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Twitter is very helpful for this. I have received offers to give me feedback through twitter (on a number of occasions that helped lead to publications), and I have reciprocated. It might be creepy to add philosophers working in your area to Facebook, but not creepy to follow them and reach out about shared interests. Far less expensive than conferences, too. (I love conferences, but waiting to present at conferences to meet people and get feedback is not enough.)

Senior but not yet ancient

I think it is imperative to both (i) present at conferences and (ii) get feedback from people who work in your area before you submit papers to journals. I work at a state college whose principal concern is undergraduate teaching, and there is no one working here in my area of expertise. I think people are trying to publish too much (quantity). It is better to take your time, and publish less but of higher quality. I have refereed over 130 papers, many for highly ranked journals; over forty papers for the following three journals, Philosophy of Science, Synthese, and BJPS. Too many papers sent in to journals are really unfinished. You are wasting your time and others' time. Also, the reality of it is that papers placed in more selective journals tend to get cited more.
I did cultivate relations with senior people in my area earlier in my career. That is imperative. They were a very important source of feedback and support. But peer colleagues are also important. I now have a wide ranging (geographically) network of peers who will give feedback every now and then.

Marcus Arvan

Senior but not yet ancient: You may be right in general, but would caution against overgenerlizing. It is possible to send out work with little advance feedback that does not waste people's time. For instance, if the last four papers I sent out, 1 was accepted outright and 2 received R&R verdicts (both at good specialty journals). I also get funded for only one conference per academic year, which is not nearly enough to get feedback that way (I often pay out of pocket to attend additional conferences, but this is not generally financially viable). I have also known more than a few people in situations like mine who report having trouble getting feedback, so I don't think it is best explained in terms of lack of trying. If blame belongs anywhere here, it is not with people who have trouble getting feedback but find a way to publish despite it, but rather with an academic system that incentivizes overproduction to get and and keep jobs.

Senior but not yet ancient

I did not blame those who are having trouble. Getting an academic career going is no easy task. Mine certainly was not. I am offering advice on how to move forward. Also, unless you engage others' work, address their published work in your work, you cannot expect them to be interested in reading your work. Why would they be interested?
Unfortunately, like you, I have had to pay for quite a bit of my conference travel. But there is this bad trend of students and junior people in the USA going to conferences too often. One needs to strike a balance, especially if you have to pay for it yourself.

Douglas W. Portmore

I find feedback essential to doing good work. And I tend to seek out a lot of it before submitting something. I understand that it can be difficult to get feedback when you're at a teaching institution. I know, since I spent the first seven years of my career working at teaching institutions with high teaching loads. You can't just send a paper out to some famous philosopher you've never met and expect to get comments from them. So, what I used to do is look for sharp graduate students (on the web) who were working on the same topics that I was working on and ask to read some of their work (or find their work online). I would then email them my comments and, in the process, mention that I was working on the same topic and attach a paper that I'd been working on. And I would then tell them that I would love to hear any comments that they had if they had the time. I also blogged a lot early on in my career, which was an excellent way of getting feedback. Lastly, I tried to go to as many conferences as possible and present my work. Of course, at teaching institutions one's travel budget can often be quite limited, but I would sometimes pay out of pocket. If you do these things, you'll develop a network of people that you can exchange papers with.

Marcus Arvan

Senior but not yet ancient: Sorry, I didn't mean to imply that you were blaming people (apologies for sloppily leaving that inference open). Rather, I have heard many people blame authors for not getting feedback first--in some cases going so far as to suggest that one necessarily fails some kind of professional duty by not soliciting feedback first. I do think it is bad to send out sloppy work for review. I just don't think is necessary for all people to always get feedback to reliably avoid sending out sloppy work. Anyway, I agree with you that people should strike a balance--but I guess my message is that it can be very hard to judge the right balance from the outside. All jobs are different, and what is reasonable amount of time and effort to solicit feedback is partly a function of how much time one has available to do so, as well as partly a function of one's networking skills (which can of course be developed but some people are far more gifted at than others).

