WHY PUBLISH ON THE WEB?
The question is obvious: "Why publish on the Web?" The
most frequent answer from colleagues is predictable, although
it may never be uttered: "What's the matter; can't you find
a publisher?" If I did not believe there were a number of
other, more valid reasons for presenting one's work on the Web,
my book in progress, The U.S.
Army and Irregular Warfare , would not be available for
I was already thinking about a Web publication when I visited
the home page of William F. Sharpe, winner of the Nobel Prize
in Economics. At that site I found something very encouraging,
an investment text that Professor Sharpe called "an Electronic
Work in Progress." As he said in his presentation of
the work on his Home Page, "In simpler times, this would
have been a book (either a textbook or a reference book, depending
on your point of view)."
Unlike Sharpe, I lack the credentials of a Nobel Laureate,
but we do have one thing in common. My work, like his, has appeared
piecemeal, over an extended period of time, and like Sharpe's
text, The U.S. Army and Irregular Warfare began as an electronic
work in progress. Still, the basic question remains to be answered:
Why publish on the Web?
- Web publication is virtually instantaneous. One can make
chapters available as they are completed, rather than waiting
until an entire work is in finished form. This aspect of Web
publication may be particularly appealing to authors working
on projects over a long period of time since it allows them to
see meaningful progress.
- Equally appealing, with Web publication one does not need
to go through the very time consuming process of finding a publisher
and seeing a work through the traditional publication process.
- Publication on the Web is virtually cost free, as is access
to readers. For scholars whose main concern is making their work
available, that is a distinct advantage. It is also particularly
advantageous to authors who wish to make their work available
- Web publication can bring virtually instant feedback from
readers, through e-mail, creating an ongoing dialogue between
author and reader. Such feedback, combined with the other attributes
of Web publication, makes revision easier and, as a result, more
- Whether traditional scholars like it or not, for many students
and younger individuals in general, the Web and not the library
is the first and sometimes the only place one goes for information.
If that is the case, then the Web may well be the preferred place
of publication for authors who want to maximize the chances of
their work being read. More significant, perhaps, the tendency
of people to draw information primarily from the Web is likely
to increase in the future, and if scholars eschew Web publication
through some misdirected sense of what constitutes legitimate
scholarly work they will surrender a very powerful medium of
communication to others.
To be candid, however, I must admit to having at least one
additional motive for deciding to publish on the Web. As a tenured
professor at a small college, I am under no pressure to publish.
Many of my younger colleagues in history and other departments
are not so fortunate. If they are to fulfill the expectations
often set for them, then they will need opportunities to get their
work before their peers, and Web publication is one way to do
that. It will not be considered valuable, however, until other
scholars pave the way, making Web publication a legitimate endeavor
worthy of rewards comparable to those accompanying publication
in more traditional forms. With luck, I will help to achieve that
kind of recognition for faculty members at this and other institutions
by having chosen to present my work as I have here.
Publishing on the Web does present at least two problems for
- Copyright infringement is one potential problem, but a minor
one for authors who are not particularly concerned with material
rewards. A greater worry is plagiarism, in which credit for the
work published on the Web may be transferred to an undeserving
plagiarist. I want my work disseminated, but I also want to receive
the credit I deserve for having done the work.
- Dissemination of one's work on the Web is not predictable.
Search engines often appear to have minds of their own and users
familiar with traditional search techniques used in libraries
can get frustrated long before they find an author's work on
the Web. Over time, however, one can anticipate an improvement
in the skills of search engine users and designers that will
work to overcome this problem.
Web publication also creates a significant problem for readers.
Since many Web publications, including the one on this site, have
not gone through a process of peer review, how can a reader determine
the reliability of the information being viewed? In the case of
this specific site, I would like to think that any claim to value
for what is written in the electronic work found here is supported
by the following:
- I spent my career as an established faculty member at a well
regarded liberal arts college, as can be determined by the location
of my Web pages at The College
of Wooster's Web site.
- My work is complete with footnote references to enable readers
to judge my scholarship and the evidence for themselves.
- For large sections of many of the chapters in The U.S.
Army and Irregular Warfare peer review has already taken
place, although that is not something one should expect of most
- Readers wishing to evaluate my scholarship further may look
at other publications not on the Web (see list
of selected publications)
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Last updated: Nov. 2002
John M. Gates firstname.lastname@example.org