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Ask HN: Best way to publish papers as a non-scholar?
250 points by MartianSquirrel on Aug 13, 2018 | hide | past | favorite | 88 comments
Is there a way someone who is not a PhD can publish papers without being marginalized by the community?

Do you have any advice on how to write better quality articles?

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.

[0] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2586872/

Not OP, but I'm a former academic still doing research, and I appreciate peer review as gatekeeper. When I was younger, I wrote a lot of garbage on a blog that I wish had been better filtered. Worst case, if I publish a paper and it turns out to be garbage, I can pin the blame on the journal.

I find it especially important if the paper has any danger of being perceived as crackpot material. For example, my paper "A type of simulation which some experimental evidence suggests we don't live in" [1], recently featured on the HN frontpage, took years to prepare and finally publish, even though it's literally less than one page in the journal. With something as 'pop' as whether we live in a simulation, I wanted to be sure what I wasn't just deceiving myself or something.

[1] https://philpapers.org/archive/ALEATO-6.pdf

Traditional peer review can filter out complete crackpot garbage, but it empirically is not effective at improving paper quality. Just because it may have filtered out some wrong things you said does not mean it is effective at it in general.

Open, non-anonymous comments on preprint services hold much more promise. Peer review without anonymous gatekeepers.

I've had papers greatly improved by peer review. Maybe mathematics is an outlier. All my best papers were significantly informed by reviewers.

I've had cases where my initial thought was "this reviewer is an idiot!!!" When I calmed down and forced myself to give them the benefit of the doubt, I ended up realizing they were right, and they improved my papers.

I think it varies. As a scientist from a lesser known group, PR is essentially a way for the establishment to keep others from docking units off their genital length as well as threatening their grant funding. I find that more established scientists from the most prestigious universities make tend to be okay with PR because it seems to benefit them and they tend glowingly review each others papers. After recieving my dearth of harshness from reviewers and seeing trash (that is often rife with the same issues and worse!) from these same cats make it into Phys Rev it becomes too painfully obvious it's almost self-satricizing.

I think the primary issue with PR is its fundamental assumptions are flawed. Papers authors are NEVER anonymous and can't be while reviewers make it obvious who they are.

BTW, that you have a paper that took you years to prepare puts you in the far tail of the distribution.

Thank you for the paper and link - given i have just binge watched half a dozen how-to-repeat-understand the double slit experiment it's nice to have a real, academic, bucket of cold water :-)

I've begun to appreciate peer review as gatekeeper as well. Another common situation for me is more or less arguing over a certain method/experimental design. If a colleague thinks a method is garbage, all I have to say is "yes, it's not optimal, but we published in <American Chemical Society journal> using it."

It effectively ends the discussion, because ACS doesn't publish nonsense and everything is nitpicked to death. It may turn out to be garbage later on, but at the time it was sufficient.

> Worst case, if I publish a paper and it turns out to be garbage, I can pin the blame on the journal.

Certainly the journal should catch garbage, but authors shouldn't rely on this.

I've thought about this as well and for me the reason to want to publish a paper would be some kind of sense of accomplishment despite not being an academic. Producing a piece of work that is accepted as somehow useful to the world and meets the standards of academic peer review would be a great feeling. The barrier to entry is partly what makes it enticing - anyone can publish a blog, not anyone can publish a paper in anything but the lowest calibre of journals. Your comment is certainly making me stop and think twice about how much of the peer review process is legitimate criticism and how much is politics - does the author of the paper get the feedback given during the peer review process directly? If so it feels like it might still be useful.

I seriously believe that the "cachet" that traditional publishing confers is a major block that prevents innovation in this area.

For the racket of academic publishing to be upended, there has to be motivation. This remains the unsolved problems. Opportunity and capability already exist in forms such as blogs, pre-print servers, etc.

However, cachet is inevitably conferred by powerful monopolies. For example, some universities are trying to upset the Elsevier applecart by moving their publishing to in-house presses. But this simply shifts the power from one giant to another.

Producing an open platform that avoids monopolising but still confers favourable reputation seems very hard.

> NGOs and government don't care either.

This is not strictly true - if you are trying to emigrate, some visa types may be easier with a published paper (see: HSP visa for Japan).

I'm thinking more in terms of usage of the research. Practitioners at places like NOAA or NGOs only care about the content, they really don't care about whether it was published. Heck, if the work you got published is paywalled, they won't even be able to see it. Government and NGOs essentially never have academic subscriptions.

