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There are some suggestions (and discussion) here: http://www.newappsblog.com/2012/07/publishing-strategies-for-those-of-us-not-harvard-bound.html


I'm unsure about the second bit about writing in an "assured" way. In my own case, I tend to sound a bit too assured. The fact is, we're NOT established faculty--and if we write like we are, my fear is that it is a turn off. ("Who does this young punk think s/he is?") Maybe I'm wrong. But I know I'm not getting published as much as many peers from grad school (even though I was seen as the "favorite son" for most of my grad career).

Marcus Arvan

Well, I think there's a fine line between assured and "cocky grad student." My feeling is that people respond very positively to the former, but not to the latter. In fact, I was working on something today and veered into the cocky grad student realm. Just a few years ago, I would've had no idea I was doing that. Today, I recognized it, and I'm glad I did. My feeling is that it takes a great deal of practice and reflection to hit the right level of assuredness.

Trevor Hedberg

I think there's a practical reason not to simply "send a lot of stuff out." I understand that the spirit behind this idea, but it could backfire in the following way: if you're only concerned with getting things under review, you're probably more likely to send out papers that are less polished and developed than you otherwise would, meaning that they stand a greater chance of being rejected. I suspect a less cavalier attitude toward submitting to journals would optimize one's chances of getting published. Just as you lower your chances of getting something published if you rarely send anything to journals, you also lower your chances of getting something published if you submit lots of work that has significant shortcomings.

As framed, secret #1 suggests that your publishing chances are increased if you send 10 rushed works out to journals each year instead of sending out 1-2 exceptional works each year. Maybe that's true, but wouldn't sending out 4-5 very good works be a superior strategy to either of those alternatives?

Marcus Arvan

Trevor: maybe. But the people I got the advice from are both very well respected, and I don't think the advice has elicited worse work from me. It just got me doing *more* work, made me more efficient, and resulted in a lot of pubs (pubs that I, at least, am generally proud of). I don't mean to say that everyone should follow this advice, just that it not only seemed to work for the people who have it to me, but for me too after I started to follow it.

Marcus Arvan

Fwiw, I also wouldn't understand the advice as an invocation to do or send out half-assed work, just to be much more efficient and productive.


Marcus, I'm on board with both. I also publish a lot, and part of the reason is that I send out a lot -- like your friends, I typically have 5-10 papers under review at any time (never less than 5).

I'm not aiming for acceptance (even though 4 of my 7 papers so far were accepted with no revisions), I'm aiming for R+R. It's irrational to "polish" a paper before sending it out, because you have no idea what a referee will consider polished!

I just received word that another paper of mine is R+R'd. Great! But this paper was workshopped around more than my other papers. So it had a lot of feedback before it went to its first journal, and it was very "polished." And yet, the referees wanted a bunch of changes (that's what referees do!). And some of the changes involve *undoing* suggestions from others.

So I think people like Trevor have it wrong: it's not only irrational to "polish" a paper before sending it out (it should be "finished" but not perfect), you're probably going to have to undo some of that "polishing" anyway, since you're probably going to get an R+R if you're lucky. (Also, even if you have a paper accepted 'as is,' you have a chance to polish it and fix things.)

Marcus Arvan

Rachel: agreed on the polishing. I write stuff up, send it to a few conferences, revise in light of feedback, and send it right out. I don't think people who publish a lot waste time on "polishing." If a reviewer thinks the basic idea of the paper is good, they'll give it an RNR. If they don't, all the polishing in the world won't change their minds. Imho, the importance of polishing is something of a myth.


Marcus reports that he's very proud of the stuff he's published. That's awesome. Nevertheless, a worry with 1 is that you will get one of the many pieces you send out published and, looking back on it, you will not be proud of the work. But unlike seminar papers, your publications are, well, public. Better to send out a few polished, substantial pieces that you can be very proud of than several mediocre pieces that you might later regret.

The rush to publish is understandable given the current climate of our discipline. But it should be resisted. It's bad for the discipline, but it can also be bad for younger scholars. We get rushed to publish before we really have anything substantial to say.

The thought that you should send off a lot because it's probably going to get rejected anyway strikes me as the wrong way to look at things. There are lots of good journals, and if you write a substantial, well-thought out, polished piece, chances are that it will eventually get accepted in a good place.

