What is the process for publishing your paper in a top-ranking journal? The interview below provides an in-depth look at the paper submission process from a philosopher’s perspective. Jeanne Hoffman interviews IHS’s Philosophy Program Officer, Dr. Bill Glod to get his thoughts on getting papers written in the first place, what to do when the editors of a journal are taking months to make a decision, and how to go about revising and resubmitting your paper if necessary.
Read the interview below:
Jeanne Hoffman: Today is the first installment in our new series on the Journal Submission Process for each discipline. My first guest is IHS Program Officer, Dr. Bill Glod to talk about the Journal Submission Process in Philosophy. Welcome, and thanks for joining us.
Bill Glod: Well thanks for having me, I’m glad I just had to talk about Philosophy, I was starting to plan … well, I don’t know about other disciplines. I may not know about Philosophy either, but we’ll see.
Jeanne Hoffman: Let’s go a little earlier than the journal submission process. What about writing the article itself?
Bill Glod: That’s a good question.
Usually, during the early stages of the paper, I go wild, I just write down every crazy idea, crazy assertion in search of an argument that I can think of. There’s no holds barred on what is actually a crazy idea. So I want to gather as much of those as possible. I’ll scrap most of them, of course, but they will give me somewhat of an idea, sort of how the paper, the direction it’s going to go and some of the particulars, hopefully, original insights. I don’t think you can have much originality without getting crazy stuff down first. So that’s the first stage.
I actually don’t do a ton of reading either. I prefer writing so much more, and so I usually, when I’m planning about a particular paper I want to write, a journal article usually, I want to limit my engagement to about two inter-lockers. These are two particular authors or topics to use as sort of the foil of my article. Preferably these are things that have been published as recent articles in high tier journals, maybe the highest tier journal in the discipline. And articles defending some particular thesis that I want to rebut.
I think it’s good to mention I try to avoid devoting an entire article to rebutting one author’s claims unless that author is sort of the top expert in his or her field. Journals typically like you to focus on two, at least two authors, two topics. It’ll only really make sense to focus on one author’s topic if you are following up on an article within the particular issue of a journal, but that’s usually a smaller article, not a feature-length kind of 20 page thing.
Jeanne Hoffman: So then since you kind of do your writing first, do you go back and do your citations after you looked up sources afterwards? What’s your process for that?
Bill Glod: What I try to do is extract the quotations from the articles that I’m going to address, especially the specific quotations that will be my biggest challenge. Of course, I want to frame the foil’s arguments in the best possible light. As far as going back and citing things, that’s usually the last stage of the process. I have the articles gathered, I have the page numbers sort of parenthetically marked beside them. I try to avoid populating every footnote with as many citations as I can find. That may be a sign that you’re a well read scholar or it may be a sign that you’re trying too hard, so I think in some cases … I’ve never had an issue with let’s say referees saying, “well you didn’t cite enough stuff”. There may be other issues that I’ve had with papers that referees have found, but it’s not been a matter of the citation.
As far as going back and citing things, that’s usually the last stage of the process. I have the articles gathered, I have the page numbers sort of parenthetically marked beside them. One thing I try to avoid is populating every footnote with as many citations as I can find. That may be a sign that you’re a well-read scholar or it may be a sign that you’re trying too hard. I’ve never had an issue with let’s say referees saying, “well you didn’t cite enough stuff.” There may be other issues that I’ve had with papers that referees have found, but it’s not been a matter of the citation.
Unless your discipline or something about the nature of your paper requires a lot of citations, don’t go out of your way to do it. There are opportunity costs.
Jeanne Hoffman: What about revisions? I know the average highly intelligent person coming out of college is probably used to being able to throw together a stream of consciousness paper for a professor and getting an A. What about in grad school and beyond?
