In research work, I'm guessing that the primary product you want to create is some sort of publication. But what happens if you don't get you published? Does that mean the research you did is invalid / you can't reference what you learned in any future work?

For example: Let's say someone gets a grant to research a question. The research is good/accurate, but for whatever reason, they can't get it published or they run out of funding. On the other hand, they get a different grant to do similar research where research from the first project would be useful. Only thing is, it isn't published. Can they still reference it in their new work? I guess another way to ask it is: Is publication the only way researchers can validate their work?

I currently work in development, but I'm interested in how research-heavy projects work. So sorry if this is a simple question.

  • ...you try harder!? Mostly PhD's are given for endurance, patience, discipline...a smart idea is a little part and starting point. Commented Aug 5, 2019 at 23:40
  • You resubmit it somewhere else, until it gets published! That's why there are many journals with different "tiers". Commented Aug 6, 2019 at 8:17

2 Answers 2


If you are doing true research then there are no guarantees and you either keep trying or you scale back your goals until you find some success, even if not the one you strove for.

Research is examining the unknown. You can't schedule it. You can't predict it. You can just keep looking. You can broaden your scope, or narrow it, or redirect it.

The examples you give aren't necessarily terrible if you are working on a hard problem. But is good to get advice about whether your field of study is "ripe" for solving the problems you are working on. That is where an advisor is useful.

Normally you don't "reference" unpublished work, but you can include relevant parts of it in new work.

However, don't think that "failing" to get the result you thought you would represents actual failure. Knowing that something isn't true is knowledge just as is knowing that it is. Knowing that certain approaches fail to settle a question is also knowledge.

And don't start out researching "toward" a result you "want" to be true. That is always invalid. You are trying to find out what is true, not trying to prove a point. The latter is propaganda, not research.

But if you submit a paper and it is rejected, be guided by the reports of the reviewers. Normally they are quite knowledgeable about the area and about what can and should appear.

  • Thanks! That makes sense (especially your comments about getting into the right mindset). I'm a software developer. I see software as ongoing (e.g. maintenance/feature updates), but I definitely do have milestones that I work towards and schedule for. Also, most of the time, I more or less know the answer I want when I create a software solution; then I work towards that answer even if I don't have all the implementation details. Having a type of project where all of that is the complete opposite is a bit daunting, but I can also see how it would be a good challenge. Thanks again. Commented Aug 6, 2019 at 16:30

In academia it's true that by "publication" people often mean "peer-reviewed publication", that is a publication which has been checked and validated by other researchers and consequently accepted in a more or less reputable journal or conference (see below for the "more or less"). Peer-reviewed publications are the only ones which matter in terms of academic career and in any kind of academic evaluation.

However there are plenty of other options to publish: pre-prints, technical reports, books or even simply putting a document on a webpage, all of these are valid publications which can be cited, even if they are not peer-reviewed. Of course they wouldn't be considered as valuable publications in the academic world (unless they get cited a lot, but that's not common), and for good reasons: non-peer reviewed publications can be full of mistakes or claim that the Earth is flat, since by definition they haven't been evaluated by the expert community. Anyway, this implies that it's virtually impossible to be unable to publish a research work because it gets rejected.

Even if we assume that the author wants to publish only in peer-reviewed journals/conferences, they would still have a lot of options to choose from and it's unlikely that they can't get accepted anywhere: in every field there are venues which are known to be very reputable and consequently very selective, but there is also a spectrum of journals/conferences which range from "very competitive" to "desperate to receive submissions". Of course publishing in a bottom tier venue is not going to boost an author's track record, but at least it's reasonably easy.

Finally, even in decently reputable journals/conferences, any serious research work can always be accepted... eventually. It might take a very long time, but if the methodology is correct, the state of art is properly covered, the motivation for the work is demonstrated, etc., in short if there is a real scientific contribution then it's very unlikely that the work would be rejected everywhere. Even in the case of negative results, e.g. the author attempted a new method and it failed, there is a legitimate contribution: provided it wasn't already done and the method makes sense (that's part of the scientific ground work), it's useful for the community to know that this method doesn't work. Additionally every rejection comes with reviews which explain why the paper is rejected, and normally addressing the shortcomings identified by the reviewers makes the paper more likely to be accepted next time.

"Is publication the only way researchers can validate their work?"

Not necessarily but the other ways I can think of are more specific to the field. For instance in computer science developing a software system which turns out to be successful in the scientific community or even beyond would actually prove the value of the work and certainly contribute to the author's reputation.

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