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I guess I ask myself a few questions:

(1) Is it complete? (Word counts are a helpful heuristic here: have I hit my 7500-word mark, or am I a ways short? If it's a short, Analysis-style paper, have I managed ~3000 words on a single idea? Are there any glaring omissions, have conference audiences or friends been receptive and have I addressed the issues they consistently raise, do the sections feed into one another, is it coherent, etc.?)

(2) Is it fun to read? (In other words, does my voice come through? If not, then I'll want to work on that a bit.)

(3) Am I embarrassed by it? (Granted, one might be terrified of sending it out, especially early in one's career, but I think that feeling is a little different.)

(4) How would I react if *I* were refereeing it? (In other words, is it in a state I'd take seriously, or one which might make me groan aloud?)

(5) If it was rejected before, have I addressed the comments which were made at the time?

I also tend to go rely on my editorial process. If it's been through a normal (for me) number of drafts (~20ish+), then it's probably ready for a first submission, or nearly so. Once you have a paper or two to your name, you can also compare the state of new papers to those you've published, and see if they're in about the same state.


I feel like after some time I've just developed a rough sense of what won't be unacceptable to at least some referees.

You can develop this sense through sending things off once they're long enough and seem mostly true to you, and seeing what happens. You should also ask more experienced paper-submitters for their take on whether the paper is ready. Err on the side of starting early, since it might take a while for a paper to work its way through the system.

(Some people disagree with this last point because they think it puts too much of a burden on the system, but your own interests outweigh that consideration.)


Run it by at least two other people. Incorporate their comments. Make sure the final version has crisp, clean sentences. Make sure the paper is gripping. Ensure it engages enough literature. Make sure there is a nice, clear structure. Make sure each part defends your thesis. Make sure your thesis is clear. Aim to engage a "hot" debate when possible.


As a graduate student, I would simply run the paper by a professor. Initially, the papers I submitted for publication were papers for a class. After receiving feedback from the instructor for the class, I would spend months working on the paper more. Then I would return to the professor for more feedback and ask if the paper was suitable for submission and, if so, where. I did that several times and it helped me develop a sense of when a paper was (or was not) ready for submission. So I would tentatively recommend that methodology for graduate students looking to develop " a gut instinct" or "sense" for when papers are ready.

Timmy J

You won’t know. You’ll guess. Sometimes you’ll be wrong. Sometimes you won’t. But it’s not very important to get it right, and Marcus is right that you should err on sending it out too soon.

Less helpfully, for about 80% of my papers (including my first publication, from when I was a grad student) I submitted on a whim after having a few too many drinks. It’s not exactly a method, but it’s worked pretty well for me.

Assistant Professor

The most helpful thing I have found is to step away from a project and then return to it (in a few days, a week, sometimes months, depending) and see how I react to the paper as a reader who both knows what I was trying to say, and who now has some critical distance from the paper and can better evaluate if I successfully said what I meant.

Getting advice from mentors or peers in grad school can help potentially build confidence and learn norms and expectations of publication - but I also witnessed a few people lose their own voice or lose their confidence in grad school because they trusted mentors who routinely told them their work wasn't "ready" and they just never built up a publication record. I think Michel's advice above about whether you would be embarrassed if the paper were accepted as is, no revisions, is pretty solid.

Sending a paper to the right "fit" journal is really important to - and figuring out good instincts about that can be tough. But arguably this is more important than knowing the paper is "ready" because I assume we are talking about polished papers with sound arguments that address potential objections and that are generally clearly and coherently written - if those things are not in place it is not ready - but otherwise it might be ready if the right reviewers read it for a journal that is the right fit.


I second the advice of putting the paper away for a couple weeks once you suspect it's in good shape. Then read it. If you still think it's in good shape, correct typos and send it out immediately.

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