and "Demon Haunted World" to start with.

The most effective method to get your paper accepted is to make the experimental methods explicit and the data public. This will make your paper much more scientific than those published in conferences with poor-reproducibility checks.

Professors are hungry to write good papers. Conaact a professor who works in the same community to review your paper in return for co-authorship. They will gladly agree if your paper is aligned with their interests.

All the best!

ananya_muddu - 3 days ago

There is nothing magical about having a PhD of course. I've reviewed a few papers (for journals) from non-traditional sources, and also had some more direct submissions. The common issues you run into are

  1) The work is sloppy and/or has obvious errors.
  2) The work lacks clear context (i.e. citations and framing - "why should we care").
  3) The structure is not idiomatic.
  4) The writing is not idiomatic.
The 1st one is an easy rejection, but the next 3 are harder. If you are submitting through conventional editorial boards, you have to understand how much unpaid work it is to do a good review. If your paper is difficult to place in context, it's harder. If it is done in a non-idiomatic way it is both harder to understand, and - fair or not - reduces confidence (which means more detailed verification needed).

I agree having a "traditional" collaborator can help, not because of the credentials so much as avoiding issues 2-3. It also will help to read a large number of well written articles. At minimum, if you are thinking of publishing your own ideas you should have read every core/significant related paper done in the last decade or so, and as many of the other related ones you find interesting as you can. That will help you with both issue #2 and with improving quality.

If it's in an area with an active preprint server like arxiv, by all means submit there. If your idea is interesting and you've called it out well, you should get some feedback.

ska - 3 days ago

Created an account just to respond to this. This might not be the answer you want to hear but my 2c would be blog. The internet is great publish your own stuff. Why should you care about being marginalized by a community who mostly plagiarize off each other and only think within the limits of what others allow them to think. The same people are the one's who never allow breakthroughs and call anything but incremental improvements pop science. Do things for yourself, for the human spirit. Stop worrying what others think about you. They don't think about you. There's nothing sad in that, it's actually liberating you are free to share and write and create how you want. If you want recognition you've failed before you start.

On writing better articles my advice is to simply start with the end in mind. Explain the idea how you would to a child without using childish language. Leave the thesaurus aside, don't use industry language just cause you have to. Don't not use it just cause you think you'll sound pretentious.

Hope that helps, hopefully I don't come off sounding like a knob. Good luck.

shipdog - 3 days ago

I think this really depends on your motivations. Are you trying to convey the information to the community? Trying to build a reputation as a researcher? Increment your citation count?

arXiv is a pretty good option for disseminating information, but most papers published there don't receive as much consideration as those that have gone through a peer review. Therefore, only the most obviously-groundbreaking papers end up accruing a lot of citations there.

If you want to build a reputation, you'll need to target peer-reviewed conferences, and probably those that have a double-blinded process. This will allow your work to stand on its own, although you'll need to ensure that it conforms to the structures/patterns/shibboleths of the academic community. They best way to learn these, if you don't already know them, is to read as many papers as you have time for in a domain as close to yours as possible, and then replicate those formats.

If you're looking to increase your citation count, this is difficult to do without really groundbreaking research. Some manage it by doing "citation sharing" with collaborators, but this is (A) frowned upon, and (B) difficult to get going if you're not in academia.

In any case, you'll probably want to learn LaTeX if you haven't already; this is a pretty necessary first step for publication, either at arXiv or an IEEE/ACM conference. Edit: This is because most conferences have a template that you must follow, and these templates are provided in LaTeX format.

gervase - 3 days ago

I would just put it on arXiv, or equivalents like biorXiv. You should read a lot of papers in the field and cite the relevant ones. Also, use conventions of the field--LaTeX two column format is frequently used in CS/ML papers.

In my PhD I put some work on biorXiv that I never bothered to put through peer review and was pleasantly surprised to see it cited by a peer-reviewed journal article.

shoguning - 3 days ago

Re: "any advice on how to write better quality articles"

My route to learning how to write quality papers: Find an expert in your field to tear your paper apart, and then get to work rebuilding it. Rinse and repeat 20 or so times. Additional experiments may be needed. You'll probably have a good paper at the end.

This of course is much easier to do in grad school. But can be achieved elsewhere.

rubidium - 3 days ago

Make sure you understand how a journal article is expected to be structured. This varies from field to field. In my field (not CS), it looks like this:

1. Introduction. This not only lays out the problem you're addressing, but also locates it in the context of previous work. This is important for a few reasons, not least that the people reviewing your paper will probably expect you to have cited them there. But also, it shows that you understand your work in the context of a broader scholarly effort to advance your field. If you think your work is truly novel, you probably haven't done enough reading to find parallels in the literature. The introduction should also briefly state your results -- this isn't a mystery novel, you're not saving up for a big reveal.

2. Methods. This section describes the new thing you did or made. What it is, how it works and why. You're still going to be putting a fair number of citations in here, but they'll be a good deal more focused than in the intro. Often I see people citing their own research group's previous work here, because you're building on something the group already did.

3. Experiment. This section describes what you did to evaluate your work. This description should be detailed enough that somebody else should be able to repeat your measurements.

4. Results. This section should have the most figures and the fewest citations in it. It describes what happened when you did your experiment.

5. Conclusion. Here you explain what it all means and how it ties back to the broader scholarly effort to advance your field. Where the intro states your results, the conclusion restates them and puts them into context. The conclusion also usually talks about future research directions suggested by the work you've presented.

A lot of grad school is about learning how to write papers like this.

sevensor - 3 days ago

Things like blog posts are playing an increasingly large part in scholarship. Granted, it's not part of the 'traditional' peer-reviewed journals publishing process, but there's lots of change afoot (e.g. open access, post-publication peer review, preprints etc).

One thing you can do is make sure you're still on the map. This could include, for example, making sure Crossref tracks your blog so we can record citations / references from your work to other work. Our service for tracking non-traditional publications, Event Data, is still in beta, but you could add your blog to the list:

You could also publish your article on FigShare, which means it will get a DOI and thereby be more easily citable by others.

If you hadn't guessed, I'm an employee of Crossref.

afandian - 3 days ago