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07/13/2018

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Benjamin LS Nelson

Hi Marcus, I think you're right about the need for diversity of length. Indeed, I think online journals should allow for short compressed articles that have subsections that can be decompressed into longer ones (using accordions).

Still, there is one thing I was curious about in this post. You wrote, in reference to your own project, that it would have been a waste of time to turn your project into a book. I'd love it if you could expand on that a bit. What makes you say that, and how can you tell? I ask because I'm writing a book pitch, and having second thoughts about whether or not to send the chapters to journals.

Marcus Arvan

Hi BLS: Thanks for weighing in!

I think about philosophy compositions in much the same way that I think about paintings or musical compositions. Some paintings can be expressed well on a small canvas. Others need to be the size of a portrait. Others still need to be the size of an entire wall or side of a building. Similar considerations go for musical compositions. A good pop song is ordinarily around 3 minutes. A good operatic prog rock song can be 10 minutes. A good symphony should be much longer.

In short, in philosophy--as in art--I think each project should effectively determine its own length. For example, in the case of my free will paper, a few people I consulted suggested I should try to break it up into several smaller papers. However, in my judgment, that would have entirely undermined the *point* of the paper, which is that the account unifies and provides a new explanation of a wide variety of philosophical and physical phenomena. Giving that argument, in my view, required around 19K words--no more, no less. So that is what I wrote, and luckily, I found a place willing to publish it.

I think the same goes for books. I've read some philosophy books recently that struck me as "stretched too thin"--as containing a lot of filler that wasn't really necessary. In these cases, I think what the project probably really called for was a really long article, not an entire book. Other projects, however, really do require 100K+ words, and so should in my view be books.

How can you tell how long a given philosophical work should be? I don't have any formula to offer, as I think the truth is essentially this: every project should be as long as its argument requires--no longer, no shorter. In every case, this requires judgment: on behalf of the author, and on behalf of those reading it (including reviewers and editors). For example, I wrote a really long piece this summer paper: one significantly longer than most journals consider, but much shorter than a traditional book. Why? Because, in my judgment, that's how many words it took to make the argument. I couldn't make the argument in fewer words. Conversely, while I probably could have expanded it into a normal full-length book, I think that would have been a disservice to the work, not to mention a disservice to readers. The sad thing in this case is that due to the length of the piece (again, it's far too long for most journals, and too short for most book publishers), there are hardly any places I can send it without, in my view, compromising the quality of the work.

My suggestion, as such, is that journals should simply be open to papers of many different lengths, letting the manuscripts speak for themselves. Does this make sense?

Anyway, can I ask about your uncertainty about your book pitch? What is it that you are uncertain about.

Sue

An option worth considering for manuscripts of around 30-50k words are the 'short' monograph series by Springer and Palgrave (there may be other presses doing sth similar). I recently decided to go for this format, and for the reasons Marcus explained. -- great series of blog posts, by the way.

Marcus Arvan

Hi Sue: Thanks for chiming in! Yes, that's the option I'm pursuing right now--and I think it's a good option.

But notice: in these cases, one only has *very* few chances to publish one's manuscript. Whereas one can in principle submit any given paper to literally dozens of journals, there are only a few book presses that publish short books--and, given rejection rates in general, this can discourage authors from writing such "medium length" compositions.

This is why I think it would be good for more journals to be at least "openminded" to longer manuscripts. While I think it is entirely legitimate (and wise) for journals to hold longer manuscripts to higher standards, a policy of at least considering such manuscripts would at least give authors more chances to publish this kind of work!

Benjamin LS Nelson

Thanks for the reply, Marcus. Appreciated.

I think there's got to be a lot more to be said about this. I understand you making the following points:
1. We have established compositional genres with conventional lengths (analogous to your pop songs, opera, etc).
2. Choice of genre is and ought to be a matter of discretion.
3. Nevertheless, people make bad choices of what genres to work in, based on the arguments they have.

Judgments about (3) are leveraged against the Gricean maxim of quantity. But then there's a problem, which is that applications of the maxim are based on subjective or relative presuppositions about what inferences need to be unpacked.

Your suggestion is that we concentrate on creating diverse venues for diverse genres (1), given the truth of (2). And that is a perfectly apt suggestion, and I agree with it. I really like smart approaches to pluralism in philosophy.

My worry is that your suggestion doesn't directly address (3), except perhaps insofar as reviewers and editors could tell the author to redirect their drafts to more suitable venues fitting a different genre. So, in contrast, my 'accordion' suggestion tackles (3) directly, because it forces the writer to accommodate the widest spectrum of readers, from the breezy to the reflexively anal. But there are other direct ways of addressing (3). e.g. -- I'm just spitballing here -- we could assume that if some conclusion has been published and defended in the last five years in a journal of note, then you are permitted (not obliged) to take that conclusion as a premise without arguing for it or expanding on it.

I am sure that diverse presuppositions of this sort are at work in the journals already. What is frustrating is that their principles are not explicit. Instead, authors are invited to read other recent essays in the journal and then identify the Gricean pattern by induction.

