As a graduate student, one of our goals is to produce research that will be useful to the world, that will be known and used by other people. This usefulness can come in many forms; for example, our work can serve to inspire future research, which will take the topic one step further, or it can be used by people in the industry as part of their work. But for any of this to happen, the methods, results, and takeaways of our research need to be communicated to the world. Of course, most research programs require the student to write a thesis or dissertation, but the reality is that very few people will read it besides the evaluation committee. A thesis or dissertation might eventually be also read by other graduate students that are working on the same topic and want to know the existing literature in details. But other than that, most people would prefer to read a summarized version of the research instead of the whole thesis or dissertation.
Therefore, graduate researchers should also try to publish their results in other formats, so they become more accessible to the general public. Some graduate programs even include publication requirements as part of the students’ obligations, particularly when there is public funding involved. But even when it is not a requirement, publishing one’s research results is not only one of the best ways to ensure that it can be found and used by other people, but it is also a rich experience for the researcher. This especially relates to the involved writing, the publication, and the resulting networking with other people reading and mentioning your work.
There are many different ways, formats, and venues that can be used to publish original research. In general, we can split them into academic publications – whose primary audience is mainly formed by other researchers – and non-academic – which are more directed to the industry and the general public.
Academic publications are usually managed and edited by researchers and are also aimed at researchers as their main reading audience. One of the main characteristics of academic publications is the peer-review process, which consists on having any paper or article submitted for publication read and evaluated by other researchers with some expertise on the topic (the peers). Usually, the peer-review process is used to filter out research with poor quality and to select the best works for publication in venues with a limited number of available spots. This ensures that the published work passes a minimum level of quality, and in the case of the most competitive conferences and journals, also ensures that only the higher quality research will be published.
There are several types of academic publications, with varying lengths, level of details, and time frames for publication. The preferred type of publication varies from field to field, and even between different subareas. In Computer Science, both conference and journal publications are well accepted in general, whereas other research fields might put a higher value into journals or books.
These are the most common types of academic publications in Computer Science and related disciplines:
Workshop papers: Workshops usually occur in parallel (or right before) the main program of the major Computer Science conferences. They are often aimed at building networks around or discussing emerging topics, which are not yet mature to be presented at the main conference. They can also be used to discuss specific, niche topics. As such, Workshop papers are often one of the initial publications of CS graduate students. They allow students to present their initial progress towards their research and obtain feedback from the research community, while networking with other researchers working on similar topics. Workshop papers are usually a bit shorter than full conference papers, and often go through a more relaxed peer-review process than conferences.
Conference extended abstracts and posters (also called works-in-progress, late-breaking work, or similar): Work that is in its initial stages can usually be presented in conferences as an extended abstract or poster. The exact format varies between conferences. For example, ACM CHI (the flagship Conference on Computer-Human Interaction) and other ACM conferences usually let authors publish an extended abstract (a short description of their work and results), which is presented during the conference only as a poster. Similar to Workshop papers, extended abstracts and poster sessions are good opportunities to present initial ideas and results and receive feedback from the community.
Short conference papers: Some conferences allow researchers to submit short papers, which usually have a limited length between four and six pages. Short papers are intended for publication of mature and finished results, but for small studies or any other form of contribution which can be explained within the page limit. Short papers usually go through a rigorous peer-review process and are presented as a talk within the main conference program, although usually with a bit less allocated time than full papers.
Full conference papers: Full papers represent the main type of contribution for academic conferences. These are usually between eight and twelve pages in length, and must present a mature and finished contribution to the field. Full papers also go through a rigorous peer-review process and are presented as a talk within the main conference program. They also help to considerably increase the visibility of one’s research, due to the presentation during the conference and the posterior availability of the paper as part of a digital library or other form of proceedings. The exact form of publication depends on the publisher; for example, ACM conferences publish their proceedings on the ACM Digital Library.
Conferences and Workshops usually occur at specific intervals, for example, once a year or each two years. Therefore, researchers need to plan in advance to submit to the specific conferences in their fields and make travel arrangements to present their work if accepted. The timeframe for publication is generally not so long. For example, full and short conference paper submission deadlines are usually about six months before the conference, extended abstracts and posters might be submitted about four months before the conference, and workshop papers about two to three months before (with the exact times varying for each conference).
Journal articles: Journal articles are aimed for the publication of completed research, which represents a strong and original contribution to the research community. They are usually longer than conference papers and need to provide detailed information on the employed methods, the results, and the contribution to the research field. Journal articles go through a rigorous peer-review process, which might usually include several rounds of feedback, improvement, and follow-up, thus ensuring that published papers have reached a high quality level.
The periodicity of journal issues varies greatly for each journal, from some being published monthly up to others being published only a few times per year. But because the peer-review process often includes several review rounds, journal publications generally take longer than conferences: sometimes a few months or even more than a year can pass between the first submission of an article to a journal until it is finally published.
Books or book chapters: In Computer Science, academic books are often published as a summary of existing research. Usually, a team of researchers act as editors, who are responsible for choosing the topics of the book chapters and inviting scholars with expertise on the field to write them. These kind of books usually do not include novel research results, but instead they provide reviews, summaries, or guidelines for the use of existing research.
While academic publications are very important to expand the collective scientific knowledge and allow other researchers to benefit from our work, they are not read very often outside the academic community. Therefore, it is important to also spread the word about the new scientific discoveries into non-academic publications, so they can reach the general public.
