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I am an apprentice employed to do mechanical engineering but my real passion has always been computing.

I recently came up with IMHO a good idea to help mitigate DDoS attacks on web servers. I would like to do a write-up of my idea to help contribute to some personal portfolio perhaps so it would help me get into a career in computing if/when I decide to take that path.

I have no exposure to University resources etc but feel a white paper on this topic is probably the best way to present it. So how should I go about writing an academic paper as an outsider to academia?

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up vote 20 down vote accepted

There are basically no restriction on who can write a paper, so, clearly you can. If you have no affiliation, it might be hard to go publish a "free" paper (e.g., a technical report or a pre-print on arxiv), but you can always consider submitting your idea to a workshop/conference. However, you might have to pay the conferences/travel fees (although some conferences might help you, if you can't afford it). You can also submit your idea to a journal, as many don't charge anything to publish. You can of course also just write a PDF and put it on your website, or even do a long blog post.

There is one thing you might need to be careful of, since you might not be used to write academic paper: a good paper is not just a good idea, this idea needs to be validated. In other words, you can't just write: "here is a cool idea I had", you also need to describe how it differs from existing approaches (perhaps your idea has been already published), and you need to describe why it's a good idea. There are many approaches to do so, for instance by presenting your idea in a formal setting and prove that you can mitigate DDoS attacks (probably under some assumptions). You can also run some experiments, and show that your approach mitigated x% more attacks than some known approaches.

If you're interested in eventually pursuing a career in academia, showing that you can explain and validate your work might be as important as having a good idea (because not only you have a good idea, but you can convince others that it's a good one!).

Note that another approach in your situation could be to implement your idea as an open-source software, and if it's adopted by the community, then it's another form of validation.

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+1 for the last paragraph. A sound advice in this context. –  walkmanyi Feb 21 '13 at 19:50
    
I'm a little puzzled by "because not only you have a good idea, but you can convince others that it's a good one!". I'd write it something like "because not only do you have to have a good idea, but you have to convince others that it's a good one!". But maybe you had something else in mind. –  Faheem Mitha Dec 10 '13 at 20:50
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There's an alternative approach: Speak to "an academic". Don't be afraid of the weird people we are :)

Just one true story: There are two papers by the same two authors, one of them is a renowned professor and the other one works at a farm. The farmer had a very nice idea, wrote it to this professor, and they published it.

At any case, make sure that your ideas are clear, because academic people receive various weird stuff and you don't want your mail to just get trashed.

Of course, you might feel "unsafe" that someone "steals" your idea. In that case, a pre-publication of any form (arXiv, blog, free software as mentioned above, etc.) is enough to verify your attribution.

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Details of the true story, please! –  Faheem Mitha Dec 10 '13 at 20:51
    
Instead of "Of course, you might feel "unsafe" that someone "steals" your idea." I would suggest "Of course, you might feel "uncomfortable" that someone else might "steal" your idea.". In any case, the tenses are a little wonky in that sentence. –  Faheem Mitha Dec 10 '13 at 20:54
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