For technical people it used to be the various conferences (as opposed to journals) where you wanted to publish papers. They were peer reviewed (so some level of scrutiny pre-publication) and they definitely helped with credibility both as an organization and as an individual.

(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.

I don't know about where you publish, but all the venues where I publish use double blind review. Therefore I'd say all this talk about how many authors and so on is a red herring.

Assuming double blind review, the barriers are going to be with respect to the contribution itself, or the writing. For a paper to get accepted in my field (CS, HPC, PL, compilers), first of all it needs to present a novel and interesting contribution. I occasionally see papers that are pretty obviously coming from industry where it's pretty apparent that the authors just have no idea what a contribution entails.

This is the sort of thing that you grow to just have a gut sense of by doing a PhD. Short of that, you could get some of this sense yourself by reading papers, though it would be far easier to collaborate with someone experienced in the field you can find a person who is willing.

> I occasionally see papers that are pretty obviously coming from industry where it's pretty apparent that the authors just have no idea what a contribution entails.

My advisor is in PL too, and he's commented on the exact same thing. Every time he's on the PC for a conference, he's able to pick out a couple papers that he's confident are written by non-academics. He says it's a combination of the lack of thorough knowledge on the subject (attempting to present an idea as novel when it's been done before, but under a different name) and the writing style (not academic enough). It seems that these are things OP should definitely look out for if they want to successfully self-publish.

> all the venues where I publish use double blind review.

But you still need to have your paper sent for review... Couldn't the editor reject it outright?

Perhaps this is an issue in journal based publishing, I don't know.

In CS, we publish in conferences. Conferences don't have editors in the sense that journals have. So there's no initial filtering step. Anyone can submit, and anything that gets submitted will be read by at least 3 or 4 reviewers (who don't get to see the author list). Anyone who does get to see the author list (e.g. the program committee chair) is not involved in any decision making about specific papers unless there is a very serious violation of some kind (which in practice happens very, very infrequently).

>anything that gets submitted will by read by at least 3 or 4 reviewers

Note to self: open a lucrative business submitting bulk spam to CS conferences! (Just kidding)

How would such spam result in anything lucrative?

Sell conferences a spam filter?

Possibly, but it generally won't - assuming that the paper meets the criteria (which generally don't include any requirements for affiliation or degree) and isn't obviously garbage or absolutely weird (which may be an issue for first self publishing without any mentoring, you need to have an idea about "how papers are written" in this domain), it'll just go through the same process as every other paper.

In some fields there is a noticeable proportion of "industry papers" with valuable contribution coming from people outside of academia without advanced degrees. Sometimes it's obvious in the reviewing process by having problems that are less frequent otherwise (i.e. they lack the experience of "how to write a decent paper according to the standards in this field" that's taught and practiced during the PhD process), but those generally are fixable and so they're just pointed out doing the reviewing/correction process.

double-blind review has not come to the biosciences, I'm sad to say. Or at least not my corner. I don't know who my reviewers are (though often enough i can guess); they do know who I am.

Just in your corner. A number of the journals I submit to are double-blinded.

my corner includes Nature, Science, and Cell, so it’s a pretty big corner..

Nature has offered the option for two or three years; the problem is that ~nobody uses it because unmasking is trivially easy. As of last fall, 12% of submissions were double blind.

The hyperspecialization of biomedical research means that you get obligate regulatory capture, or something quite close to it. Mostly people figure that trying to paper that over with things like blinded reviewers is a waste of time.

My thoughts on C/N/S aside, all I was actually saying is that "double-blind hasn't reached biomedicine" is inaccurate. It's here, even if it's not widely used (I'd actually guess it's more widely used in biomedicine rather than some other fields).

I'm not actually convinced unmasking is "trivially easy". Anecdotally, as a reviewer for the American Journal of Epidemiology, which is double-blind, I've had 4 cases where I've gone "I totally know who did this".

In all four I've been wrong. In one case, I actually knew the authors personally.

Now, it's possible I'm just uniquely bad at this, but I'm not sure it's as easy as everyone thinks it is.

Ditto for my corner of geology.

I’d say, as an academic and reviewer, single author papers are extremely suspicious in both my current area of computer science research (computer vision and machine learning) as well as my previous area (compilers).

If the conference is double blind, how could you even tell? Also, there are plenty of single author papers in compilers and PL that are considered seminal, actually most seminal papers are single author. Multi-author papers are typically student ones.

Another point here: in CS, there appears to be little to no difference between "conference paper" and "journal paper".

That is _not_ always the case. In the biosciences, "conference paper" means "an undergrad could do this half-asleep, and probably did; nobody actually cares much."

