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Some fields like Economics and Maths have their work in progress published as "working papers" with notes like "work in progress, do not cite or quote without the author's permission."Sometimes they upload these to their own websites or to their universities websites. I don't see much of this going on in my own field (sociology). I have heard from people that are afraid of having their work scooped or that fear that work published in this way will not be considered as "unpublished" by journals and conferences.

What are the advantages of making work in progress available in this way?

  • 1
    Not sure about "working papers" in general, but the utility of preprint servers, specifically, depends on cultural norms in your field. In physics, work "published" on the arXiv is nearly as good as actually published, and is for all purposes "unscoopable." As well, there are almost no physics journals that would reject an article based on its already being available on arXiv. – wsc Sep 16 '13 at 15:03
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The advantages are that you get to stake a claim to some sense of ownership of the work; it's a way of inviting feedback and collaboration from others by showcasing your work in progress; and it's a quicker way to publish your work than submitting to a journal or conference.

So when do you publish your work as a working paper?

When the following conditions are met:

  1. You've done some work.
  2. And some combination of:
    • you want feedback on it from a wider group than your immediate colleagues;
    • you want to showcase your work to get new collaborators, new funding, or improved career prospects
    • you want to publicly stake a claim to the work you've done
  3. And some combination of:

    • the follow-up work is something that you've already got sufficiently far advanced that it is very unlikely that you will get scooped by your competitors;
    • you're not bothered about being first to publish the follow-up work yourself.
  4. And publishing your work in a working paper won't prevent it from appearing (possibly in modified form) in a journal.

  • I have a paper accepted as work under progress. When I fill out my MS application forms, can I add it in the list of publications? – Hima Varsha Nov 23 '16 at 1:39
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Your first paragraph's implied question and your formal question are different. The first concerns an already finished work, which is just unpublished, and the second a work in progress. I'll comment on the second one as the more interesting one to discuss.

When you make your work in progress public, you just let people see your ideas and use them or comment on them. I perceive a publication of unfinished work as an invitation to take a look and try to answer questions like

1) What else can be done this way?

2) Can you do it better (find some shortcuts, generalize, whatever)?

3) Do you see how to finish the project or why it is a dead end?

4) Are there any mistakes in what is done so far?

etc.

The advantage is, of course, getting a few more brains engaged, which has the potential of enhancing the quality of the final product drastically. The "disadvantage" is that you agree by default to share the credit with anyone who contributes something of value. Which one is more important for you is up to you to decide.

Outright scooping is not something I would be particularly afraid of; not in my field at least (my usual mode of operation is to send what I know to a few "experts" and ask what they think rather than to put unfinished works on arXiv but that is primarily because I do not want to clutter my arXiv list of papers with half-cooked stuff some of which will never be finished and some of which makes little sense). Most people who get interested in your project share their thoughts with you on exactly the same basis you share yours with them: if you go open and supply your ideas for free, they pay back with the same coin.

  • I fixed the first paragraph so that it makes it clear that we are talking about work in progress. – Kenji Sep 16 '13 at 15:24

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