One of my philosopher-friends raised a question the other day on social media that has sort of been at the back of my mind for a while--namely, why do APA meeting paper-submission requirements restrict colloquium submissions to 3,000 words (and symposium papers to 5,000)? This might seem like a small issue, and in one sense it clearly is. But, for all that, I think it might be worth discussing. Are the APA's requirements preventing philosophical research from being considered and presented at its three annual meetings? Might APA programs be better with a change in policy? I don't know of any rigorous way to answer these questions, but I thought I might share a few thoughts to see what you all think.
One thing perhaps worth noting to begin with is that--or so I've heard--other academic disciplines tend to have very different submission standards for their big conferences. Apparently, some other disciplines merely require abstracts--some as short as 250 words, others significantly longer (e.g. 1,000 words). One obvious drawback with this alternative, for philosophy at least, would appear to be that it can be hard (or impossible?) to determine from an abstract whether a paper has a good philosophical argument. Another potential drawback is that allowing abstracts only would likely multiply the number of submissions the conference receives. However, there might be creative ways around these drawbacks. Some conferences I have presented at (including ones in other disciplines) initially require an abstract, but then require authors of selected abstracts to provide a full paper for review at a later date. This seems to me an attractive approach, at least on the face of it, as a conference committee could perhaps do a quick first cut based on a review of abstracts, only considering a much smaller subset of papers for full review. So, I'm curious, first: what do people think of this alternative? Are there are any other, potentially better options available that you can think of? Alternatively, do you think the APA's requirements are perfectly fine as-is?
Another fairly obvious concern about the above proposal is that such a method (abstracts for first cut, full papers invited for review) might have a significant proportion of false negatives: papers rejected at the abstract stage that, in reality, are really good full papers that might be included under the prevailing APA review process. While I think this is a legitimate concern, as with most things, one can only evaluate the costs and benefits of a practice relative to relevant contrast-classes--that is, relative to the other alternatives. Which brings me to the main point I think my social media friend was gesturing toward: namely, that the APA's current submission requirements have drawbacks of their own. By my lights, the biggest such drawback is that, by restricting colloquium submissions to 3,000 words and symposium submissions to 5,000 words, the current requirements likely prevent a lot of really good, interesting work from being presented at APA meetings. Given that APA meetings are the "flagship" conferences of our discipline, at least in the US--the primary national conferences that philosophers from all over the map travel to--this seems to me a real drawback indeed. All things being equal, it seems to me one should want an academic discipline's biggest conferences to include the best work possible, not deter people from submitting or make it prohibitively difficult for people to submit.
Now, I don't have any statistics to go on here--statistics regarding how many people don't submit because of the APA's requirements. So, a second thing I am wondering is this: do you find yourself deterred from submitting to APA meetings by the submission requirements? I'm curious to hear how people answer, but in any case here's mine: the requirements absolutely deter me from submitting. Aside from an invited paper I gave on a panel a couple of years ago, I've only ever presented at one APA (a submitting symposium piece way back in 2007), and almost never submit a paper at all. Further, on the few occasions I have submitted, I've found myself submitting papers I don't think are terribly good--typically, a short paper idea that I write up specifically for the conference, not one of my main paper projects. This is for a few reasons. First, by and large, when I write a philosophy paper, I simply try to write the best paper I can, letting the paper itself (e.g. the topic and argument) determine its necessary and appropriate length. Second, given my philosophical interests (I like to write on big, expansive topics), I find in increasingly difficult to write papers anywhere near short enough for the APA. Most of the papers I write are on the order of 10,000 words, often significantly longer--and, while some shortening is possible, there's just no viable way (as far as I can tell) to get most of them down to 5,000 words, let alone 3,000 (even if I were able to do so, speaking totally hypothetically, the relevant paper would be a vastly inferior piece of work!). These word-limits seem especially constraining given that the typical journal article is something like 7-10,000 words--which again, I take it, is why many other fields have abstract submissions (so that people can submit full, well-developed papers). In addition, such severely constrained word-limits also plausibly dispose APA meetings to feature a particular kind of philosophy paper--papers on "small" issues, as opposed to more ambitious pieces (which, in order to be any good, plausibly tend to require more space/words). Anyway, as someone who tends to write long-ish papers, I find the matter a bit frustrating. I would love to submit things for APA meetings, but I almost never find myself with a paper that I can round into anything close to the prevailing length requirements.
Now, of course, I know some people don't like long philosophy papers (though I couldn't differ more in my preferences!), and maybe there should be some word limit. Some papers may indeed be so long that they cannot be realistically discussed in an hour-long session, and take a prohibitive amount of time to read and review. I'm just wondering whether, in the interest of encouraging more people to submit more fully-developed work--and not deterring people who write long-ish papers from ever submitting--it might be worthwhile for the APA to consider alternatives to its current requirements.
Anyway, these are just some ruminations I had today after coming across my philosopher friend's social media post. Am I and my on social media in the wilderness here? Are APA paper requirements just fine as-is, or would you like to see some kind of change? What do you do you all think?