Learning Objectives

  • Define scholarly communications and scholarly publishing.
  • Identify the key parts and players in the scholarly publishing system.


What, exactly, is meant by scholarly communications, and by scholarly publishing?

According to the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL):

“Scholarly communication is the system through which research and other scholarly writings are created, evaluated for quality, disseminated to the scholarly community, and preserved for future use. The system includes both formal means of communication, such as publication in peer-reviewed journals, and informal channels, such as electronic mailing lists . . . One of the fundamental characteristics of scholarly research is that it is created as a public good to facilitate inquiry and knowledge. A substantial portion of such research is publicly supported, either directly through federally-funded research projects or indirectly through state support of researchers at state higher-education institutions. In addition, the vast majority of scholars develop and disseminate their research with no expectation of direct financial reward.”[1]

The bold text above is my (this author’s) own emphasis. It’s one of the most essential components of scholarly communication, and is important to keep in mind throughout this course, as we will uncover tension between the “public good” nature of scholarly communications and the way in which the system operates within capitalist societies.

Now let’s turn to another definition:

“The Scholarly Communication system incorporates and expands on the more familiar concept of scholarly publishing, and includes both informal and formal networks used by scholars to develop ideas, exchange information, build and mine data, certify research, publish findings, disseminate results, and preserve outputs. This vast and changing system is central to the academic enterprise.[2]
Again, I have bolded another key piece of scholarly communications: that it is embedded in and inseparable from the realm of academia, i.e., the higher education system of thinking, teaching, studying, and learning at colleges, universities, and research institutes.

From these definitions, we see that the scholarly communications system involves the creation, evaluation, dissemination, and preservation of new knowledge; exists to facilitate discovery and advances that benefit society; and intertwines inextricably within the academic community.

Scholarly communications is a large, umbrella term for the myriad ways in which faculty scholars, academics, scientists, and researchers create and share new knowledge. Scholarly publishing is a narrower term that specifically describes the peer-reviewed, refereed, scholarly publication process. The relationship between scholarly communications and scholarly publishing looks something like this:

Graphic showing a yellow rectangle labeled Scholarly Communications with two green rectangles underneath, displayed as sub-categories or branches of Scholarly Communications. One is labeled Scholarly publishing and the other is titled Other channels. This graphic demonstrates that scholarly publishing is a sub-category of Scholarly Communications.

“Other channels” could be any other ways that academics and scholars communicate their work, such as conferences, blogs, social media such as Twitter, electronic listservs, institutional or disciplinary repositories, and more. As new technologies emerge, and scholarly culture changes, so do these other channels. This course focuses primarily on scholarly publishing, specifically scholarly journal publishing, although in order to understand it, we will also include some contextual information about other channels and how they relate to scholarly publishing.

Players and Their Roles

What happens throughout the scholarly publishing process? Who are the people participating, and what do each of them do?

Here is a basic illustration of the key parts of the process:

Graphic depicting different phases of the scholarly communications lifecycle. At the top is red rectangle labeled Research, Data Collection & Analysis. A red arrow points downward and to the right to a green rectangle labeled Authoring. A green arrow points downward and to the left to a purple rectangle labeled Peer Review. A purple arrow points to the left to a blue rectangle labeled Publication. A blue arrow points upward to an orange rectangle labeled Discovery & Dissemination. An orange arrow points upward and to the right back to the top red rectangle labeled Research, Data Collection & Analysis. Together, these rectangles and arrow form a circle showing how one process flows to the next throughout the scholarly communications lifecycle.
Association of College & Research Libraries’ Scholarly Communication Toolkit: https://acrl.libguides.com/scholcomm/toolkit
  • Faculty & Student Authors, Scholars, Researchers, Scientists are the content creators. They conduct research, review the literature, collect data, and make discoveries. They package their findings by writing scholarly articles and hope to publish them in scholarly journals specific to their discipline. (In the diagram above, their work is symbolized by the red “Research, Data Collection & Analysis” icon and the green “Authoring” icon.)
  • Editors of scholarly journals receive an author’s submission and oversee the peer review process, often communicating with both authors and peer reviewers. (Note the purple “Peer Review” icon.)
  • Peer Reviewers are other experts in the author’s field. They perform a close reading of the article and make a recommendation to the editor as to whether or not the article should be accepted for publication — and whether or not acceptance is contingent on the author making revisions to the work. In most cases, in an effort to reduce the possibility of bias or retaliation, the identity of the author is not made known to the peer reviewers, and the identities of the peer reviewers is not made known to the author. This is called double blind peer review. The number of peer reviewers and their responsibilities vary according to the each journal’s unique policies. Typically, after an article undergoes peer review, it is sent back to the author with (Note the purple “Peer Review” icon.)
  • Publishers are organizations that manage the publication process. This includes things like having the author sign a contract outlining the publisher’s copyright terms, performing layout and formatting for the article to appear in the journal, and assigning metadata (such as a DOI, or Digital Object Identifer) to the article. Publishers can vary in size, from large operations with numerous employees to small units with only a few people. They may be commercial, for-profit companies; academic presses based at universities; or not-for-profit entities. Academic libraries are increasingly serving as publishers as well. (See the blue “Publication” icon.)
  • Academic Libraries collect and provide access to the finished product: the scholarly journal articles. They pay for subscriptions to databases and indexes so that their students, faculty, and staff can find the articles, and for subscriptions to the journals so that they can read the articles. They teach their campus community how to locate, access, evaluate, cite, and incorporate the articles into their own research and scholarly projects. They advocate for reform, innovation, and transparency within scholarly communications in order to promote a more equitable and sustainable system. (Refer to the orange “Discovery & Dissemination” icon.)
  • Readers are students, faculty, scholars, researchers, scientists, and anyone else who reads and/or uses the published article. They typically discover and access the article through their academic library. They may, in turn, become authors themselves and incorporate the information from the article into their own work, and the cycle continues.

Although the diagram above shows one-way arrows from one stage to another, the process is rarely linear. Rather, scholarly publishing is a complex, nuanced process with back-and-forth movement throughout, and the path (and timeline) to publication for one article might look very different for another. But the parts and players shown above are usually involved in one form or another. Understanding this model lays the foundation for the rest of this course.

Exercise: Mapping the Scholarly Communications Process

Expounding on the diagram in this chapter, draw your own illustration of the scholarly publishing system, from inception (an idea or research question) to the point where the scholarship reaches readers. As you create your diagram, consider the following:

  • Include everyone (from individuals to groups or organizations) who is involved throughout the process and what each of their roles / contributions / responsibilities entail.
  • Indicate with a $ sign any point at which money changes hands.
  • Consider who is doing the work, who owns the work, who is paying, and who is being paid.
  • Which parts of the process are transparent and which are obscure or shrouded in mystery? Which parts do you feel you understand well, and which parts do you want to know more about?
  • Which parts of the process have you been involved in up to this point of your life? Which parts do you envision yourself being part of in the future?

[Note to Instructors: This exercise works best as an in-class activity, with small groups of students working together. At its conclusion, reconvene the entire class and discuss how the diagrams are similar to and different from one another. Compile them into one master diagram that reflects the most complete picture of the process.]

Additional Readings & Resources

Association of College & Research Libraries’ Scholarly Communication Toolkit: https://acrl.libguides.com/scholcomm/toolkit

Larivière, V. & Sugimoto, C. R. (2020, September). Knowledge synthesis: The past, present, and future of scholarly communication. Report to the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.  https://crctcs.openum.ca/files/sites/60/2021/07/SSHRC_Scholarly_Communication-Final.pdf

Wulf, K. & Meadows, A. (2016, March 21). Seven things every researcher should know about scholarly publishing. Scholarly Kitchen. https://scholarlykitchen.sspnet.org/2016/03/21/seven-things-every-researcher-should-know-about-scholarly-publishing/




  1. Association of College & Research Libraries (ACRL). (2003). Principles and Strategies for the Reform of Scholarly Communication 1. http://www.ala.org/acrl/publications/whitepapers/principlesstrategies/
  2. Keener, M., Krichner, J., Shreeves, S., & Van Orsdel, L. (2013). Ten things you should know about . . . Scholarly communication. ACRL. http://www.ala.org/acrl/sites/ala.org.acrl/files/content/issues/scholcomm/docs/ten_things_you_should_know.pdf


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