Finally, FWIW my experience has been different from Rachel's. I've published a fair amount, and in good places. But I've never had more than two things out at once, and I always try to send stuff out that's very polished. And so far at least, referees have never requested me to substantially rework a piece that was very polished when I submitted it.

Marcus Arvan

Justin: point well-taken. How about this: it's all a matter of risk-aversion. Some of us (e.g. Rachel and I) are not so risk-averse, and so it makes sense for people like us to send lots of stuff out. But, for the more risk averse -- for those who want to make sure they only publish stuff they won't regret later on -- a more cautious approach might be warranted. Sound reasonable?


Justin: Why do you assume that those of us who send out 5-10 pieces at any given time aren producing mediocre work that we won't look back proudly upon? I've published 3 "substantial" pieces, all of which I'm proud as peach about, as well as 4 smaller pieces, ALL of which I'm very proud of.

Marcus Arvan

I really have to agree with the spirit of Rachel's question, as I think some people are operating with a false dilemma here.

The assumption is that you can either produce 2-5 pieces of good work a year or 7-10 mediocre pieces. My experience, for what it is worth, is that by spending far less time on "polishing", I'm simply producing *more* work per year of the very same quality I was before.

Maybe this isn't true of everyone -- but I do suspect (along with Rachel) that "polishing" is mostly time wasted. The simple fact is this. If your paper idea is any good, reviewers will think so. If your paper idea is crap, all of the polishing in the world won't make it anything but a turd. Better to write papers, and if you feel confident about the idea, to just send it off and move onto the next. Every minute you spend "polishing" is a minute you're not moving onto your next great idea.

Anyway, look, here's what I think is really going on. "Polishing" makes a lot of sense for grad students, in part I think because it's hard to learn how to put together a publishable paper. But I think things really change once you're out in the profession full-time, and know what it takes to publish. For me, I find that time spent polishing is *nothing* but diminishing returns. If the paper idea I've come up with is good, polishing isn't necessary -- as reviewers will accept it (I've published papers I'm very proud of after spending literally a week or two on them). On the other hand, if the paper idea is bad, then polishing is *also* a waste of time. I'll find out from reviewers that the paper's idea doesn't work, and so if I had wasted weeks or months polishing it, I've just wasted my time.

In short, I think polishing *may* make sense for grad students or those who haven't published yet (as it is a process for learning how to publish), but once you have published a few things, it has diminishing value.


Rachel (& Marcus): I never assumed that those of you who send out lots of stuff are producing mediocre work. No doubt many people are able to produce lots of good work simultaneously. But that's not true of everyone. My suggestion was simply that for many people there's a risk associated with adopting Marcus's 1.

My other main point was this. I do not think "it is irrational to "polish" a paper before sending it out, because you have no idea what a referee will consider polished!" Indeed, I think the opposite is (in most cases) probably true. The fact that referees ask you to change things needn't have anything to do with what they considered polished. Rather, it might simply have to do with (what they see as) a problem with your ideas. Polished and unpolished papers can have problems that need fixing. But the more polished, well thought out papers tend, in my experience, to have less problems and thus have a greater chance of acceptance.

Bottom line: quality over quantity. If you can do both great. For the rest of us, I advise focusing on the former.

Marcus Arvan

Justin: fair enough -- but here's a friendly wager. I'd be willing to bet that most people might surprise themselves if they *tried* producing a great deal more work, both in terms of quantity *and* quality.

When I was first given the advice by the two (very successful) individuals in question, I was a person who it took many months to produce what I thought was a good paper. I never thought I could produce anything near the quantity of what they did and have it be any good. However, when I actually *tried*, I was surprised. The more work I churned out, the *better* I think my work got.

I don't know why this is exactly, but I think it had something to do with the excitement of moving from project to project. Feeling like you're getting a ton done makes you work *harder*, not less hard -- whereas if you muck around "polishing" drafts all the time, you're not challenging yourself to think about new things on a day-to-day basis. Also, I think you'd be surprised how many times I figured out messed up things with a paper I had been working on because I was working on *another* paper. Spending too much time polishing a paper can mess up one's perspective. I often find that I only see what's wrong with a paper after I step away from it and work on something else.

Anyway, this is my general feeling: that people tend to assume that their usual way of doing things is optimal, when, if they tried something different, they would see that the alternative works much better.

