To self-publish or not to self-publish?

by Richard

In a discussion last week, the question of self-publishing academic essays and theses came about. Not in what could be called vanity journals which will publish anything for a fee, but uploading them to sites such as academic.edu.

Well before social media websites made people feel they should share every aspect of their lives I already had a personal website and decided to put all my undergraduate essays there. In doing so, I felt I was staking a claim to my tiny corner of the Internet but also contributing to the available collection of online knowledge. Therefore, when I joined academia.edu a couple of years ago, I uploaded one of my MEd essays and my thesis with little concern.

It was suggested that there are inherent risks and issues with sharing in this way: the primary concern being that once ideas are online they can easily be borrowed without attribution. From another perspective, problems also arise as there is no peer review and the shared work could therefore be of no more value than articles in vanity journals.

As an inveterate sharer these two points, among others, gave me pause for thought.

Having thought about it, I have decided that I will continue to share my work.

Firstly, I believe that sharing work is important within the academic community. I understand that sharing globally is not the same as within the confines of an institution, but the serendipitous connections we make within the walls of a seminar room have the potential to be multiplied with a potential international readership.

Secondly, by having published it, the work is dated and archived for eternity. Should it be borrowed it is easy to show the date of the original work in the upload. However, I would like to think (hope?) that any readers would choose to reference it if they found it useful.

Thirdly, I believe that I am only sharing work that is worth sharing. I am sure – just as with any self-publishing – that some of the work that is shared is of a questionable standard, but that is where the reader has to take responsibility. Only a foolish student will think that the Internet can provide the easy answers to their questions: a wiser student can use the Internet to their benefit as they can access paper and other research to help them support and develop their own ideas. They have to pick and choose and judge the work for themselves.

Fourthly, the Internet is another way of networking and (as I have discovered) a useful way of letting people find and know about your work on top of conferences and more traditional networking.

Fifthly, it provides a means by which an individual can see how they have developed as an academic. In the same way as Facebook is my diary and photo album for the past five years (and counting), academia lets me see how my ideas have matured since the start of my postgraduate study. While I could simply look back through my Word documents on the computer, academia allows me to see them alongside people’s comments and search terms and thereby provides a helpful tool for personal reflection.

I will stop at five reasons for going public with my work as I know there are counterarguments to all of them. Ultimately, it has to be up to the individual whether they feel happy to share their work with the largest audience in the history of the human race and whether they feel there is any value to them in sharing it.