Even CS is diverse, but in my area journal papers are lower quality than conference ones.

I think that this covers the general situation pretty well.

I would also consider who you want your audience to be and the scope. If it is something that you want a non-expert to read, consider a blog post. On the other hand you may want to consider something like a patent if it is something you want to monetize. Lastly, consider peer reviewed journals if it is intended to be consumed by domain experts. All of this is from physics research perspective and may be different depending on your area.

Share a lede? I think you might mean "share a byline".

Thanks a lot, this answers my questions very well.

And as I only want to contribute and am not necessarily looking for fame, I really do not have any problem with having co-authors.

Adding to the GP, you just need to have a thick skin, and not take rejection personally. It's a fact of life in this environment.

Regarding the venue and costs, in CS, some conferences are better venues than most journals (impact wise, at least), and attending one might be a good way to know the people in the field. In any case, you'll be expected to pay for the registration and present your paper, too.

Another question I would invite you to ask yourself is what do you wish to accomplish by publishing? A professional academic is required to publish a lot of papers in their career and this means that not all papers are necessarily going to be paid attention to, some have impact, many don't.

A lot of papers, most papers I read in CS, involve incremental advances of a given technique. Usually the papers involve describing the problem, the describing how it's solved so far, describing how their solution is different and only then providing particular, computational details of the method.

And my impression is this incremental style comes because most researchers do incremental research, extending the ideas and approaches of mentors or colleagues.

Which is to say, if you, an outsider like myself, have a good idea for, say, a new algorithm, it might be useful to write a blog entry explaining it's value aside from any paper you write.

And as said elsewhere, avoid "predatory" journals - they apparently don't give credibility or get attention.

>And as said elsewhere, avoid "predatory" journals - they ... don't give credibility

worse. They taint what credibility you have. It’s like buying a degree from a degree mill “school”.

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!

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.

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.

This was my favourite answer.

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.

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.

Don't you need to be endorsed to post on the archive? https://arxiv.org/help/endorsement

I thought that as well, I would like to hear if its true in practice for arxiv

Not only do outsiders need endorsement, even if you get one, the arxiv is curated. I don't know why people assume it's just totally wide open like any random person can publish anything to it? It would be inundated with junk!

If you're a member of a recognized academic institution (as determined by email address I think?) then you can skip the endorsement step.

Last I checked (a year ago), it is true that you have to be endorsed. This is definitely a barrier to someone outside of research, but not impossible.

Seconding the recommendation for arXiv.

The thing that surprised me the most was that people watch what gets posted on arXiv, so they someone will probably read your paper if its an active research area, you may even find people discussing your paper on Twitter without ever promoting it.

If you have any institutional affiliation (eg even big tech companies qualify), you can post to arXiv. And it should be pretty easy to get someone to endorse your posting if you don't, it's basically to stop total nonsense getting submitted.

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.

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.

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.

How would you compare a blog to a paper? I personally read just about as much papers as blog posts, with both containing valuable information and important ideas. I have my own blog, but I'm currently sitting on some ideas that could maybe... maybe be a paper. Sure, peer-review is nice, but how many people are going to read about my idea as a blog post, vs in a (pay-walled?) journal. I'm inclined to think that outside academia, a blog post may actually have a bigger reach. The paper has more bragging rights maybe though.

Taking the following steps should help:

1. If you imagine the knowledge in your field as mountains (like the Rocky Mountains, or the Alps), then you need to describe very clearly where exactly your contribution is located. Which summit do you elevate further? What are the neighborhood summits (alternatives to your solution)? Pointing this out in the introduction shows the reader that you are part of the community. It doesn't matter then that you have no formal academic position.

2. Choose the venue wisely. There are two factors to consider: a) it makes sense to publish where the work you build on and/or compete with was already published. You know these venues if you have done step 1. Some authors of your 'neighborhood' papers will probably be your reviewers. b) if you think that you have a significant contribution, select a tier-1 venue to maximize impact; if you think you have a minor contribution, it makes more sense to go for tier 2. Seek advice by a researcher in your field which journals and/or conferences in your field belong to which tier, and ask them for their opinion which venue would be suitable.

3. When you have chosen your preferred journal/conference, identify the 10 most-cited papers from the past 5 years, and carefully analyze their structure and the used methods. Use them as role models for your own paper, together with your 'neighborhood' papers from step 1.

