3.2 Types of academic and non-academic publications
[Last update: 06.10.2014]
Academic authors produce a variety of publications for different purposes. Though editorial boards, publishers or degree programs normally specify the content-related and formal requirements, each type shares certain characteristics.
(a) A journal contains articles on research questions that fall within the defined field of study. A journal article, which can be authored by one or several researchers, concisely deals with a research question in approx. 10-20 pages. Depending on the requirements of each journal, articles can have a purely theoretical or a theory-guided empirical focus. Many journals furthermore publish review articles (a discussion of published research articles) or book reviews. Prestigious academic journals are always peer-reviewed (cf. 4.3).
(b) A monograph is a book written by one author (occasionally also by two or more authors). The manuscript of a monograph is often based on a PhD or a major research project. Hence, a monograph does not necessarily focus on one research question, but elaborates on a larger field of inquiry. This said it also seeks to make a unique contribution to the advancement of scientific knowledge.
(c) An edited volume, also called anthology, compiles chapters written by several authors. It has an overarching theme, but gives room for debate of multiple perspectives on a given problem. Often, edited volumes are the outcome of collaboration in research networks. Edited volumes lack the rigor of journal articles of the depth of monographs, but they provide easy access to various angles on a topic.
(d) Conference proceedings compile papers presented at a scholarly conference. Hence, they showcase lively debates in the scientific community, but paper-givers often deliberately present unfinished work to receive comments from a qualified audience. It depends on the conference conveners whether proceedings are published on the occasion of the conference or at a later point in time, to give authors an opportunity to revise their papers. Conference proceedings thus never reach the quality levels of publications (a)-(c). Conference proceedings are still beneficial, as they hint to ongoing research projects.
(e) As opposed to (a)-(d), a textbook does not address the scientific community but students of a given subject. Therefore it displays state-of-the-art knowledge in didactically sophisticated ways to facilitate the learning process. Textbooks are authored by one or more academic authorities in the respective field. A textbook is thus a good starting point for scholarly inquiry, but cannot replace research-oriented publications such as journals, monographs, and edited volumes.
(f) A thesis answers a clear-cut research question by means of desktop-research (typically at bachelor’s level) or empirical research (required at master’s level), or independently elaborates on a larger research problem (a PhD or post-doctoral thesis). A successfully completed and defended thesis awards an academic degree.
Any thesis for a master’s degree or higher is published in the library of the degree-awarding institution. Thus, the quality of accessible theses can vary tremendously. Academic libraries sometimes indicate whether a thesis is worthwhile reading and quoting from.
Only an excellent master thesis but increasingly all PhDs are recommended for publication in a journal or as a monograph. For that purpose, the thesis usually has to be revised after graduation.
(g) A research report is due in the course or by the completion of a research project. Such a research report will describe both the research process and the outcomes (findings) of a given project. Research reports have to be submitted to funding agencies or examiners at universities.
Depending on the evaluation of a research report, a project will receive additional funding, will be modified or, in the worst case, discontinued. Public access to research reports is usually restricted. However, successful research reports are the basis for potential academic publications.
(h) Gray literature is an umbrella term for unpublished literature of any sort. This can range from hand-written memos of the data generation process to manuscripts which are ready for submission to a journal. More recently, also web entries with a non-permanent URL or DOI (cf. 4.5.3) have been counted as gray literature.
Though referencing of published literature is preferable, sometimes the use of gray literature is inevitable. It is the researcher’s duty to keep any piece of gray literature on file for documentation (cf. 7).