Bill Glod: I’m not smart enough to do that at a sophisticated level. I know some people who have that ability, but I rewrite the same paper over and over. Not every revision is sort of a whole scale reconstruction, but I usually for an article that makes it into print, I’ve rewritten the thing in some degree at least two dozen times. Now I like to kill trees sometimes, I like to sort of walk around with a paper and mark it up and things like that and do like a print out a new copy once I’ve made the revisions of the previous marked up copy, but I’ll do that about two dozen times at least for any paper because there’s always something new to find.
Something I forgot to mention from earlier is when I’m engaging the particular authors that I want to critique, I try to be Socratic. I try to give an internal critique of their arguments, so as much as possible. So I say well, they have this particular premise that I share with them, but I think that that premise actually leads to different conclusions than they support. I think that’s a really powerful way to engage people who disagree with you on a particular issue without just butting heads. If you don’t have any common ground with the person you’re critiquing, not only is it just not an interesting paper, it doesn’t really advance anything and it doesn’t really convince anybody so I try to do that as much as possible.
I also try to look for volunteers to read my papers at various stages of completion. So I don’t want to wait to share a polished piece because I want to know early on if I’m barking up the wrong tree. If readers think I’m just wasting my time with a silly argument or if it’s a topic that nobody cares about or if it’s a topic that’s already been addressed that I wasn’t aware of, then I try to sort of nip that in the bud so I’m not wasting time and stuff like that.
I want somebody’s input on whether I’m making an original argument or not.
Jeanne Hoffman: How do you know that the article is ready for submission and that you should send it off?
Bill Glod: Sometimes it comes from somebody, external pair of eyes who can say “this looks ready to ship off” and sometimes it’s just once you’ve been doing this long enough, it’s sort of an intuition that you have. So there’s no sort of hard-and-fast set of criteria for determining when is this ready to go out, but I would say that you shouldn’t tinker with a paper endlessly. Once it feels roughly finished, then I think that’s when you should submit it. Then let the referees be the unpaid research assistants. If you spend so much time tinkering with the paper that the marginal benefits of that are far outweighed by the cost of it sitting there gathering dust on your desk. Get it out for review. If there are substantive changes that need to be made to your argument, good referees will be able to highlight that.
Jeanne Hoffman: For law, when you’re submitting an article, you’re allowed to simultaneously submit to journals. I know that isn’t true for Philosophy. What’s the process that you have to go through and what do you need to think about when submitting an article?
Bill Glod: Well, that’s true, you can only submit to one journal at a time. The Philosophy journal world is pretty small and if you get a reputation for submitting your article to multiple journals, you’re going to be blacklisted.
Now as far as the actual submission process itself, it varies by journal-to-journal. So you can find information about journal turnaround times, there are Wiki links, there’s a Philosophy journal Wiki on that. The link doesn’t come to mind but I think we could probably chase it down and include it with this. But as far as the particular process goes, it will depend. Some journals have really quick turnaround times, two to three months, where the referees will get you the feedback and it’s rejected, revised or you know, the ask for a revision or it’s accepted.
Typically, it’s rare to get a straight up acceptance after three months, but it’s been known to happen. That’s sort of the first stage.
I like to keep a list of my working papers. So I have about four or five working papers right now at various stages of completion. I also like to keep on that same piece of paper the list of articles that I’ve already published just to remind myself that it can be done. Just to have that all out in front of me helps give me an idea of what my goals are near term and longer term. This way, like I said, I have five working papers at various stages of completion. Some are maybe, I think ready within a few weeks and some other ones are probably not going to be ready until next year, but having that there I think is valuable to have and I always cycle the papers that I work on. I don’t try to work on the same one until it drives me nuts. I sort of take a break and then work on a different one and then come back to the original one. Oftentimes I find that I have a fresh take on the paper that I didn’t have before once I returned to it.
As far as what journals one should aim for, what I try to do is aim for the higher tier, mainstream journals in my field. I don’t care about quick turnaround times and I think people get too hung up on quick turnaround times. Now it’s easy to say when you’re going on the job market and you want to get that publication line on your CV and you’re tempted to say “well, this journal isn’t as highly ranked as this other one, but it has a quicker turnaround time.”