So, here's what I say: maybe give the advice in (1) a *try*. You might just surprise yourself with how much work you can produce that you really think is good, without having to spend months agonizing over polishing things.

Marcus Arvan

Quick question to sort of change the subject. There's been a lot of discussion so far of the two "secrets" I mentioned in the post, but not a whole lot of other "secrets" offered. I don't know about you all, but it would be really nice to hear from some of those in our community who have been very successful what their "publishing secrets" are!

Marcus Arvan

I realize that actually wasn't a question. ;) So, anyway, here it is: does anyone have any "publishing secrets" they think might be helpful to share?

Rob Gressis

I don't have a secret, just an observation: Marcus and Rachel have recommended always having 5-10 pieces out for review, whereas Justin has recommended 1-2 things out. My problem is this: I'd be rather surprised if I submit 10 pieces for publication to a peer-reviewed journal over the course of my entire life. The recommendation to have 5-10 pieces out rings to my ears like, "try to bench press between 500-1000 pounds." I wonder if I'm the only one who feels this way?

Marcus Arvan

Rob: perhaps some context would help. At the time I asked the two successful people who gave me the advice I describe in the post for their advice, I had no publications. I was desperate. Two years later, *still* before following their advice, I had only published two short replies and had only one full length piece under review that I had been polishing for a couple of years.

It was at this point that I *finally* followed through on the advice. I just stopped my previous, slow-grind style cold turkey. And what did I do? I just wrote stuff...a lot of it. One thing after another. That year I published five articles. It's not like asking someone to bench press 500 pounds. I wouldn't be relaying the advice if I thought it was unreasonable. The thing is: it looked incredible to me too!...before I actually tried it.


I don't have any insight into what the general trends are across reviewers. All I can say is that when I'm reviewing, I don't simply reason as follows:

"If your paper idea is any good, reviewers will think so. If your paper idea is crap, all of the polishing in the world won't make it anything but a turd."

Instead, I reject papers because they are too unpolished, even if I like the ideas in the paper. I'll typically try to be encouraging about the paper's prospects when it is properly published, and say the paper was submitted before it was ready to do so.

To clarify, in particular "polish" for me turns particularly on (i) how developed ideas and arguments are; and (ii) how well written the prose is.

When I do this, I'm partly making a prediction about whether I think the paper could get up to a publishable level of polish with a round of revising and resubmitting. Some papers are too far away.

I'm also thinking about what revisions I would be asking for. I write extensive reviewer comments, but with an unpolished paper I rarely can cover all the things I think need changing for the paper to be publishable. And if I say you need to change X, Y and Z, and the author changes X, Y and Z, then I'm under pressure to accept the paper, even if I also have worries about P, Q and R.

So my own publishing secret is that if someone hasn't read a couple of these general "how to write with style" books, then they get a few out of the library, and read them cover to cover. It's amazing to me that we are in a writing-based profession, and so many researchers spend very little time researching this (even though they'll happily spend hours and hours on the philosophy they're interested in).

In my own research, I publish a lot, and that's because I have a very high acceptance rate. I suspect that this is because of how much time I spend polishing papers. I think this has also significantly developed my own writing skills: after so much effort spent on revisions, now my first-drafts are significantly more polished. I'm mentally correcting mistakes before I make them on page.

The bottom line is a reviewer needs to decide: should this paper be published in this journal? The more a paper resembles a published paper, the easier it is to persuade them that it should be.

Marcus Arvan

Reviewer: I guess I stand corrected! At the same time, what you're saying isn't entirely inconsistent with what I've been maintaining. Like you, I used to spend a great deal of time making revisions (I rewrote my first dissertation from scratch about forty times...and it still sucks), but, over time, I've become much better at writing good first drafts.

Maybe that's the real takeaway. Spending a ton of time polishing/revising makes a great deal of sense early on in one's career (as one learns what a publishable paper looks like), but then, after a great deal of practice, one needs to spend less and less time polishing. Sounds right to me.

Philip Kremer

Regarding the difference between writing like a faculty member and writing like a grad student: if you send your work to a blind-refereed journal, then the reviewer won't think "Who does this young punk think s/he is?", since the reviewer will have no idea who you are. (I might add that the reviewer may well be a grad student or junior faculty member herself.)