4. Your paper will likely be rejected initially. Read the reviews carefully. Some reviewers are crappy and just "don't like" your work, but many reviewers raise helpful and constructive points. And even the crappy reviews give you hints on how the community works, so you can revise your paper and try again somewhere else (or the next year, for a conference). Don't give up quickly, but also expect that you will have to invest significant effort on improvements.

My experience is about publishing in CS, not sure if my suggestions would also apply to other sciences.

A couple of suggestions.

- Many conferences use blind peer-review.

- After you've finished up with the work, you can ask a PhD to provide feedback/editing in exchange for co-authorship.

For the last point, never put your name on a paper that isn’t yours, even if you help out with the editing. It isn’t your works, if someone asks you about it later it will be awkward. That isn’t even mentioning that the quality of the work still might not be up to your own standard. The only case where this doesn’t apply is adviser-student relationships, but in that case the adviser should really be more than just an editor.

I have reviewed and published several papers for conferences in Computer Science. You got good suggestions so far, I'd like to add one important thing:

* Choose and Know your community!

When you choose a venue like a conference, you are writing an article with the intent of being read by a very specific subset of the research community. You can imagine each subgroup having a set of "interesting conversations" around a narrow set of topics or methodology that are deemed important by the community.

So ... you have to convince your audience that you are contributing something to their conversation. Go look up papers in the previous edition of the conference, dig into their references, and frame your contribution in the term of the conversation they are having. In this way it'll be easier for everybody reading the paper to understand what you are doing.

In some cases, it might be that you are telling the community that they should care about this new problem of yours, but if it is completely unrelated to their discussion, it'll be an harder sell.

Also, be aware of the style of the community: are they interested in experiments backed by strong theoretical work? Or are they more interested in practical experiences, without caring much about theory? A decent paper accepted in a theoretical conference might actually be rejected by a more practical conference (and the other way around).

It probably depends on the community and the journal but I was a reviewer for a journal (not blinded, not CS) and in my experience a good paper is everything, credentials are nothing. I read quite a few papers from university bprofessors who had hardly a clue of statistics and research design and didn't care to ask an statistician and submitted shitty papers and were rejected. As a reviewer, I was really happy when I got to read a well written paper with no really obvious flaws.

Let's define here "being a scholar" as having a good sense of where your field is (and for anything people are interested in, there is a field).

The standard way is that PhD students (often non-scholars) team up with more senior, well-read researchers (i.e. experienced scholars), with the latter at a minimum explaining and framing the work and in many cases guiding and shaping it.

You get marginalized by the community for bad scholarship just as proposing crappy conference talks will lead to "marginalization" by the conference organizers: there's already so much content to consume, and scholarship and other requirements serve to shape and organize people's contributions in a way that means the community as a whole can make progress.

As for advice on how to write better: Read a lot. Get rejected a lot and learn to read between the lines. If you want a friendlier environment, aim for workshops rather than major conferences. Don't be afraid of putting in the work that's necessary for a good paper.

I think the answer may change a lot depending on which field are you thinking about; because "the community" will be quite different as well.

Regarding "how to write better quality articles?" one key part is reading a lot of high quality articles from the field. Of course, there are other things yo may want to do, but again, it will depend on the area.

Other than closely reading the literature that informs what you are writing about, one way to write better quality papers is to reach out to the relevant academic researchers and engage with them. If they are interested in your ideas, they might be open to giving you their feedback. It's also impossible to write in a vacuum. I'm friends with a few people who were grad students when I met them, and are now either post-docs or working in industry; without them, I'd be lost.

Another thing to do is to hire an academic editor. Even though it might not get everything right, there is nothing like peer-review quality feedback on a paper that highlights both the strengths and weaknesses of your writing. One thing to keep in mind is that a peer reviewer will be less likely to tell you that your whole paper needs restructuring. They are often instead focused on "within-the-box" improvements.

Seeing that a paper needs to be completely restructured can stem from being a good non-fiction writer in general, rather than being a good "paper-writer." It's a general skill relating to effective and efficient communication, and it can be improved by writing blog posts, more feedback, and writer's workshops. Similarly, to publish a paper without a PhD, you are probably going to have to become, at the very least, a "lay-scholar" in the field you are thinking about anyways. Maybe you are already well on your way.

Also, I went through a phase of thinking that I was special due to what I was attempting to write and get published. I'm pretty sure that I was looked at oddly by academics during this time. Maybe this is common for those of us trying to publish a paper and who are right out of college. My point is that this phase gave me the energy to submit to peer review, which was great. At the same time, I'm very grateful to have outgrown it. I suspect this phase is something many people go through; it's common.

I hope you read the many great responses to your question. I learnt quite a bit by reading them.

