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Why do you publish? On the tensions between generating scientific knowledge and publication pressure

Nora Hangel (Department of History and Philosophy of Science and Medicine, Indiana University Bloomington, Bloomington, Indiana, USA)
Diana Schmidt-Pfister (Center of Excellence “Cultural Foundations of Integration”, University of Konstanz, Konstanz, Germany)

Aslib Journal of Information Management

ISSN: 2050-3806

Article publication date: 18 September 2017




The purpose of this paper is to examine researchers’ motivations to publish by comparing different career stages (PhD students; temporarily employed postdocs/new professors; scholars with permanent employment) with regard to epistemic, pragmatic, and personal motives.


This qualitative analysis is mainly based on semi-structured narrative interviews with 91 researchers in the humanities, social, and natural sciences, based at six renowned (anonymous) universities in Germany, the UK, and the USA. These narratives contain answers to the direct question “why do you publish?” as well as remarks on motivations to publish in relation to other questions and themes. The interdisciplinary interpretation is based on both sociological science studies and philosophy of science in practice.


At each career stage, epistemic, pragmatic, and personal motivations to publish are weighed differently. Confirming earlier studies, the authors find that PhD students and postdoctoral researchers in temporary positions mainly feel pressured to publish for career-related reasons. However, across status groups, researchers also want to publish in order to support collective knowledge generation.

Research limitations/implications

The sample of interviewees may be biased toward those interested in reflecting on their day-to-day work.

Social implications

Continuous and collective reflection is imperative for preventing uncritical internalization of pragmatic reasons to publish. Creating occasions for reflection is a task not only of researchers themselves, but also of administrators, funders, and other stakeholders.


Most studies have illuminated how researchers publish while adapting to or growing into the contemporary publish-or-perish culture. This paper addresses the rarely asked question why researchers publish at all.



Hangel, N. and Schmidt-Pfister, D. (2017), "Why do you publish? On the tensions between generating scientific knowledge and publication pressure", Aslib Journal of Information Management, Vol. 69 No. 5, pp. 529-544.



Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2017, Emerald Publishing Limited

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