Marcus, for all I really know, the majority of reviewers may fit your description, and I may be the anomaly. My guess is that there's a lot of variety among reviewers, but it's also my guess that papers whose ideas & arguments are more developed, and which are better written, stand a better chance of getting an r&r or acceptance.


Certainly, one thing it takes to write the 10 or so articles I write each year is some skill in writing good first drafts. Most papers go to journals as 4th or 5th drafts. (Some go as 2nd drafts, if they're short.)

Publishing is definitely a skill, and it's a skill one can develop.

The key is just to write, a lot. When I'm in my routine, I write 1000-1500 words, everyday. It doesn't have to be great, as long as I'm writing. That gives me a lot of material after just a week or two of writing. And I get an article (or book chapter) each month, "polished" enough to send to a journal.


In response to Marcus's request for more secrets: One (open) secret to responding to an R&R: write a cover letter responding to each reviewer, and to each of their points. Many online review systems now offer a feature designed for this purpose. But even where your chosen journal uses an email-based review system, attach an extra document, or write out an email enumerating your responses.

Rob Gressis

Hi Marcus,

So, some context:

I've got a 4/4 teaching load (although I've managed to get time off a lot, so I've had to teach four courses only three times in ten semesters; most of the time, I teach three courses with two preps), and I tend to spend a lot of time preparing notes for my students to understand the readings I assign them, or to prepare PowerPoints for them. In my five years at my university, I've developed ten new preps, and that might be understating things a bit because I tend not to just use the same preparation for a course I've taught before (e.g., if I teach into in the spring, I tend to teach a different version of intro in the fall). I don't teach over summers.

I've tried the approach where I try to write something every day, and have an Excel spreadsheet of how well I'm doing, but I abandoned it pretty quickly. I've tried to use the technique where I have to do a certain amount of hours of work in a day (else I have to donate money to a cause I don't like) but I never go through with it when I fail to meet my goal, and I find that prepping for teaching takes up most of that time anyway.

When I'm writing, the area where I really get bogged down is plumbing the secondary literature so I can include lots of citations in my paper to prove to people that I know what I'm talking about. The one time I tried to write in an assured way, my paper was rejected because it didn't have enough references.

I also tend to get distracted by stupid flash video games a lot.

Rob Gressis

Oh, and the fact that I addressed the post to Marcus and not Rachel doesn't mean that I don't appreciate Rachel's follow-up post. It's just that Marcus was the one who asked for context.

Marcus Arvan

Hi Rob: Thanks for sharing your situation. I both sympathize and empathize with it. I have a 3/3, but it's really more like a 4/4 in a couple of respects. First, classes at my school are much longer than at every other school I've ever taught at (2 hours per day T/Th!) -- so I have a *lot* more prep than in a 3/3. I also teach a freshman "transition to college" class on Fridays. Further, I've typically had 2 new preps a semester, as my department doesn't like us to just teach the same courses over and over again (we're a department of only 3 in a school of 6,500 students!). Also, like you, I tend not to just rely on past lectures. I re-prep for most of my courses from semester to semester. Finally, I have a ton of extra-curricular responsibilities (coaching debate teams, advising students, etc.).

All of this has made it *extremely* hard to do research. This is in large part why I stopped my previous "slow grind" style of doing things. I just wasn't publishing enough. I had to adapt. So, as I've described in this and in previous posts, I changed my entire philosophy of how to do research. Instead of spending weeks to months writing drafts, I would literally write entire drafts of a paper in a couple of days. I know it sounds crazy, but after doing philosophy for nearly 20 years I discovered that if you trust yourself, it's possible to do a decent job of it -- and way more time-effective.

As to the specific problems you're facing, here's some advice (which is truly well-meant):

(1) Stop worrying about how much you're writing -- and how good you think your stuff is -- and *just write*. This has been one of the most crucial things for me. Grad school "tightened me up" so much (made me so self-critical) that it became counterproductive. Just let yourself *go*. Write, write fast, and just "go for it." It may sound crazy, but for me it was crazy-*liberating*. I got so desperate because I wasn't publishing that I just said to myself, "Screw it, I'm going to trust my philosophical instincts and just *go*." Many publications followed. So, perhaps, if you're where I was, it might be worth giving it a try. Don't punish yourself (by keeping an Excel file or forcing yourself to give to charity). LIBERATE yourself.