The key to having your work published is to know the field within which you are publishing very well, cite the other papers concisely and accurately and make a contribution to that body of work. This, in a nutshell, is the process of working to gain a PhD.

As a general rule most journal papers evolve from conference papers. Most conferences in CS/SE welcome "industry papers" aka non-academic contributions. You could join the IEEE and/or ACM and subscribe to journals that match your area of expertise.

Once you read widely you will identify who the key contributors in your field are. You could contact them with a synopsis of your proposed contribution and ask whether they might be interested or know of somebody who could be. In this way you could connect with people who will collaborate with you to increase the quality of your articles.

Share your paper with a colleague for comments. If they're a fan, they can serve as an advocate with a journal if necessary.

Science is a social endeavor. If you don't have colleagues, go meet people!

As a referee, it doesn't matter at all to me whether you have a PhD. Your institution may matter a little bit as context, but not a lot. It is the science that matters.

As with any paper, I'll read the abstract, read the introduction, look at the figures and the captions, glance at any short equation, and read the conclusion. By the end of that process, I will know whether or not the paper is worth further attention. The refereeing process is generally an investment of several days of my time, so I do it with care.

Do the work, talk with people, get feedback, and repeat.

Here are some maybe sort of out there ideas I came up with:

1. Be in the process of getting a masters degree. No one really cares at the end of the day as long as you are a graduate student affiliated with a decent school (this may be field-dependent). In CS you can easily publish for example as a masters student at brown -- I have a friend who had no problem doing this with no co-authors and never went on to get a PhD, but he was at an Ivy League school.

2. Find an academic friend or a former professor/adviser in your field and be his/her co-author. This has the added benefit of potentially increasing the quality of the research if they agree to edit/help you with it. Could be combined with option 4.

2. Be a former academic and publish to ArXiv using your old academic email address (not really publishing, but at least people can cite it at that point).

3. Publish to ArXiv without an academic email address. People will be able to cite it, but you won't be "published" per say (in the deep learning community many, many citations are to preprint servers). People not familiar with academia won't know the difference and will still be impressed if you say list it on your resume under publications.

4. Form an LLC, make a good website about how your company does research in X field, and self-publish as a "white paper" (I took this approach a few years ago, but I no longer maintain the website). In some industries, much of the significant research is contained in white papers or company funded papers. It might also be possible to submit to a conference/journal under the auspice of a company -- I don't know how that works though.

5. Get in touch with the journal/conference you want to submit to and explain your situation and ask for advice. Depending on the venue they might be very accommodating.

A note on "funding". At least in the CS community, funding is often not needed to conduct groundbreaking research as it's 99% of the time just you sitting at a computer. There are exceptions, but I think in CS being self-funded isn't going to raise as many eyebrows as in other fields.

I review a bit (less than I did), and I occasionally publish (each time with the expectation that everyone will pick it up and start saying how important and significant this paper is, but each time to watch it being cited twice if I am lucky) so... fwiw

There must be a result or at least a clear contribution. Sans the result it's really a poster or a think piece, but really you don't have a publication. A publication is to demonstrate a new piece of confirmed knowledge; an observation, measurement, analysis or proof.

The quality bit is "how good is the way that you are conveying this new knowledge" is it sewn up, is every doubt closed, is the detail all there?

The best way for applied science is do not publish & find a way to exploit your results commercially instead. That's why we sign NDAs while doing consultancy gigs indeed. There is no actual gain in putting your effort out on arXiv.org or conferences, only to be scooped by the numerous groups fighting for grants and the many more outsiders looking for impossible recognition or a fast buck from unscrupolous knowledge transfer. Just keep your results private, exploit them on your own and send them all whistling.

Just curious: why try to publish in an academic journal if you're not an academic?

In many fields, if you have the resources to do the research you wouldn't be asking this question. And fields where single author, more creative (let's call it) work is acceptable also seem to be areas with a broader audience beyond readers of narrow, often paywalled journals and could be more appropriate as a book, talk, blog, or arxiv post. And if you're not trying to be an academic, you don't need publications for treading water in your career.

(I'm not being critical of the ambition. Even if the reason is just ego or getting accepted into a group of people you respect, that's good enough reason for me!)

As a potential college dropout looking to publish my CS research, this is an extremely helpful thread. Thanks everyone for your contributions!

This is exactly why I started the thread: I dropped out of college a couple years ago as I had opportunities that a degree could not offer me (I still believe this was the good choice). But as I move forward and do more and more RnD at work, in my startup and as a hobby, I would like to share some pieces of information to the world.

