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Where Would You Publish It?



Mechanics Corner

Where Would You Publish It?

Since long before my time, there has been a desire to have important results published where they become accessible to many others. Some of the great names, such as Newton, Euler, Bernoulli, and others, we know primarily because of what they published. Their work formed the fundamentals upon which modern engineering and science is built. Publication of research results has long been particularly important to faculty members; it is often taken as a measure of just how intelligent and useful they are (there is a lot of doubt about the validity of this measurement, but that has not prevented it use). When I was a young faculty member (many, many years ago), there was the mantra "Publish or Perish." This referred to the idea that those faculty members that did not publish research work would not receive tenure, and would be out of employment after several years. Agencies that funded research were eager to see publication of results that they had funded; it was considered evidence of the importance of the work supported by the agency. This was particularly true of the National Science Foundation (NSF) and other governmental funding sources in the USA.

It was not too long before publication was replaced as the measure of academic value, to be replaced by funding. A faculty member was expected to write research grant proposals, and the Dean's Office expected a significant cut of the proceeds, ostensibly for their role in "supervision." In practical terms, Dean's Offices almost never contributed anything of value to research efforts, but this was a form of graft to assure their cooperation. But publication remained essential as well. Any research that could not be published in a reputable journal was considered to be unworthy, a waste of time. So the criteria for success became, get money and publish, a tougher goal that simply publishing.

More recently, the goal posts have been moved again. Today the big cry is for "undergraduate research." To my mind, this is the height of absurdity. For folks who are just beginning to learn a profession, how can anyone think that they are capable of fundamental new discoveries? For undergraduates that are still struggling with Mechanics of Materials, do we really expect them to discover new understanding of fatigue or fracture mechanics? For a student laboring to understand dynamics, do we really expect them to come up with breakthroughs in orbital mechanics, seismic shock resistance, or multidegree of freedom models for gear box noise? But, rest assure, there is no place more insane than a university!! The utterly absurd is treated as absolutely essential!!

Thus far, I've talked a lot about academia, but we must not neglect industry. Publication is important to industrial firms as well, although for different reasons. Published research, done by your firm, is a way of establishing the technical excellence of your company. If you want to be known as an industry leader in your area, you want your employees to publish work that makes the company look like it is on the cutting edge of new technology. Often industry imposes constraints on what can be published; they do not want proprietary information to be put into the public domain. But they really like to have results published that make them look sophisticated, ahead of the pack, so to speak.

For consulting engineers, publication can be important as a means to establish your expertise in an area. If you publish a lot in a particular subject area, people begin to think you kow something about the area and come to you when they have problems. New work is the life blood of consulting engineers, so this can be very important. You will also be asked to review the work of others and to sit on panel discussions and other public appearances that can upgrade your image and bring in more work.

I hope that it is evident that most engineers will need to publish some work at some point in their career. It may be a central matter of those in more research oriented areas, or it may be only occasional for those in less cutting edge business sectors, but everyone will eventually need to publish something. So, back to the original question: Where Would You Publish It?

Most professional societies publish research work, and there are also a vast number of trade magazines. Fifty years ago, when the volume of "research" was much less, it was not too difficult to publish through any number of venues. I have published articles through the various Transactions of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME), through the Transactions of the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE), and the Journal of Mechanism and Machine Theory. I have also published through some much less well known venues such as Machine Design magazine, and most recently through IPTEK Journal, a small journal headquartered in Indonesia (that was an experience!) and other places. But the game is ever changing!

When I first began to publish papers back in the 1960s, it was a fairly simple process. You wrote up your text, with figures and equations, and mailed it to the editor in type written form (this before the days of word processing). After a few months, you would get something back from the editor. It might be an outright acceptance (rare), a conditional acceptance which meant that the paper would be accepted with certain modifications/corrections that were described in the letter (fairly common), or it might be a flat rejection (not extremely uncommon). If you got a conditional acceptance, you made the revisions, and about 6 months later, it would be published in whatever journal you were dealing with. The classier the journal, the higher the standards were, but all worked about the same.

Many of these organizations that publish papers also hold meetings, and they want people to come to the meetings. I have presented papers at the ASME Winter Annual Meeting (always in New York), at various SAE meetings, etc. But, there is a problem. It is expensive to go to these meetings. There is the travel expense (transportation, hotel, food, etc), and there is usually an admission fee (you have to pay money to present your own paper, an absurdity, but very real). Often the papers is only accepted for publication if you agree to come to the meeting to present it and pay the admission fee. Now if your paper is the result of funded research, or if your employer will pay the expenses, this is usually not a personal burden. If neither of these apply, the burden of the costs fall of the individual, and it is often prohibitive, often approaching $1000. The publisher then sell your work for a subscription fee, usually several hundred dollars per year. Libraries are the principal subscribers (university, municipal, and industrial libraries), along with a few individual.