I would recommend getting into the mindset of not concerning yourself too much with turnaround times. I know that some of the better journals out there will tend to take longer, but I think you should still aim high. Don’t give up the chance to publish in Ethics, the Journal Ethics, just for the sake of a quicker turnaround time.
So that’s as far as what to aim for, I think you should definitely look at the journal ranking and discount the value of the turnaround time.
Jeanne Hoffman: What about looking at those high ranking journals and trying to figure out which one you should submit to if they’re all good, and they have a three to four month turnaround time, what should I aim for? Which one should I look at?
Speaker 2: It depends on your topic. You’ll know which journals are sort of the best for your particular specialty, so if you’re writing an article on ethics, you can aim for Journal of Philosophy, getting it published there or Phil Review or things like that. Those are going to be great places to get published. Those are overall generally very highly ranked journals. But also Ethics, the main journal for Ethical Philosophy, Journal of Political Philosophy, those are some of the really top things and there’s pretty much a consensus that those are some of the top journals in a particular field.
For instance, ethics or political Philosophy, that knowledge is out there, but I think that in some cases, it would help you if you’re not able to get your paper into the big guns, knowing who’s on the editorial board can often be helpful information. You should take a look at all the journals, they’ll list their various editors and if you see people whose work you like and you want to try to get your work in front of them, then familiarity with who’s on a particular journal’s editorial board will possibly increase your chances.
Also, I think something helpful to do when you submit your paper is to be helpful to the editor. As an editor at a journal, one of the hardest things to find sometimes is a referee who is qualified enough, an expert on the topic who can give quality feedback on your submission, but oftentimes, the editor doesn’t know who this person is or not only that, they don’t know who to identify who would be reliable at giving feedback.
So if you know somebody who might be able to do this, then it doesn’t hurt to suggest some possible referees for you paper. Now you need to be ethical about this. If this person knows it’s your work when they get it in front of them, then it’s no longer a blind review process. But if you know some people in your field who, if you had your choice, you would like them to see your paper, then it doesn’t hurt to suggest some possible referees to the editor and just sort of help him along and say hey, this person’s not familiar with my work, they wouldn’t know it’s me, so if you’re looking for somebody, these are some possible names that you might consider cause again, editors will appreciate that.
Of course, the can always decide to pick their own, so that input isn’t really going to sway anything negatively or unethically. It’s not sleazy to do that.
Jeanne Hoffman: If I sent a paper off, five months goes by, I haven’t heard a thing, what do I do, given that I signed that contract is my paper basically on hold until they get back to me?
Bill Glod: Your paper is your property, you can remove it at any time. So if you don’t like that a journal’s taking too long, or if they’re not being straight with you, you can decide, “I’m going to shop it somewhere else.” Hopefully, that doesn’t happen, but if you find yourself in that situation, they can’t hold your paper hostage.
Usually what journals do when you submit the paper is to say, “Thanks, you’ll hear back, we hope to have a verdict within three or four months.” So I would say that if those months go by and you haven’t heard anything, it’s fine to make a polite inquiry. Now, don’t be annoying. Don’t make an inquiry eight weeks after you’ve submitted your paper and say, “Have you got it yet?” That will just give them a reason to reject your paper.
If you still want to keep your paper at a journal and it’s taking longer than you’d like and that happens a lot, cause a lot of times the editors are trying to find referees, I would say a polite inquiry if you haven’t heard anything in four or five months is perfectly acceptable and professional thing to do.
Jeanne Hoffman: What’s the difference between a revise and a resubmit and a conditional acceptance?
Speaker 2: Oh, okay, that’s a good question. A revise and resubmit usually involves there needing to be a more substantive change to your paper, so maybe one or both of the referees thinks “this paper is promising, I think it’s possibly on its way to being published, but there’s some, at least one perhaps major issue or problem in the argument that you need to address as the author” to the referee’s satisfaction. So I think that revised resubmits tend to call for more substantive changes. Conditional acceptances are basically ones where they say “we will publish your paper.” You just need to address a couple of things here or there, and they tend to be minor suggestions. I think that’s the main difference.