(2) I think you might be worrying too much about what certain reviewer(s) think. Just because *one* reviewer gets pissed off that you don't cite the literature a lot doesn't mean that all will. I've gotten that kind of brutal, "This guy doesn't know the literature", thing from reviewers before. But you know what: sometimes (though not always) I just think they're being unreasonable -- particularly if I've written a paper that I don't think *needs* to cite certain parts of the literature. In my experience, you really have to decide for yourself which reviewers are reasonable and which aren't -- and just keep sending out your paper! Trust me, I've been told this by many. By the law of averages, 95% of reviewers will reject your paper even if it's pretty good. They're looking for things to reject. A lot of the publishing game is luck. You just need to keep sending stuff out until you get two *sympathetic* reviewers!

In short, my experience is: worry less about what reviewers say, trust *your* philosophical instincts, and keep sending stuff out -- and a lot of it. Good things will most likely happen.

Dan Dennis

You say 'some commenters over the Smoker argued that we all have a duty to not clog up the peer-review system with second-rate papers. Personally, I don't think we have any such duty. I simply don't see any good ethical grounds for thinking we do'

I don't understand what you do not understand. Do you not think we have a responsibility towards other philosophers, both those trying to publish and those doing the reviewing, and to the publishing process?

If you drop litter it may benefit you because you do not have to carry it around, but disbenefits the community. Unless everyone does it, in which case you also suffer. If you evade paying taxes it benefits you but disbenefits the community. Unless everyone does it in which case you also suffer. Is the issue in question not analogous?

Of course some people, of which you and Rachel may for all I know be ones, write only first rate papers. They can send out as many papers as they wish with a light heart and pure conscience. Most people are not so blessed. For them, if they seek to be ethical, a balance needs to be struck.

(And I readily admit I have not got that balance right myself - I can't remember last time I sent off a paper, but I have more than half a dozen papers which for many months I have been thinking I will polish a little more before sending off... So people such as I need to be a little less risk averse...)


Dan: I think there's a big assumption behind the "clog up the peer-review system" comment, which is that those of us who send out a lot of papers (>5 at any given time) are sending out bad papers. I think that people who make that comment are of the sort who only have 1-2 out at any time, and they just flat-out don't understand how anyone could have 10 under review, all of the same high quality.

It's a bad assumption, though. I'm not clogging up the system: I'm sending out lots of good work, and there's a reason I publish a lot.

I completely agree with Marcus's response to Rob: some referees are just stupid! One of my areas of research is on the norms of assertion. I submitted a short paper (eventually published with no revisions) to one journal, and the referee said that they found the central example completely compelling (the WHOLE paper was that example, by the way), but they had a bunch of questions they wanted answered: what is assertion? is it a mental state?

Wait...is assertion a mental state?! Are you kidding me? I was still (barely) a grad student at the time, and my advisers nearly did a spit-take at the stupidity of the review.

IT HAPPENS! We're all going to get stupid reviews. One of the problems with our publishing industry is the high rejection rates. Rejection rates >70% are almost unheard of in the rest of academe! Rates >90% (which is true for the "top 10") just don't exist (for the most part) outside of philosophy. And worse yet, those journals *aim* for those rejection rates -- they wear it as a badge! I review for some of these journals, and they explicitly say that they want reviewers to look for excuses to reject the article. They're almost disincentivizing R+R recommendations.

Marcus is right: even assuming you have a great paper, rejection rates are still >70% for most top journals. I've had a paper rejected from "top 20" journals later to be accepted by a "top 10." It's all messed up. It's thus partly a numbers game. If you want to publish 1-2 articles per year, you need a heck of a lot more than 1-2 articles out at any given time! 5 is a good number.

In the spirit of this thread, here's one of *my* secrets (this may not work for others): I need to have multiple projects in preparation at any given time. So not only do I have 5-10 under review at a time, I also need 2-4 in preparation at any time. I do this because I don't like being stuck. If I get stuck, I just move onto a different project. BUT I always come back to finish the project I was stuck on. This works really well for me...maybe it'll work for you.

This is how I wrote 3-4 articles in addition to my dissertation (all in about 8 months). If I had an idea that excited me, I put aside the dissertation, spent 1-2 weeks on the new paper, finished it, and then went back to work on the other project. I think staying excited about philosophy keeps me productive.

