Our books

Become a Fan

« Being a philosopher in Singapore | Main | Against letters of recommendation »



Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.


Most of my writing happens in the editing process. So, like you, Marcus, I start by writing my core idea down, and then I read a few related pieces that seem seminal. Then I go back to my document, and start fleshing my idea out until I've got something roughly conference-length. That's when I go back to the literature in a targeted manner, and start reading more systematically, cannibalizing bibliographies, etc. So, from that point on, I'm reading and writing at the same time, working it up to a full-length article.


Excellent advice overall. Two things though.

1) No doubt (8) is good advice but not everyone can afford to wait for feedback from multiple people before submitting to journals, especially when on the market or on the tenure track, especially when one doesn't have many colleagues, they're very busy and/or don't work anywhere near one's area. Sure you can email your friends and mentors out of the blue, but the odds are they're as busy as you are, refereeing papers, teaching, writing their own papers, etc. You just can't count on this. So sometimes you submit a paper that you think as a reasonable shot, and then if you're lucky you might get comments that will help.

I'm not saying we should not try to go through step (8). Everyone should if they can, and when I've done it I've sometimes (though not very often) benefited from useful feedback. But if I waited for step (8) to be completed any time I work on a paper I would rarely be submitting anything.

2) Reading seminal papers can clearly be important, but sometimes it's easier to get into a debate by starting with the latest interventions, which will narrow down for you which papers are most important and which moves are available. Otherwise you could be wasting your time.

Referee and friend

Everyone can afford to send their papers to colleagues. If you can afford to send and resend papers to one journal after another, then you can afford to find a colleague to give you feedback. One reason the refereeing system is so clogged and slow is that people are not sending in properly finished papers. They are sending in very drafty drafts.
If your friends are crappy at giving comments on papers, you can bet they are probably also the people writing the crappy referees' reports that you get from the over used refereeing system.


“If you can afford to send and resend papers to one journal after another, then you can afford to find a colleague to give you feedback.”

That’s a debatable inference. I’d like to believe that’s true.

Of course everyone can afford to send papers to colleagues. The question is can they afford to wait on their colleagues’ feedback? How many of us have sent their papers around and never received any feedback?

I’d also like to see evidence for the oft made claim that the system is clogged up by drafty papers. Couldn’t it be that there’s an oversupply of good papers but not enough space and/or not enough referees willing or available to do the work? The very drafty papers, presumably, would be swiftly desk rejected by most responsible journals. Sure they do slow down the process a bit but I’m not sure papers that haven’t been sent to friends and colleagues need be half baked or unpolished or drafty. If anything, the anecdotal evidence we all have from journal editors is that they receive too many good papers. By any chance, honest question: do you have time to check out some of my papers? That’d be fantastic. Send me yours. I usually send feedback on papers when I’m asked to.

Referee and friend

What is your area? If your papers are in my area of expertise, I will consider giving you feedback.
I have refereed about 150 papers, most for good specialist journals, but also general journals like Synthese, and I tell you I have read a lot of drafty drafts. I now tell journal editors not to send me (or anyone) such unfinished papers.


I really do understand the concern about drafts drafts - I’ve seen enough of them - but I’ve also had the deeply dispiriting experience of peer review in philosophy which invariably seems to involve so many objections that crafting a paper before sending it out to review feels like a waste of time (you just know that your careful way of summarising a debate, carefully crafted to get under the word limit, is going to be attacked for not citing Jones or not cleaving to the reviewer’s sense of the debate or ‘ignoring’ a fatal problem or....) And, in case this sounds like whining, I’m not denying that these concerns can be valid - it’s just that philosophy reviewers seem to find it really hard to distinguish between ‘this isn’t how I would have said it’ and ‘this needs to be changed before it can be published’. So, while I do try very hard to send polished pieces to journals, I always do so with a heavy heart. (And don’t get me started on the reviewers who fail to notice that I somehow managed to get the paper down to 9,999 words or whatever when suggesting what needs to be added...)


Referee and friend - I work in ethics. I was being tongue in cheek, but thanks. I understand your frustration. I've been luckier than you. I've reviewed some pretty bad articles but more often than not I'm reading manuscripts that I think are pretty strong, even when I don't recommend acceptance. I've only very rarely reviewed something that I thought was "drafty". At worst it's usually not up to the standards of the journal I'm reviewing for, or there's another set of issues. Just anecdotal evidence.


I was sent an article to review recently that was written quite poorly and had many silly and sloppy typos and errors. I rejected based on the language issues after reading 7 pages. I feel a little bad about it but also think it's unreasonable to be using unpaid reviewers to review such sloppy work. If you're going to submit to a journal please proofread your work, and editors please send back sloppy work to the author and request he proofread and edit it.

Sam Duncan

I do think that Nicolas is right that there's a real problem. If you work at a teaching focused school or a small department the chances that any of your colleagues know enough about the subject you're writing on to be helpful on the important points of detail is small. Even if it's an area they did some work on in grad school most of us at teaching schools don't have time to keep up on all the most important or the most trendy developments in too many fields. If we show a colleague a paper on our specialty or even just one that we've a deep interest in or are trying to break into the odds we'll know more than the colleague are pretty high. So getting colleagues to read a paper will catch obvious errors in reasoning, typos, and the like but so will more proofreading on our own. It's not going to catch the fact that we overlook some new development in the field or intricate point of detail in the debate. (Which is yet another reason that the old "does not cite the relevant literatures" line is such bunk as a reason to reject.) But as a constructive suggestion: I wonder why people don't set up trades of papers or even working groups online? The technology is there. Has anyone set anything like this up? It seems like it wouldn't be too hard to do and it could really help a lot of people out.


Postdoc, I would never reject a paper purely on the basis of typos and other small errors that don't genuinely interfere with the author communicating their views.

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been saved. Comments are moderated and will not appear until approved by the author. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Comments are moderated, and will not appear until the author has approved them.

Your Information

(Name and email address are required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)

Job-market reporting thread

Current Job-Market Discussion Thread

Alt-ac jobs discussion thread (2021)

Philosophers in Industry Directory

Cocoon Job-Market Mentoring Program