Friday, August 29, 2008

Working Papers

“Working Papers” are semi-published papers, typically posted on the internet as part of a series sponsored by an institution or organization. They are often first drafts, perhaps as presented at a meeting, that later will be revised and published in journals. In some fields such as economics and physics, working papers are standard forms of scholarly communication, whereas in others (such as archaeology and anthropology) they are rare. Working papers provide a way to get feedback on work in progress, and they also let people know what an author has been writing about recently.

What are the pros and cons of working papers as a form of publication? My assumption here is that these are early drafts, most of which will later be published in a peer-reviewed venue. In evaluating working papers it helps to consider their formal relationship to peer-reviewed journal publications.

The main functions of peer-reviewed scholarly publications are (from Mabe and Amin 2002):

1. Dissemination: making the results of research known to an audience.

2. Registration: dating the initial appearance of an author’s ideas, data, or analysis.

3. Certification: to assure that the work has been peer reviewed.

4. Archiving: making a work permanently available

(Ober et al. 2007 combine the first 2 features and call this “Making public”)

Working papers (“WP”), in comparison:

Dissemination: WP also disseminate research results, often much sooner than a peer-reviewed publication. WP perform the task of circulating drafts to colleagues, but in a more public fashion.

Registration: WP have the same role as a journal article, but, again, often at an earlier stage and at an earlier date.

Certification: WP are not peer reviewed, so they do NOT perform the role of certification.

Archiving: WP serve as limited of variable version of this function. In many cases, working papers are maintained in repositories in perpetuity. In other cases, the working papers are removed when they are published in a formal scholarly source.

To me, working papers are a very positive venue and can serve important roles in the research and publication processes. For an author, they can provide more feedback from readers than is typical when circulating a draft to a small group of colleagues. For readers, working papers let people know what an author has been working on. I have found some sites in economics and classics (see below) very helpful, particularly in exploring disciplines beyond my own.

The down side of working papers (apart from the time and resources needed to set up a series like this) is that one is exposing one’s work prior to formal publication. Now the discussion of four attributes above suggests that the positives (dissemination and registration) outweigh the negatives (the notion that someone is going to “steal” one’s data and ideas). Nevertheless, many scholars worry about this and would rather not have their work available until it is fully published in peer-review form. My hunch is that with the direction in which scholarly publishing and internet scholarship are heading, working papers will become more popular and will play in increasing role in archaeological scholarship and publishing.

Here are a few examples of working papers web sites:

Princeton-Stanford Working Papers in Classics. This is a very useful series from which I have gotten a number of good papers. It has the advantage of a having a nice description of how it came about (Ober et al. 2007)

The Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology in Germany has a nice series.

University of Colorado, Denver, Department of Anthropology, has a small series of working papers, with a nice web interface and good description and explanation of what working papers are all above.


Kling, Rob

2004 The Internet and Unrefereed Scholarly Publishing. Annual Review of Information and Technology 38:591-631.

Kling, Rob, Lisa Spector, and Geoff McKim

2002 Locally Controlled Scholarly Publishing Via the Internet: The Guild Model. Journal of Electronic Publishing 8:1.

Mabe, Michael A., and Mayur Amin

2002 Dr. Jekyll and Dr. Hyde: Author-Reader Asymmetries in Scholarly Publishing. ASLIB Proceedings 54:149-157.

Ober, Josiah, Walter Scheidel, Brent D. Shaw, and Donna Sanclemente

2007 Toward Open Access in Ancient Studies: The Princeton-Stanford Working Papers in Classics. Hesperia 76:229-242.

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