Moreover, academic publications are often written in a format that is not friendly to the non-academic audience, even when this audience has expertise in using the techniques involved. This is because academic publications need to provide enough details about the methods used, so the research can be replicated and/or further investigated. However, the non-academic audience is usually more interested in the results and how they can be applied to solve their problems. Recently, I was at an international academic conference, where there was a panel with industry experts. The scholars in the audience were curious about how much the industry leaders care about their research, so they kept asking if the panelists often read the papers published at that conference. At some point, one of the panelists said something along the lines that yes, they read a lot of those papers, but also they were difficult to read and not friendly to people who are not academics. For me, this is one interesting anecdotal example of how researchers must think about new ways to publish about their results for the non-academic audience.
Fortunately, there are many options to write for a non-academic audience nowadays. And as important as the chosen venue is also the style of writing. Publishing about scientific results for a non-scientific audience requires a few adaptations from the style of paper writing. Particularly, as I mentioned, we need to focus more on the results and how they can be used to solve practical issues, but without losing the rigour employed in the research.
These are some of the common types of non-academic publications to disseminate research results:
Blogs: Blogs provide an easy and accessible way for researchers to write about their work and for the general public to read about it. Despite this fact, research results are still reported in blogs much less often than they are in scientific papers and articles. One probable reason for this is that publishing in blogs is an activity that is still largely not recognized; for example, while most types of academic publications are valuable for a scholar’s CV, blog posts are usually completely ignored. Nonetheless, due to the immense potential of blogs to disseminate research results in a format that is friendly to the general public, I would love to see more researchers investing in this format of publications. Blogs can be set up for research institutions or teams, with all affiliated researchers contributing to posts; or the more prolific researchers can also set up individual blogs to write about their research. Alternatively, there are many tematic or general-interest blogs that accept guest posts.
Magazines and Newspapers: Magazines are usually focused on a specific topic or area, while newspapers tend to have a broader content selection. Since these kind of publications are usually read by a broad audience, they are also very interesting venues to spread the word about scientific research, possibly with short summaries that then point to a longer publication for those readers interested in more information. Many magazines and newspapers nowadays have online versions with a shorter publication time than they written counterparts, which might accept guest posts on interesting topics. A word of caution, though, is that I have seen many times a newspaper article on the results of a research project without any link or reference to the original research. In my opinion, it diminishes severely the importance of the publication because more interested readers might not be able to find the original research. Thus, if you are planning to do a magazine or newspaper article on your research, be sure to include a link or reference to the original academic publications with the detailed results!
Slides: Slides are a neat way to summarize interesting information on an engaging format. Thus, publishing slides on the SlideShare platform has become a common way to showcase one’s research results. However, like magazines and newspaper, I also recommend that any slide-based dissemination of scientific knowledge should include a reference or link to the original publication, so interested viewers can find more information. Furthermore, people sometimes publish slides directly from their talks, which might include only visual support elements that cannot be comprehended without the accompanying talk. In my opinion, this kind of slide decks are not the best choices to publish on SlideShare. Since the viewer will only have access to the slides, without the talk, I recommend that the slides should be edited to include enough written information to pass a clear message, without the need of an accompanying talk.
Videos: Videos are also a very engaging medium for information dissemination, and platforms like Youtube and Vimeo make publishing them a very easy task. Some conferences (such as ACM CHI, for example) have even been encouraging authors to submit an accompanying short video summarizing their publication. Videos can be produced in many formats, using for example animations, interviews, takes of studies being carried out (with the participants’ permission, of course!), or just the researchers explaining their work.
Books or book chapters: Books for the general audience can be published with a more relaxed process than academic books. Following the goals of non-academic publications that I have outlined above, non-academic books written as a result of research projects usually focus more on summarizing the relevant results and teaching readers about how to employ the novel knowledge to solve their practical problems. They are usually written by a single author or a team of authors and focus on a specific area or even on a very specific research result.
Social media: Social media platforms, such as Twitter, Facebook, or Reddit, are usually not the best venues to publish research results because of the limitations on content that they impose, such as the short length, and the competition for user attention in these platforms. However, they are great tools to promote longer content published elsewhere. So, after you publish your interesting research results as a blog post, a newspaper article, a deck of slides, a book, an academic paper, or any other format, be sure to post about it on social media to increase the visibility of your hard work!
At my research group, the HCI Games Group, we have been working to disseminate our results to the general public in addition to the academic audience since a few years. Although writing blog posts or recording videos requires a bit of additional work, the results so far have been quite positive, with many people hearing about our research and contacting us about it through our website, blog, or social media. An added benefit is that having our work published on our blog and social media makes it more visible also to the academic community, even when the papers we publish are already available on the ACM Digital Library or other venus. If you are interested in our experience, you can check out our blog or Youtube channel, or follow us on Twitter!
At the same time, I have also been editing my own blog, Gameful Bits, for two years now. There, I post summaries of my research results to the general public, as well as comments or summary of other research related to Gamification in general. I also have a twitter account, where I post about my articles and retweet many interesting things I found about gamification. The experience has been great so far, with many opportunities to interact with both scholars and industry practitioners working with gamification as a result of this online presence. I definitely recommend following this path as a welcome addition to the graduate student experience!