All I would advise you is to embrace the unknown and strive to learn more everyday.

Whichever path you chose, I wish you good luck.

Just write one (or many) blog entries somewhere. People in the academy publish papers just because they are evaluated by the number of publications. Your blog will have much more reach than any specialized journal. If you still want to have a PDF mixed with the ones made by the academia, upload something to arxiv.

I've published some papers in artificial intelligence as co-author. No one asked for educational backgrounds. And I've published papers in applied math as sole author: Again, no one asked about educational background. I do have a relevant Ph.D., but no one asked.

I suggest, write a good paper, look for appropriate journals, and submit to one of them. Maybe speed up the process a little: Send a copy of the paper (or PDF file, as they wish) to the editor in chief with a cover letter not making a formal submittal but just asking if, first glance, might this paper be of interest for their journal?

I never paid anything, no page fees, etc. to publish.

None of the papers, co-author or my sole author papers, got rejected.

Here are some hints that might help:

(1) Write the paper, especially in the abstract and the first paragraphs, like you really know technically just what the heck you are doing. E.g., I started one sole authored paper where I mentioned that a derivative I was taking was a "dual vector" -- not everyone who writes such applied math pays attention to duality.

(2) In each of my sole authored papers, some of the key topics, prerequisites, etc. were advanced and narrow enough that I'd guess that less than 10% of the editors had all the prerequisites.

(3) I suggest that write applied math, mathematical statistics, and computer science making important and appropriate use of some relatively advanced pure math.

(4) Generally I suggest that just write applied math, with nearly all the content in theorems and proofs, for mathematical statistics, computer science, machine learning, artificial intelligence, etc. The usual criteria for publication are "new, correct, and significant", and new and correct theorems and proofs are big steps forward for these criteria. If the theorems are also, in the paper, relevant to some applications or an applied field, then that can help with "significant".

(5) Know quite well just how the heck to write math. A good way to learn this is to have the equivalent of a good undergraduate major in pure math.

A good, first start on such writing is a theorem proving course in abstract algebra, one that starts with sets and foundations and, then, all based on just sets, develops groups, rings, fields, the rational, real, and complex numbers, vector spaces, linear independence, linear transformations, subspaces, null spaces, quotent spaces, duality, the adjoint transformation, eigen values and eigen vectors, the Hamilton-Cayley theorem, inner products, Hermitian and Unitary operators, maybe group representations. Then have a good course in linear algebra, e.g., from the classic P. Halmos, Finite Dimensional Vector Spaces (one of the best writers of math). Then a good course in analysis, e.g., from W. Rudin, Principles of Mathematical Analysis, with highly precise writing. With a few more such good, pure math texts, courses, etc. where the homework is essentially all theorems and proofs and graded by a good mathematician who cares, one will no doubt learn how to write math, and the learning will show.

In my case, I got a good start in a course in abstract algebra, with a good prof who did well grading my papers, and then learned the rest just by studying really good writers, learning how they wrote, without more good grading.

How to write math is no big secret: There're a LOT of beautifully written math texts on the shelves of the research libraries.

There are quite a few very reputable journals (i.e. PLOS) which charge for publication. Conferences also charge, but the justification is that you get to go to the conference! The test for me is : is this for profit? The "proper" conferences and the "free to access" journals are (should be) non-profit or run by a not-for-profit foundation, money has to come from somewhere to keep these afloat, but so long as there is no one cashing in then I think you are good to pay.

Many communities are double blind. Your lack of affiliation won’t hurt you in that case, because the reviewers won’t know. You will, however, probably get dinged for not knowing the standards, practices, and nuances of the community.

Most top conferences are double blind, meaning that reviewers cannot see who authors are and vice-versa. So in theory it does not matter if you are professional researcher or not. However in practice, its almost trivial to identify a paper written by amature vs someone who has gone through the graduate studies. So if you want to get published your priority should be to avoid these mistakes. Here are some of things to remember:

* Read a lot of papers with a related work. Unless you have read and understood at least half a dozen of these, you are likely not ready to publish new work.

* Learn technical terminology and make sure how to use it precisely.

* Identify lose, unverifiable statements. Precision and clarity is super important.

* Know the history of the work. Make sure you note folks who came before you. Describe how your approach differs from others and/or builds on other. Failing to cite is one of the top reasons for rejection even for professional researchers.

* Get some theoretical grounding of your approach. Formalize your hunches and intuition in math equations that can be manipulated.

* Design experiments that shows your approach delivers better result than other under conditions you claim.