Marcus Arvan

Douglas: thanks for the very good suggestions. I think they are useful ones!

Justin Caouette

I read and comment on the work of others often but I rarely send out my own work. I think it's because of some sort of imposter-syndrome. I've been cited at least 5 times (that I know of) in pretty big journals for some of the feedback I have given but I can't bring myself to share anything as it never feels ready.

I have had offers on twitter and from folks to pay it forward but I have yet to cash those checks in. I guess if I make it in this discipline I'll have a few outstanding favors. :)


It is hard to know how to respond to these comments.

Senior but not yet Ancient says,

"I think it is imperative to both (i) present at conferences and (ii) get feedback from people who work in your area before you submit papers to journals....Too many papers sent in to journals are really unfinished. You are wasting your time and others' time."

Too me that does sound like you are blaming people who turn in papers to journals without feedback. In any case, I don't know what to do when I network, send papers to professionals, send papers to grad students, and no one responds to my requests. In grad school I gave extensive feedback to many professors who in turn ignored all my emails and my papers, even though they were supposed to be teaching me! I guess if one has not had this experience, it could be hard to believe. It seems one of those cases where people with different experiences are going to see things very differently.

Christopher Stephens

I'm at a research institution with lots of people in my areas (broadly construed). I can easily get feedback from someone generally competent in my areas. But even still, one gets different kinds of feedback from different people. For some projects, there is no substitute for getting help from the few people elsewhere in the world working on the exact same topic. Some strategies:

(1) Make friends with people in graduate school who work in the same area - these people can sometimes become the ones you exchange papers with for the rest of your career.
(2) Cold "calling" (emailing). Sometimes this works, even with a famous senior person. But usually only when your paper is directly about their work and when they're not overwhelming busy. Sometimes I've been pleasantly surprised at who will comment and how much.
(3) Portmore's strategy of contacting less senior people who work in the area is good as well. They don't have to be graduate students - just not superfamous. Given how many articles go unread, I think a lot of philosophers are pleased that anyone is considering their arguments carefully. So if your work overlaps with someone, it can't hurt to cold call.
Of course, I know the success of these strategies likely varies a lot from area to area. There will be cases (like Amanda's) where people just don't respond. I see nothing wrong with sending work to journals that hasn't been read by other philosophers - provided one has made a good faith effort to make it as good as (practically) possible on one's own.

Shay Allen Logan

Three thoughts:

(1) Does electronic feedback count? I'll say yes for the moment. Then I recommend the fitness test at The Writer's Diet (http://writersdiet.com/) and the Hemingway app (http://hemingwayapp.com/). I find them useful for getting started on editing a paper.

(2) I send my papers to friends. These are people I know through philosophy, and I group them (for these purposes) into three categories:

Category 1: People who will read what I wrote and give me feedback.
Category 2: People I have to "prime" by asking specific questions; e.g. "Does my reply to the objection in section three work?".
Category 3: People who can tell me if I've missed my target audience by being too technical.

I say about one time in three (regardless of category) do I get useful feedback. There are also people I don't ask to read my work, but who I instead ask for references from.

(3) I don't (generally) send papers out to friends until they're pretty polished already. I also often only send fragments of papers, and time this to match up with conference CFP deadlines. So, e.g. I'll send an email that says "The Eastern APA deadline is in three weeks. Wanna swap submissions?" Then I send them the fragment of a paper I'm working on for that.

Matthew Kopec

I've been blessed to have been bouncing around research departments (and one research centre), so I've predictably had good access to feedback. But I'll add one further suggestion (which I employ) and one harebrained idea.

(1) If you fill a paper's margins with comments and objections while you're reading, you can write up the more insightful ones, both critical and helpful, and send them to the author by email. Most of the feedback I've gotten on my own work from folks who weren't either close friends or current or past co-workers has been from folks I met this way. (For me, conferences have generated far fewer feedback contacts at a much greater expense, both in money and time.)