I guess these frustrations have to be related, in some way, to my current uncertainty about what to do with the monograph. I have a very clear idea about what makes my project distinctive and grounded. I also have a reasonably structured idea about its essential parts. I do not have a clear idea about what parts of that project need to be made explicit in order to attract their share of interest to the whole. So I guess my mind, out of nervousness, is telling me, "publish the chapters in journals as your Plan B", even though the experience of submitting to journals has so far been about as rewarding as playing rugby in the dark.

Marcus Arvan

Hi Benjamin: I guess I might have missed it the first time, but I guess I’m not exactly clear on your accordion proposal. Is the idea that you would have a regular paper (say, 6K words) that readers could click on sections to expand the document into a longer version (say, 15-20K words) if they wanted more detail. If so, that’s an interesting suggestion, though it’s unclear how to me how it would work in practice. I also like your spitball idea (permitting people to just appeal to conclusions already previously defended), but (A) it’s hard to get referees to adopt that presumption (or so I’ve found), and (B) some long papers aren’t long because they remsummarize arguments previously defended.

In any case, I guess I’m less concerned about (3) than you are. First, I don’t know many people who like to write really long papers—so I doubt journals will be overrun with really long papers, and if a long paper is bad or doesn’t need to be long then editors should feel free to desk-reject it and reviewers see fit to argue in their reviews that the author’s judgment was mistaken (in which case an author of a long paper might learn to avoid similar mistakes in the future). Second, mistakes of judgment are inevitable in this line of work. Sometimes people submit papers that clearly weren’t ready for review. Other times people make mistakes of failing to engage with relevant literature. And of course other times people write papers that are longer than they need to be. Yet people don’t always make mistakes. Sometimes people write long papers that are good. In all of these cases, I think it’s the job of authors to do their due diligence to avoid the relevant mistakes, and when they don’t, it’s the place of editors and reviewers to make it known to authors that a mistake has been made. My point is simply that journals shouldn’t throw out the proverbial baby with the bath water by adopting policies of not considering long pieces at all. The fact that journals that do consider long pieces (like AJP) make it known that standards are higher for longer papers seems to me sufficient to deter authors from writing and submitting long papers unnecessarily.

Finally, I guess I’m still not clear on your concerns about your manuscript. Here is what I would say: if it’s clear that your project needs to be a book—because the real power of the argument is it’s systematicity (and that systematicity requires 100K words), then try to publish it as a book. Otherwise, if you think you could be happy publishing it in parts as articles, do that. Or, if as seems to be the case you’re not sure, send out a proposal to publishers and let them decide. If they are interested, do the book. If not, publish a series of articles! This is pretty much my approach with my new project. A publisher was interested, so I’m giving it a go—but if that or no other book publishers work out, I’ll try the article route. Anyway, if you would like to chat about this privately, feel free to email me!

Pendaran

Honestly, I used to be of the position that the types of articles allowable by most journals is too restrictive (the 7000-10000 word article). However, now I'm not too sure. First, there are journals that publish longer pieces like Synthese. I have seen articles up to 40k words published by Synthese. Second, there are journals that will publish shorter response articles, e.g. Philosophia. There are journals that will only publish short pieces, e.g. Analysis and Thought. Third, most journals will work with you on length if the referees see a need for your article to be longer. I've had editors extend the length allowable. Finally, it's not like 7000-10000 words (the standard allowable lengths) can't be made to work for most papers. I've found that it's true that you can't do too much in 10k words, given how referees look for any excuse to reject you, but then again who wants to read a longer article than that! So, I guess I'm comfortable with the degree of diversity in article types currently. If anything referees should probably be more willing to give explorative pieces a chance, longer pieces that can't fill in all the holes but present interesting new ideas. This would allow for bigger ideas to be published without also having to be 40k words. However, keep in mind that you can publish a big idea in parts in separate related papers. And for really big ideas there are also books, although it seems most books these days are just compendiums of the author's published papers strung together with some extra content. I don't really get the point of this, although I guess it is convenient.

Amanda

Even analysis and thought papers are usually 3k. I like the suggestion of having a journal for 1-2k words, or having each journal allow some of those super short papers. Life is short, few of us have time to read a lot of long articles. And the literature reviews are boring and often unnecessary. I am not opposed to having *some* very long papers. I am doubtful we would need more than a very small number of them, or that many people would read them all the way through. One of my favorite philosophy papers is 25k, and even though it is one of my favorite papers, it is painfully too long. I think it would have been better at 10k.

Marcus Arvan

Amanda and Pendaran: thanks for weighing in. I have no doubt that 7-10K words works for most papers. My claims are merely that it doesn’t work for all papers—that some papers really need a great deal more than that—and that journals should therefore be open to longer papers.

Both of you express doubts about whether and to what extent people want to read long papers. For example Pendaran writes, “I've found that it's true that you can't do too much in 10k words, given how referees look for any excuse to reject you, but then again who wants to read a longer article than that!“ And Amanda writes, “I am doubtful we would need more than a very small number of them, or that many people would read them all the way through.”