* Study the layout of other papers, their style and emulate them. Pay attention to how figures, data tables are describes, conclusions are made, claims are stated etc.

I often say that the primary job of researcher is to read papers and stay up to date and secondary job is to make new discoveries. The way developers are supposed to spend major chunk of their time to write code, researchers are supposed to read papers. So familiarizing current state of the art and knowing what has been done before, understanding pro and cons, internalizing techniques, learning related math skills etc must be your absolute top priority for the area you want to contribute.

If you have never published before, writing academic paper is a major chore. It can easily take up 2-3 weeks of your time in ironing out details after you have good results. However publishing paper is also satisfying. You add the knowledge pool of humanity, your contribution can be built upon by others, you get noted as "first people who did X" and so on. However don't expect to build career as researcher - that strictly requires PhD.

On a side note, there are bunch of non-academic or semi-academic conferences which have less rigorous demands. So you can try to publish there as well. I've seen lot of developers publish system design related papers at places like KDD.

If you are pursuing that approach, why not publish it on Arxiv? Or put it up in a blog and get doi for it using figshare.

1) Own a domain. This is good to demonstrate your own views, values, work, etc.

2) Put PDF on your domain.

3) Put your domain behind something like cloudflare.

4) Publish links to PDF. Ensure you have a method of feedback: email is generally preferred and include your name and email in the PDF.

You could publish on third party services but consider them non-authoritive and ephemeral. If you use them as primary distribution you will get burned in the future.

Posting PDFs on your own website is “publishing” in the literal sense of putting information out there, but it is hardly publishing in the academic sense of getting articles in print in a journal where other participants in the field are going to see and respond to your work.

Since many journals have double-blind peer review, if the OP’s work is sound, then there is no reason he should not go for journal submission. In terms of building a reputation, that is a lot better than self-publishing, the domain of cranks. In my own field of linguistics I know several people interested in the subject who post their own PDFs on their own websites or on Academia.edu, and though they try to format those PDFs to look serious and respectable, these people creep most actual scholars out and we try to avoid those writings.

Finally, peer review is not just gatekeeping, it leads to better papers. If your work is publishable, then the peer reviews will often suggest ways you can clarify your argumentation, and they will point you to interesting citations that you might have missed. You miss out on all that by self-hosting.

If you think self-publishing is the domain of cranks then you'll never find the people worth looking at.

Submitting to a journal is fine, but own your work on your own site.

Self-publishing is definitely the domain of cranks. It's just not the exclusive domain of cranks.

The real problem with this isn't that there is nothing worth reading being presented, but that the signal to noise ratio is just terrible. You can waste an inordinate amount of time looking fruitlessly - I can't blame anyone for deciding it isn't worthwhile.

> If you think self-publishing is the domain of cranks then you'll never find the people worth looking at.

Why you think that the people who self-publish are more worth looking at than people who publish in journals?

Why do you think people worth looking at are exclusively found in journals?

Because the examples of self-hosted PDFs in my field that I have seen over many years now, are so horribly crackpot that even if there is a magical 1% of tenable self-published work out there somewhere, it is not worth people’s time looking for it when journals offer a better signal-to-noise ratio.

And while it may not be true of cutting-edge STEM fields, most of the must-cite literature in my own field is not available digitally and is in fact held at only a few libraries worldwide. People are unlikely to have access to it unless they are already closely involved in academia, and in that case they will be keen on journal publication for career advancement. Consequently, self-publication strongly correlates with not having an awareness of the standard literature.

it's still sad those 1% are being glossed over.

I guess a lot of experts in their respective domain still spend a fraction of their time reading other information sources with low signal to noise ratios: news riddled with advertisement and propaganda, perhaps sports, fiction books movies or television series. EDIT: addition: If they spent a quarter of that time sorting crackpot papers the signal to noise level could be fixed, and they'd still have 3/4 of the time for their usual news binge or whatver)

I'd actually be more than happy to see some tax payer money spent on the following system: authors withoud accreditation can sign up on a government hosted site, and provide their articles (or links or p2p hashes of them). Accredited domain experts can participate and earn money by getting assigned 2 or 3 random papers in the same domain but from probable cranks. They simply sort them in credibility. This way probably crank papers get scored, but the top 1% eventually floats up. Scientists/experts inbetween jobs, or out of office hours can earn money on the side, and BS gets seperated from intesting ideas or insights. Signal to noise level near the top is good.


