In academic publishing, there are several avenues available for publishing your work. Each avenue has particular qualities, expectations, and restraints that lend itself to a particular type of work. The four primary categories are theses, academic journals, books, and grey literature.
As a graduate student, the type of publication that will be consuming most of your time and energy is the thesis. There are different names for the types of theses required for different programs (e.g., dissertation, capstone) and requirements are often specific to the needs of your discipline. What theses have in common, however, is that they are the lengthy end work you must produce, and have confirmed by a committee, to complete your graduate degree. Theses are usually made available to others through online databases, but other than that, theses cannot be published in books or journals without being reworked.
Journal Articles will be your bread and butter as an academic. In a “Publish or Perish” environment, journal articles tally up a lot faster than books do, and they allow you make more concise, contained arguments. If you can start publishing in journals while you are still in graduate school, you are ahead of the game (some fields actually require this).
Most academic journals have a highly specialized or specific subject matter which they publish content on. Journals also come in a variety of formats: print, online, subscription-based, open access, free for authors to publish, fees for authors to publish, and everything in between. Regardless of format, however, a good journal will have their submissions peer reviewed. The peer review process is what gives credibility to your work and what ensures the quality of articles published in the journal.
Books are the appropriate format for making sustained arguments. Writing and publishing a book requires a substantial commitment to one subject or one argument. The payoff, however, is that you have the space to include all the background, complexity, and counter-argument that you need to support and converse with your work.
Academic publishers, like academic journals, specialize in subject matter; they develop an identity and credibility around one genre such as history, social science, or literature research. Most academic publishing houses are small: They likely publish a catalog of 12 or so books a year, and some of those books are probably more commercial in nature as funding for academic presses simply isn’t what it used to be. The upside? Each press is part of their tight-knit academic community and has relationships with many of the community’s authors; once you get their attention initially, you have the opportunity to form a close relationship with an individual press.
Grey literature is scholarly writing that has not been formally published, and instead it is printed out or posted on the internet. This includes handouts and power points at conferences, researcher notes, academic blogs, and other similar mediums.
While grey literature does not contribute toward your list of publications in your field, it is an important part of sharing knowledge with the rest of the academic community. It allows you to engage with your peers in a less formal environment. Here you can field ideas, or flesh them out, or simply connect with other academics who share them (which could find you your next co-author). Grey literature is like an appendix: It supports the rest of the work being done around it.