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The Path to Publication: how to publish your research paper

As a high school student, your ability to publish your academic research paper depends upon your field and the genre of your paper. This blog will walk you through these variables and offer you strategies to get your research noticed.


The first variable influencing your chances of publication is your field. If you are a STEM student, you have a much better chance of publishing independent research as a high schooler than humanities students do. Generally speaking, STEM journals evaluate research papers on the validity of their findings, so if you are working with a professor, chances are you’ll produce a publishable paper. The quality of your writing itself is not as important as your results, although your prose must be clear enough to communicate them to your “peer reviewers”: an anonymous team of researchers who will read your paper and decide whether to reject it, offer comments according to which you will revise and resubmit, or accept your work.


As a STEM student, you may have the opportunity to be “second author” or “third author” on a paper—one of the “et al.” names—if you contribute to a research team. In these cases, you will probably not write the paper yourself. To pursue this path to publication, join a team of graduate students and professors working towards a paper. This will be an excellent experience to write about in your college application, and even if the paper takes years to come out, your “forthcoming publication” will strengthen your resume. In STEM fields, the general rule is: the more publications, the earlier, the better.


In the humanities, the general rule is different. Traditionally, humanities fields value “quality over quantity,” meaning that even advanced undergraduates are often discouraged from trying to publish in peer-reviewed academic journals. What does this mean for you, as a high schooler? It means that no matter the reply a journal gives you, universities will recognize your submission as an achievement in and of itself.


It also means that you’re going to have to be clever about choosing where and in what genre to submit your work. STEM students, this applies to you too. First, you should seek out academic contests specifically designed for high school students, with publication as part of the prize package. You might use a contest as the motivation to develop your research into a paper.


You should also look out for “CFPs” (Calls for Papers), in which university departments, academic societies, conference committees, and peer-reviewed journals ask researchers to send them “abstracts” that fit a given theme. “Abstracts” are short summaries of your academic research (100-200 words), and the good news is that you don’t have to write a paper before an abstract. If you reply to a conference CFP—say, for a university’s annual Shakespeare conference—then you can write up a description of what you plan to research before you have finished your paper. This is a low-stakes, high-ceiling way of attempting to publish.


Last, broaden your perspective on what counts as an “academic publication,” beyond the traditional research or conference paper. Consider writing for an academic library’s blog, a museum publication, a departmental website (perhaps for your school), curriculum for younger students, or even an exhibition.


Stay tuned to my forthcoming post on “How to Write and Curate for Museums and Academic Libraries.”


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