In recent years, there has been a glut of material offered for publication, and everybody thinks that their paper is extremely important for the world to see. The volume of publications have increased drastically, but so has the cost. Who will pay for all the paper, printing, etc.? For years, it has been common to impose what are called "page charges," typically around $100 per page, to publish in most journals. Funded research usually included a line item for page charges, so that paid those bill. In the past, any unfunded research, if it was accepted, would usually be published with the page charges waived. Today, that is not longer true, and page charges are usually mandatory. But it gets worse.

We all know the Internet is a wonderful thing, but it does have some downsides as well. One of those downsides is in the area of publication. There is a relatively recent trend in publication called "Open Access," and it is particularly popular with a number of on-line journals. These journals are free to all on the internet, but the journals charge the authors a very steep price to publish their work. Thus you, as an author, must prepare the article according some very demanding rules about formatting, style, etc, then you must pay several thousand dollars, just so the world can see your work. It means that your work becomes available to all for free (which is a good thing), but it means that you the author must bear the full cost of supporting the publishing operation. I know that I, as an individual, cannot afford this, and thus it is almost impossible for me to publish anything now. It means that those with money will get their work published, and those without money will not. The quality of the published work is virtually certain to decline, but that is modern life. What can you do?

As a closing note, I'm currently writing another technical paper that I would like to publish, preferably where folks who work with IC engines will read it. I think I have something of real value to present, but I have no idea where I will publish it, or if I will be able to find a publisher at all. If any readers have a suggestion for an appropriate journal, I would certainly appreciate a suggestion in the comments.





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Dr D.,

My career never demanded publishing while I was an employee. So your explanation of the process then and now is an eye opener. For the past 4 years since starting my company I have been posting case studies. Not ground breaking research but solutions to day to day issues that plague business of all types.

Your question has me questioning if I am posting the information in the most effective sites.

To address your question, where to publish, I would ask why you need to publish. My blanket answer would be the internet. Your answer to my question would address the where on the internet. 

If you are looking to attract clients requiring your specific technical skills and experience I would search for related forums on line. I am approaching your question as a new task I have never done before, not from past experience. My words represent my though process. I am open to suggestions in refining my approach.

There are likely forums for the subject matter and forums for industries that use your skills and experience. The search will be time consuming but cost little.

You will be giving away some work but usually the problems people have are similar but not identical to what is published. Being able to follow your published approach or findings does not necessarily mean others can correctly apply the theory to a similar situation. In that case a reader may contact you for professional help. You may be asked to do an analysis or review the work done by those who used your published material, and need an experienced set of eyes to ensure they applied the methods correctly.

I for one would use you if an assignment came to me that required dynamic analysis. So the current forum on which we met has served the purpose - a potential client. I suggest forums that are much more focused than the current one.

You have opened a line of thought that I need to explore for myself. I have "published" case studies and examples on Facebook, LinkedIn and this site but I may have to assess my own recommendations to determine if a more focused audience exists that I am missing.  


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JAG, thanks for the comment.

I did not intend to imply that every job will demand publications, but I can think of few that will not be helped by it. Back in the early 1980's, I was a part of an industrial consulting group associated with Southwest Research Institute (San Antonio, TX). Those guys published a lot. I used to marvel at how they could write so many papers but give away so little. Before I joined that group, I used to read their work and I never could quite follow it all the way through. They would always omit some critical detail, such that the results were useless to every reader, but they were getting the message out, "We know how to solve this (or that) class of machinery vibration problem." It was evidently pretty effective. I did not stay there long enough to write any papers there, although I did do some work that could have made a very good paper or two.

I think the idea of posting case studies is very good, and the only concern is whether they can be found or not. If not, I'd look for a better venue. Case studies attract a lot off attention, because people are always looking for help.

I did not talk about it in the post, but there are essentially two types of publications. There are publications in trade journals and on web sites, both of which have no serious review. Then there is peer-reviewed publication, where 2 or 3 qualified folks are expected to review every paper. This last is the academic's sine qua non. Non-reviewed publications do not count for much in the academic world, although they can be very helpful in the real world.


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