I’ve often heard things like this, but (A) I want to read long papers, (B) I often read them all the way through and tend to find them much more exciting than standard papers, and (C) I’m having a hard time squaring your doubts with download numbers at philpapers. As I’m sure we all know, many papers have very few downloads. But take a look at my and Dorr’s papers referenced in the OP: they are among the most downloaded papers on philpapers. This suggests there is a significant number of people--perhaps far more than one might think--who want to read long papers.

So, sure, long papers should probably be rare—and probably will remain so, as I know few people who like writing such papers. Still, for all that, I just don’t see any clear evidence for the common claim that people don’t want to read them, whereas I do see some evidence for the idea that there is a market for them!

Pendaran

"But take a look at my and Dorr’s papers referenced in the OP: they are among the most downloaded papers on philpapers."

First, Dorr is kind of well-known (no?) and also philpaper downloads mean little. For example, my papers that are open access have small philpaper downloads but many more on the publisher's website. Plus we're citing one guy here. But maybe you should do a survey on your website?

Marcus Arvan

Hi Pendaran: I’m not sure why Dorr being well known is relevant, or why “paper downloads mean little”, or why it is necessary to run a survey to make the point that long papers sometimes generate quite a bit of interest and can be worth publishing in journals.

Sure, philpapers is only one website—but it’s also the most well known and presumably well trafficked repository for philosophy papers. And sure, Dorr and I are only two authors. But regardless, and regardless of how papers are downloaded elsewhere, these cases show that some very long papers are downloaded thousands of times. Even if these cases were rare (and I’m not sure they are, but I’ll concede it for the sake of argument), this suggests that large numbers of people at least *sometimes* have an interest in reading long papers. Why isn’t that decent enough evidence that long papers can be worth journals considering, especially given how many short papers seem relatively ignored by readers?

Pendaran

"Why isn’t that decent enough evidence that long papers can be worth journals considering, especially given how many short papers seem relatively ignored by readers?"

It's fine evidence of that but you have to show something stronger I think. I mean it is already possible for long papers to be published. What you need to show, I think, is that we need more venues for long papers.

Marcus Arvan

Hi Pendaran: it is possible, no doubt about it. The problem—speaking as an author who writes long papers—is that there are *very* few journals that will consider them. As we all know, the rejection rates of good journals are upwards of 90%. My most cited and engaged with philosophy paper was rejected from 14 journals, and as Jason Stanley related in a post i quoted a while back, some of his papers have had a similar fate. When I slave over a 15-20K+ word paper, as an author I am confronted with the fact that at most a handful of journals are likely to even consider it, and those that do typically make it clear that their standards are much higher for long papers. In short, whereas authors of normal papers can try their luck with literally dozens of journals, people who write really long papers have like maybe five journals to take a chance with, and after that they are out of luck. This disincentives long papers, I think needlessly so. Let’s give all different shapes and sizes of philosophy a fair shot. That’s all I’m suggesting, and I think the fact that long papers are sometimes important and evidently get read by large numbers of people are both reasons for journals to consider them! Whenever I write a long paper, I have a terribly difficult time even figuring out where I can send it, let alone get it accepted. It would just be nice if more journals were at least open to them.

Amanda

Marcus just because a paper was downloaded doesn't mean it was read all the way through! I will be the first to admit that I have read only parts of long papers, well, because they are long. I always download the whole thing. I also tend to think you are kind of an exception to the rule in a number of your work ethic patterns. Which is great, btw, I wish I had the patience for long papers.

Anyway, I don't disagree with your proposal. There should be some spots for very long papers. And many journals do say they will consider longer papers if the quality is very good. I think Ergo and Phil Imprint have no limits, right? Anyway I would be very happy if all journals allowed papers anywhere from 1.5k-40k words. If there is a word limit per issue, maybe some issues would have one very long paper and two very short ones. In general, if journals have limits on words per issue, they should not therefore have word limits or minimums on submitted papers.

Pendaran

I agree there aren’t many outlets for long papers and that this can make publishing a long paper difficult. However, a few points. 1. You can send a paper back to the same journal as long as a year or so has passed and it has been substantially revised. I’ve done it. I’ve even had a paper rejected by journal A and then a year later eventually accepted. So, why couldn’t you just circulate your long paper through the few journals that will consider it? Second, I’ve found that often when I have a long paper it’s possible to break it up into 2 shorter papers. I’ve found that this often doesn’t even take that much work. I’ve also often found that the longer paper wasn’t even necessary and one shorter paper can do 90% of the important work. Of course it’s entitely possible that someone could write a paper that really cannot be broken up well and really needs to be that length. I just think often this isn’t the case and when it is, well there are journals that will consider it. I don’t know Marcus. I guess when looking at all the serious problems our profession has this doesn’t really strike me as being on the radar. Haha! But I can understand why someone who likes to write long works would feel annoyed by the profession’s standards.

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