Now revise and resubmit is nothing to hang your head about. Of course, it’s a lot of work, in many cases to have to address the referee’s concerns, but I would say about 60 to 70 percent of revise resubmits end up being accepted if you do decide to resubmit them.
Jeanne Hoffman: Do you think people always put the work into revise and resubmit so is the 60, 70 based on whatever people send in or if you really dedicate yourself to following the referee’s suggestions, do you think you have a higher chance?
Bill Glod: That’s a good question. I think that at least the last two revise resubmits that I’ve gotten have all eventually been accepted, both of them were eventually accepted. But I did put a lot of work in. In some ca, es it seems like it’s more work than what you put into the original article because you want to get this thing right and you want to address the referee’s concerns, if they are valid concerns. A lot of times there’s additional work involved because what the request is for you to have a separate sheet where you go through each of the referees concerns and then explain how you addressed them in the paper. But it really depends. Some people literally just mail in their resubmissions, and I’m sure that doesn’t help their cause.
I’ve found that as long as you’re earnest and you think that the referee suggestions and the revisions have made this a better paper, it’s recognizably your own and you’re still defending a thesis that you want to defend. Then you have really good chances of placing the paper once you’ve worked hard at revising it.
Jeanne Hoffman: So in conditional acceptances, if the ref says “you just need to do this one thing and your paper’s published,” and I think the ref is wrong, do I have any leeway on that or do I have to withdraw my paper at that point?
Bill Glod: I think it depends on the editor, I mean if you’re just upfront and honest and say look if I do this suggestion, I think it’s going to change the paper, then it depends. The editor might say, “Okay, I understand that,” because they still might want to publish your article, right? You have some leverage here.
But again, it depends upon the nature of what they think needs to be changed and if in your mind the change affects or degrades the integrity of your paper or changes your argument. In the end, it’s your work that you want to publish. You don’t want to get a publication line defending an argument that isn’t you, that isn’t what you earnestly believe.
Otherwise, what’s the point? You’re basically just writing a fraud paper.
Jeanne Hoffman: Let’s say I’m about two years from going on the job market and I have this paper I really want to get published and I’m hitting up the higher ranked journals, so I’d say that gives me maybe what, four to six submissions depending on how fast the turnaround time is in that time period. If I’m not getting any luck with those journals and I want to have something on my resume by the time I go on the job market, should I give up on the higher ranked journals and shoot lower and go for a sure thing or should I still continue to put the effort into the higher ranked journals?
Speaker 2: Well, I’m not sure if I have a directly satisfying answer to this question. I think it underscores the importance while you’re a grad student of getting papers under review early on in the process, so don’t wait until the year you go on the market. This is why I think it’s important from day one of your grad program to think about giving yourself the time to submit publishable, quality work and I think by that time if you aim for the top journals and they end up rejecting them while it goes through a process, hopefully you’ll get some feedback and even if it gets rejected at maybe the top three journals in your field, hopefully, you’ll have amassed enough feedback by then, you’ve had like six referees look at it, and maybe this paper will be so improved that maybe it will be able to get into a still a very good journal by the time you’re going on the market, so I think in a way, the response to the question is really preparation. You’re going to have to prepare. You need to prepare early on in your program so that you’re not facing this tough choice about well, I could submit to a lower ranked journal cause it has a quicker turnaround time. Try to avoid putting yourself in that position.
But it may depend upon what your advisor says in this matter. If they say look, you’re CV needs to have a couple of lines on it, then maybe, in this case, it would make sense to do that. But general, I would say that you should aim for the highest ranked places that you think your article has a chance of getting published in and then work down from there. Keep a rank ordering of five or six journals. If your paper gets rejected by one journal, you can send it right out to the next journal.
Whatever you do, just don’t hang your head too long over the rejection.
Jeanne Hoffman: Well thanks so much for joining us, Dr. Glod.
Bill Glod: Thank you.