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I am interested in a new fast moving field in which none of the professors at my university have an interest. I have even started to work on some areas that show promise in the current scenario.

As I am working independently, and this will be my first paper, do I have a reasonable chance of getting it published (assuming it turns out well)?

What mistakes should I absolutely avoid while working on this paper? (to maximize chances of publishing later on)

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    I published part of my senior thesis before I got started on my postgraduate studies. Jul 12, 2013 at 7:46
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    Yes, it is even possible to publish in a first rate journal, as long as the result is "good enough". Jul 12, 2013 at 11:17
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    Why are there close votes on this question? This is clearly not an undergraduate question; it's an academic research question from an undergraduate student. Please don't abuse the close vote system.
    – eykanal
    Jul 12, 2013 at 19:49

3 Answers 3

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Your question contains three questions. Is it possible? yes. Do you have a reasonable chance? Probably less than any other researcher because you lack the training but not zero. What mistakes to avoid? Well, that is what research education partly is about.

Writing a paper involves many aspects, providing the proper background, explaining the research, putting the research in perspective and reaching proper conclusions. There are many mistakes that can be made: you do not show you know the field, you do not describe the methods/theory/experiments well enough, your discussion does not hold and your conclusions are not well founded. All of this can come from poor understanding or from not writing well. So as long as you can tick the boxes from the subject specific to the methodological including writing skills then you would stand as reasonable a chance as any. In the end there is likely only one way to find out, try.

You state that you work independently and that is all fine. But, in science we all benefit from having others read and comment on our work to improve it so your chances of success can increase dramatically if your writing can be read and commented on by peers (with at least a PhD would be recommended) to weed out problems and any lack of clarity.

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    While this answer is technically correct, I think it's ignoring the practical reality of the research community. The likelihood that an undergraduate with minimal exposure (<5 years) to a research field can (1) understand the relevant published literature, (2) understand where the field is currently and what other labs are doing, (3) perform research worthy of publication, and (4) write up the results in a journal-worthy article with minimal to no mentorship throughout the project is extremely slim at best.
    – eykanal
    Jul 12, 2013 at 12:35
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    I am sorry, but I do not think I am ignoring what you comment on, it is merely implicit in my answer. I definitely agree with your explicit version of the list. Jul 12, 2013 at 12:49
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A small addition to Peter Jansson's great answer; your chances of publishing your work independently will most likely depend on your field and how you want to publish your results.

I work in biomedical research and the only "independent" articles I have seen so far are written by senior academics that either portray their "expert opinion" on something, or a literature review of a particular subject. Yet again, they are not independent there either (at least in some meaning of the word), but rather utilize the resources of their affiliations and many years experience in the field.

If you are into some sort of CS research, I suspect there will be more options in terms of publishing your results, and there you might have a better chance in getting published.

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Practically speaking, you may be sufficiently well equipped for performing the research and writing it up. But, as others have mentioned, you almost certainly lack experience and understanding of the field to explain why you did it and what impact your work has.

And most experienced researchers are able to spot some common issues in the presentation, even in topics they do not know much about.

Corollaries:

  1. You can publish, and I would absolutely encourage you to try. Mighty oaks from little acorns grow.
  2. It is a lot easier for a student to publish a research paper solo rather than to publish a literature review, although the latter is also commonly done - as a part of a thesis project and under supervision.
  3. One potential issue might be presentation. You should enlist some help to review the article before sending it to a journal.
  4. Another could be a flawed experimental design (if it is experimental research we are concerned with). This is what training is for, and it is hard: very few can get it right, much less first try. Do not let that discourage you, however: this is where practice and feedback are especially helpful. More on that point later.
  5. Yet another issue does not have to do with research but with the submission process. From personal experience and communications, it could be an unexpectedly enormous roadblock. Suppose you read enough literature, and you also got an interesting result and wrote a paper about it, and this paper looks no worse than what you see out there... Now what? Teaching you the process of picking a journal, submitting a publication, and interacting with its editorial office and reviewers is yet another role typically assumed by an advisor. You may or may not find this problematic, but if you end up struggling, again, enlist help.

Now, to expand on the experiment design... One piece of advice I could give you is this: before doing anything, pretend for a moment your experiments showed very favorable results, the best you could plausibly imagine. Try to describe them; do they make for a convincing case? If not, this is a bad, bad design; figure out what is missing. Do not underestimate this pitfall, it is far more common than you think.

Then, consider what happens if the results were very weak, sitting firmly at the previously established baseline. No improvement at all. Could you extract any knowledge from that? If not, this is still fine, but consideration should be given, especially as the experiments get more and more laborious.

Good luck!

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