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06/05/2017

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Tim

Minor detail: Analysis (now?) allows up to 4k, https://academic.oup.com/analysis/pages/General_Instructions

Marcus Arvan

Great post, Helen! As someone who tends to write works on the long side and continually runs up against word limits (for reasons given below), I'm inclined to think journals should be more open to longer works. Given the costs involved (longer papers require more work by referees, more pages in printed journals, etc.), I'm fine with holding longer works to a higher standard. Nevertheless, I think more journals should be open to them than at present.

The way I see it, there are different types of philosophers and philosophical work worth doing. Although most of us probable fall somewhere along a continuum, I think there are broadly two types of thinkers: 'lumpers' and 'splitters.' (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lumpers_and_splitters ). Whereas splitters excel at small nuts-and-bolts type problems, lumpers are better at the big picture, developing systems, unifying diverse phenomena, "seeing the forest for the trees" as it were. Because both types of work can have an important role to play in any avenue of inquiry, I'm inclined to think that a healthy discipline should encourage them both. Alas, I think relatively low word-limits bias the discipline in favor of splitters. Indeed, I was always taught as an early-career person that a publishable article should focus on rigorously defending "one original point", no more and no less. While this kind of nuts-and-bolts type work is important, low word-limits can deter authors from attempting more ambitious, systematizing work. I've sometimes heard it said that a large piece of work can always be broken down into shorter articles--but I think this is just false. Sometimes it is only by laying out a big system--one which can have a lot of moving parts, and require a lot of words--that one can demonstrate to readers why the system is worth taking seriously and thinking about further. If as an author you tried to present one part of the system all on its lonesome, it might seem a lot less persuasive than in the context of a larger work. For instance, when I initially composed my 2013 paper, "A New Theory of Free Will" (which is over 18,000 words), I sent it to a couple of friends for feedback. Each of them suggested breaking it down into smaller bits. Yet, I felt then--and feel the same now--that that would have been a mistake. The whole point of the paper is that the entire system it lays out solves/unifies a lot of different problems. That crucial thrust of its argument would have been difficult, if not impossible, to make if I had tried to break it down into smaller articles.

I sometimes hear people say that longer works are more suitable for books--but I think this is wrong too, for multiple reasons. First, some pieces may be too long for journal word limits but much too short for a book. Second, the book-publishing process is far longer and much more involved than simply publishing a long article. Consequently, I think it's best for there to be ample space in journals for long articles. I also think that this is probably increasingly feasible as more journals move online--as, in an online format, there is a less of an issue of "taking up journal pages" with a long article.

Anyway, I suspect there are some out there who don't like long articles. Still, I think more journals allowing them would be a good idea. I've heard many people say recently that published articles in philosophy all follow the same format, etc.--expressing the wish that there was more diversity in form and length. I think there has been some good progress here, with the Journal of the APA and some other journals seemingly publishing some more unorthodox things lately, which I very much like.

In any case, I'm fine with holding long papers to higher standards. I just think the discipline move further in the direction of evaluating each work for what it is, rather than (fairly arbitrarily) imposing stiff word-limits at the first step.

Amanda

I consider myself much more of a lumper, but I still write short articles. I wish there were more journals like analysis. Actually I think Helen makes a great point that in general there should be more places for works of all lengths. That is why I like some of the newer online journals that have no word requirements. (as far as I know) It is just silly to think that every philosophical idea takes 8k to explain.

Peter Furlong

Hi Helen,

Thanks for another thoughtful post. If it is alright, however, I was curious to ask about one of your passing comments. About monographs, you say "I've heard the sweet spot is between 75 and 90k." I was wondering if you could say more about that--how confident you are in that, how common that sweet spot is among different publishers. Obviously your comment was a general one, but I was still wondering how confident you were in it as a general rule of thumb.

The only information I had came from the discussions with editors at Daily Nous (http://dailynous.com/2015/05/28/answers-from-academic-publishers/), where the following info was given: Cambridge 85,000-115,000, Oxford 80,000-120,000, and Princeton "should ideally stay south of 150,000 words, if not 120,000 words, or even better 100,000 words."

To my ears, this made it sound as if the sweet spot were closer to 90,000-100,000 than 75,000-90,000. This is, perhaps, not an overwhelming difference, but I don't think it is trivial either. I was just hoping to hear more from you (and others) since I don't have any experience in this area.

Helen De Cruz

Hi Peter (sorry for the great delay - chaotic elections here and forgot to respond). I think you might be right. It depends on the publisher. Bloomsbury Academic, for instance, wants 75-80k. MIT definitely wanted us to stay under 100k.

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