I hereby hand out the idea for free, if you feel like making a startup:

Crack Crucible:

- host (openly tongue in cheek) "crackpots" and their papers, self-categorizing in domains

- domain experts can sign up, the site generates a unique string, the expert inserts the string on his/her researchgate profile, the site scrapes the expert's researchgate profile. (hereby delegating 'expertness' to researchgate), they too self-categorize in domains?

- the site randomly selects 2 or more papers for the expert's applicable domain, weighted by inverse word count of the paper (conciseness is rewarded with opportunity to be seen)

- the expert reads the 2 or more papers and is only asked to sort/rank them, without any implied support since most of the time all the papers wwere nonsense, yet the site demands sorting them by (in)credibility

- the result is interesting outsider papers by domain (without the coming and going of news cycles, since the papers are selected at random, and hence undergo brownian motion up and down)

This reminds me of Twitter mixed with a dose of slave-wage Mechanical Turk labour. Although with Twitter, the signal to noise ratio is much lower than 1% but I think you get my drift.

Granted there are "gems" to be found anywhere but it's still largely far too much of a waste of time for most people.

See also: "the attention economy". What can you offer that others want more of - news, publishing, self-publishing, tweets? What's the cost and reward for each party? Who is paying for the food and bills, and how?

I strongly disagree that this is the approach the OP is looking for... but it is an interesting idea and has provoked some good comments. I think it's valuable to see it even though it's not the desired path, if only for the sake of discussion. Therefore I don't think it deserves to be downvoted into oblivion, as appears to be happening.

Seems a lot more straightforward than I expected, maybe I tend to over complicate things..


Great post, I've just spent the greater part of the morning reading everything. Shipdog had the best answer IMHO. My own approach follows his/hers. It's pretty intense and laborious but worth the payoff. I'd discovered some neat things to do with treating headaches during my master's thesis but have been too busy in clinic since then to jump through hoops publishing. I'm also very much against sitting in ivory towers with knowledge that needs to be used right now so I decided to go the own-way route first:

1. Self-publishing the document under a CCO license (vital!) as an easily-navigable text on my own blog, snazzy PDF and datasets attached. Then I made an ~1h-long video summarizing the entire report and plopped that on YouTube (with proper timestaps that took forever but oh so worth it), linking it to my blog and back.

2. Next I shared all these on ResearchGate, Academia.edu, and, thanks to this post, Figshare (for the DOI primarily). I had it up on Medium but that just looked ugly for such a huge piece so I took that down (~50 pages without citations). I also shared it on some other niche decentralized social networks I frequent (eg: Diaspora). I would probably also share it on Twitter/Facebook/LinkedIn if I was still there.

3. The last steps I'll be doing shortly: emailing all my patients that I've treated with relevant issues over the years with the blog post (~1000 people), as well as all the main authors I'd cited (~25 folks) and all the therapists I've worked with over the years (also ~25 folks), plus the few relevant professional associations I'm a part of (at least 4, each of which has a reach of a few thousand therapists via newsletters).

I'm doing all this because, applying what I've found, I'm able to resolve muscle tension headaches in a matter of seconds instead of minutes, and I want others to learn how to do this too -- and build on it. Once conversation flourishes with all the above I might look into publishing with a journal (higher sphere peer review is still very useful!) but, as a clinician, this is a lot less important than its application. I'd already had some profs interested in helping me turn this into a journal article but it was crucial to me that this document I'd created remains 100% in my property, mostly so I could then release it under the CC0 license without penalty. Having published the official thesis on my terms like this now, I'm no longer worried about this ever being a threat.

Some more context: my MSc was from a little-known EU program in sport psych, and deals with the crossover between that field and massage, where I've been working for a decade now. And so I say what all the (mostly CS/eng/mathy) folks before have said: your mileage may vary. You can see where the rubber meets the road on https://spmx.ca/trp, and the WP plugin that creates those great collapsible headings is https://wordpress.org/plugins/olevmedia-shortcodes. And why I strongly advocate a CC0 license wherever possible: https://spmx.ca/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/00-headaches.png ; )

Regarding writing better: write more. Remember the famous pottery parable (https://kk.org/cooltools/art-fear, Ctrl+F "ceramics") and the old go saying: "lose your first 100 games quickly". If rejection is a real fear, watch https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-vZXgApsPCQ. It really doesn't matter, especially if you're making this world a better place. Good luck!

From the popular answers to this thread, I think the next relevant question that arises is: How non-scholars can find opportunities to collaborate with scholars? We need some kind of "Who is open to collaborating?" threads similar to that of "Who is hiring?" threads.

There are many publications which accept research paper, it doesn't require any degree.

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