Minimum Publishable Units
Although the concept of publish or perish is far from new, it has never been more important to scholarly careers than it is in today’s digital world of instantaneous electronic and online publication. There is an incredible amount of pressure on modern academics and scientists to publish both rapidly and frequently, not only to communicate their research to their scholarly communities, but also to receive promotions, grants and salary increases. The temptation to divide the writing that results from active research into smaller and smaller articles in order to squeeze more publications out of the same amount of work is therefore natural and has never been greater. With some large, ongoing or multilayered research projects, this is both practical and necessary if the work is ever to be published in an academic or scientific journal, since most journals have strict word limits. They also tend to have rather strict requirements regarding what constitutes a research paper, however. There are certain types of papers that some reputable scholarly journals will be happy to publish despite the fact that they are not what might be called complete or traditional research articles: a study protocol in which a project is only described is a good example, as is a literature review that aims to outline what has been published on a topic to date. For most academic and scientific papers, however, and certainly for the kind of original research article that tends to establish a scholar as an authority in his or her field, providing a minimum publishable unit is required.
A minimum publishable unit is essentially a study that contains the three basic elements of a complete research article: namely, original research, significant results and a meaningful argument. A short paper can represent a minimum publishable unit for a brief study if all of these elements are present, but a complete study divided into shorter sections to achieve more publications does not necessarily result in a number of publishable research papers, and repeating material in the separate papers that result from such division in order to shore up their deficiencies is not the answer either. These approaches tend to produce papers that stand a better chance of being rejected than accepted by reputable journals, and even if they are accepted, they will almost certainly be accepted by journals that are less than top tier. While it is therefore tempting to stretch your research out over as many articles as possible, your time will be much better spent by preparing a complete and accomplished piece of academic or scientific writing that will be appropriate for publication as original research in a highly respected journal that suits your work perfectly. Producing valuable scholarly work of this kind will not only promote a positive professional reputation for you personally, but will also serve your larger scholarly community by maintaining a higher overall standard of both research and writing.
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If you are in the process of preparing an article for an academic or scientific journal, or planning one for the near future, you may well be interested in a new book, Guide to Journal Publication, which is available on our Tips and Advice on Publishing Research in Journals website.