(2) Harebrained idea... Why don't we start a discipline specific online community for informed feedback. (Maybe as a subsection of PhilPapers?) The idea is that people sign up simultaneously as both authors and reviewers, you pick your topic areas, upload your own papers, and periodically you are asked to "review" someone's paper in your area. (Or maybe you can choose from a menu of options? Haven't worked that out...) It could all be anonymous. Reviewers are then rated on their timeliness and on the quality of their feedback. Authors who have higher scores as reviewers could then have their papers sent to higher ranked reviewers, to motivate everyone to do a great job of it. Everyone gets a couple free paper slots upon sign up, but then you are expected to review a paper for each one you add to the pile. (Admittedly, the economics might get a little tricky, and the idea needs tweaking, but I think we could work it out.)

I think the feedback one would get from a supportive community like this will be much more likely to improve the final product than feedback from formal journal referees. I also think reviewers would enjoy the process much more. To be honest, as a referee I really hate it when I receive a paper that is under-cooked and would have clearly benefited from a bit of competent feedback. For context... (i.e., not to be blaming anyone)

(i) I always feel conflicted about how much of my time to spend helping the author out, because...
(ii) I don't even know if the feedback will make it to the author (sometimes editors don't even send it along), and
(iii) since the author isn't explicitly and voluntarily seeking out informed advice, but rather may just need the publication for whatever purpose, I don't know whether he or she will even read the feedback. (Some authors just send it right off to another journal.)

The drawback of my idea, given the time constraints referenced in Marcus's initial post, is that people have to give time to get time. But it's probably not entirely fair for people in teaching-heavy positions to be getting the use of an expert referee's time, which can be rather substantial if a paper is under-cooked and they do a good job with the report, without any requirement to reciprocate, even in the long run. And I'd personally be happy to comment on more than my fair share of papers.

Just a thought...

Marcus Arvan

Matthew: I don't think it's a harebrained idea at all! A less formal version of what you are talking about is standard in math and physics, where everyone uploads papers to the ArXiv and draft papers are widely discussed before (and during) submission to journals. It works beautifully, providing timely feedback, public vetting of paper quality, and increased scholarly discussion--all of which are awesome (I've advocated for their practices numerous times on this blog). Although I recognize philpapers already provides great services to the discipline, I think something like your proposal should absolutely be explored and developed at philpapers if they have the time and resources (and if not, then elsewhere). Anyway, great idea--not harebrained at all! :)

Matthew Kopec

Marcus: I guess the "time and resources" issue was why I thought it was harebrained. (It would be a substantial undertaking.) But if there is a lot of support for such an idea, I could at least apply for a small grant through the APA (due June 30), to help with the resources side.

recent grad

My strategy:

I try to meet at least one or two new people in my area at each conference. They can be senior, junior, grad students--it doesn't matter. I try to do it as organically as possible. I then have a pool of people from conferences, together with former grad student friends and faculty. If I need feedback, I take one or two people from this pool and ask if they want to trade papers, with each of us commenting on the other's paper. (I also sometimes ask for feedback on just a portion of a paper.) This doesn't guarantee feedback, but it's a pretty good strategy. And you don't need to go to a lot of conferences for this to add up. It's easy to get a pool of 10 to 20 after just a few years. And, in my own case at least, feedback is absolutely crucial for making a promising idea into a good paper.

FWIW: I have a heavy teaching load and I'm the only specialist in my area in my department.


I have to admit, I am a bit despondent at the success others seem to be having. I have certainly tried these things. But I guess this confirms my social skills need more work. Oh well.


Marcus I was thinking that maybe you could do a thread on how to get feedback from your advisers or committee members during grad school. From what others have said this seems a common problem in grad school (which I've finished, so too late for me, but maybe it could help others. I actually had a decent experience. Some of my friends had just awful experiences almost getting no feedback at all during their entire dissertation phase).

It would also be helpful to hear from those who teach grad students. What could grad students do to increase the odds they will get comments in a timely manner without offending those who will write them letters of recommendation?

Marcus Arvan

Hi Amanda: great idea! I never had that problem but have known so many people who have. Will post a thread on it ASAP.

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