So I don't feel obligated to finish a paper -- like a child and her vegetables at dinner -- before I start another project. If I'm excited, I'm productive. I've learned to trust myself that I'll return to the original project. And if I don't...who cares? I've dropped a couple projects because I just lost interest in them, or I felt like making them work would be just too much work to be worth it. That's okay too.

Just try a bunch of different techniques, and keep what works, leave aside what doesn't. There's no "one way" to do this.

Marcus Arvan

Dan: I still do not see any grounds. The simple answer to your main question is no: I don't think we have obligations to other philosophers to not inconvenience them. Here's why. Your question seems to presuppose some kind of obligation of fairness (it's unfair to litter and expect other people to pick it up). But duties of fairness, as I see it, are only triggered by cooperative schemes for mutual advantage -- which academic philosophy is *not*. Academic philosophy is a competitive endeavor where there are winners and losers. Winners get and keep TT jobs. Losers are out of a job. So, the littering analogy is a bad one. We do not compete for clean roads. We cooperative collectively for them in a scheme of mutual advantage -- which makes it unfair to litter. We do compete for jobs. In a competitive environment like ours, my main duty is to my family to get and keep a good job, not make others lives easier.

elisa freschi

I have to admit that I work primarily in a field (Indian philosophy) out of which very few papers are admitted on Mind, etc. Thus, my whole judgement my look biased (and be so).
However, I feel like we were only discussing about how to get as many papers published as possible and not on the real topic, i.e., how to contribute to the philosophical discussion in a meaningful way. If the former is our purpose, then Rachel is right, and we just have to write as much as possible, since chances are there, that all our papers will be accepted or that many will not, with no logical reason (this does not mean to say that Rachel's articles are not awesome, they probably are, I am just talking about the principle of "writing in any case" —possibly even before having checked whether someone else already solved the issue? This recently happened to me). But if we have the latter aim in view, then Dan Dennis' point seems to me very well-taken. Furthermore, since many of us, like me, will probably never achieve a professorship in a prestigious university, isn't it better to focus on something we can control (such as the quality of our contribution to the debate)?
Last, I wrote a post some months ago about my "secrets" (but it also focuses on the first aim, namely writing valid contributions): http://elisafreschi.blogspot.co.at/2012/10/should-you-publish-your-indological.html

elisa freschi

Marcus, after your last comment (answering to Dan), I am puzzled. Did not you advocate stronger links between adjuncts, so that they are not exploited? Don't you dedicate time and energy to collective enterprises such as this blog, which is by the way meant to support young philosophers, although they might one day be your competitors? Why do you now speak as if you were just coming out of Hobbes' Leviathan?

Marcus Arvan

Hi Elisa: Maybe, on second thought (since I'm not a Hobbesian!), I can admit that there is some duty. Here's what's really motivating me: I think that my duty to my family outweighs whatever duty I might have here. If I'm out of a job, it would create far, far more misery for my loved ones than whatever inconvenience my sending lots of papers might cause for others in the profession.

Dan Dennis

Rachel: You write ‘Dan: I think there's a big assumption behind the "clog up the peer-review system" comment, which is that those of us who send out a lot of papers (>5 at any given time) are sending out bad papers.’

As should be clear from my previous post, I am not someone who assumes this. Here is what I wrote : ‘Of course some people, of which you and Rachel may for all I know be ones, write only first rate papers. They can send out as many papers as they wish with a light heart and pure conscience.’

Though I don’t think that there are many people who can hold down a job and at the same time write, say, half a dozen first class papers per year….


OK, granted. I suppose I missed that part.

I guess I'm with Marcus, then: How is one to know whether one's work is "second rate" or not? I really don't think there are many people purposefully sending out work they think is second rate.

For the sake of argument, maybe one does have a *prima facie* duty not to send out known second rate work (to first rate journals), but such a duty, it seems to me, is certainly defeasible. There are all sorts of cases where one's other duties (such as to one's family, to one's career, etc.) overrides the prima facie duty. If I need two more articles to (all but) secure tenure, you'd bet I'd be shot-gunning journals (i.e., sending out anything and everything remotely publishable) to get something published. Given enough details of the case, I don't see a problem with this *very rare* instance.

But I'll reiterate my point: I really don't think there are many people purposefully sending out work they think is second rate.

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