Publishing: A Guide for Graduate Students
by Perry Hendricks
Publishing: A Guide for Graduate Students
This post gives advice on how to publish as a graduate student. It doesn’t give advice on how to get a job as a philosopher—I don’t know how to do that: I’m mere grad student scum.
The following advice comes from my experience in publishing, of which I’ve had above-average success—at least for a grad student. I’m halfway through my third year of a PhD program, and currently have 18 articles accepted or published in journals and several book chapters published or under contract. I’ve also received tons of rejections from journals.
I’ve divided this post into three sections. In section A, I go over general information that everyone should know when trying to publish journal articles. In section B, I give advice on how to be more productive. And in section C, I respond to potential excuses one might give for why he or she can’t publish as a grad student.
A. GENERAL INFORMATION
1. When submitting a paper to a journal, do not format your paper to their requirements. For almost all journals, this is only required if your paper gets accepted. It’s a waste of time, otherwise. No referee is going to be more friendly to your paper because it conforms to the journal’s standards. (They probably won’t even know what the journal’s standards are.)
a. The only journal I know of that requires you to format (at least partially) to their standards when you submit is The Journal of Medical Ethics.
2. Journals have very low acceptance rates. Many good ones accept around 10% (I’ve seen as low as 2.5%). So expect rejection when you submit, and know where you will submit once it’s rejected.
a. What to do if your paper is rejected.
i. Read the referee reports (if there are any). Mull them over for a little while.
ii. Do not revise your paper in light of the referee comments unless you actually think their objections/comments are good. You probably won’t have the same referee again, so don’t worry about pleasing them.
iii. Submit to another journal as soon as you can—preferably within a couple days.
iv. Don’t take rejection personally. You will be rejected constantly, and often for dubious reasons. (For example, referees often confuse objections to an argument with reasons to reject an article.) So get used to being rejected; don’t be a wuss.
b. What to do/think if your paper is rejected a lot.
i. Consider the objections the referees raise. If they still do not strike you as good, keep submitting your paper.
ii. It takes luck to get published. A single negative referee report is typically sufficient for a rejection. So you have to get lucky and ‘draw’ two referees who like your paper. This can take awhile to happen.
c. What to do if your paper is given a ‘revise and resubmit’.
i. Read the referee reports. Mull them over for a little while.
ii. Address all concerns raised by the referees. This doesn’t mean acquiescing to their every demand—you can push back, as long as you explain why you think the referee was wrong.
iii. Referees will often contradict each other in the revisions they recommend. This can make it difficult to know how to revise. My advice is to make whatever revision you think is the right one, and make note of the alternative position that can be taken on the matter.
iv. Make all changes in your revised paper red so that they are easily identifiable, and make note of this when you resubmit.
v. Try to have your paper resubmitted within a week.
vi. Explain the revisions you made (or did not make). There should be a place for you to do this when resubmitting.
d. What to do if you do not receive a decision after a long wait.
i. 3 months to the day after submission, send a polite email to the editor checking on your paper’s status. Sometimes, papers get lost in production. Other times, referees (for reasons incomprehensible to me) are ignoring your paper.
ii. If your paper is listed as anything other than “under review” or “awaiting a decision” after 1 month, send a polite email to the editor checking on your paper’s status. It could be something as innocuous as them having trouble finding a referee. But it also could be that they lost your paper in the production process, etc.
e. What to do when your article is accepted.
i. Upload whatever draft the copyright permits to philpapers.org and/or your website. This will enable more people to read your article. You can do this once the article is accepted—there is no need to wait until it’s officially published.
ii. Around 2 months after acceptance, you should receive ‘proofs’ of your paper, which you will need to edit and get back to the publisher.
iii. If you haven’t received your proofs by 3 months, send a polite email to the editor to check that your paper is moving along the production process.
3. Publishing an article takes a lot of time.
a. A “quick” referee will review your paper in 2 months. On average, it’s closer to 3 months. And many referees take even longer. (I have had multiple papers under review for over a year.)
An aside: when you are asked to referee, don’t take more than 1-2 weeks to complete the job. There is no excuse for taking longer than that, and you’re wasting the author’s time and being a jerk if you take longer.
b. If the referees like your paper, you will often get a ‘revise and resubmit’ verdict. Once you resubmit your paper, it will take another couple months for the next verdict. If the paper is accepted, then it will be published online typically within 3 months. So, if everything goes “quickly,” it will be about 7 months from first submission to online publication. However, since most submissions get rejected you will probably submit your paper to multiple journals before it gets accepted. So it will probably take a lot longer than 7 months from your first submission to it being published.
Example: You submit to journal X, they reject after 3 months. You submit to journal Y, they reject after 2 months. You submit to journal Z, they give you a ‘revise and resubmit’ after 4 months. You resubmit and they accept it after 2 months. They publish online 3 months later. That’s 14 months from first submission to online publication. That’s a long time.
c. You should always have multiple papers under review. (The more, the better; I’d say at least four.) So, try to write at least one hour a day.
i. This can be made easier by (when possible) writing your term papers as journal articles. (For more tips, see section C.1.c.)
d. Because of the time it takes to get an article accepted/published, you need to start submitting papers now. If you wait to submit until year 4 or 5, there is no guarantee that you will have a paper accepted before you graduate. Again, publishing takes a long time.
4. How to write a (non-history) journal article.
a. Typically, you don’t need to do a complete overview of the literature.
b. Be succinct.
c. Get the idea on paper. Worry about editing later.
d. Philosophers tend to be bad writers. To counter this:
i. Read your paper out loud when editing.
ii. Find a philosopher who writes well, and mimic their style. Some good philosopher-writers are: Alvin Plantinga, Saul Kripke, and Peter van Inwagen.
5. How to choose where to submit
a. Don’t submit to bad journals.
i. You can find a list of generalist journal rankings here. These rankings should be taken with a grain of salt. But any journal on this list is a safe bet as one worth submitting to.
ii. Look to see what journals philosophers you respect publish in. Those are (likely) safe bets.
b. Research the average time from submission to decision with a journal prior to submitting. Some journals have reputations for being quick, others for being slow.
i. Specialist journals tend to be quicker than generalist ones. But (rightly or wrongly), good specialist journals are typically viewed as less prestigious than good generalist journals.
B. PRACTICAL INFORMATION BASED ON EXPERIENCE
1. When you have an idea, write down (at least) one paragraph explaining the idea that day.Often, if you wait until later to write the idea down, it will either have escaped you or it will have lost its intuitive appeal.
a. Once you’ve done this, aim to finish the first draft of your paper within 1 week (preferably, quicker).
b. Once the first draft is finished, aim to have it submitted to a journal within 1 week.
c. Keep a running list of ‘works in progress’, including abandoned projects.
d. Again, write at least 1 hour a day.
2. Be competitive.
a. You have ideas that you think are right and you know of other ideas that you think are wrong. You should want to show that right ideas are right and wrong ideas are wrong. So, start doing that; start writing papers.
i. Obviously, competitiveness shouldn’t come at the cost of seeking truth. Don’t publish stuff known to be false. I’m looking your way, eliminative materialists.
3. Exercise. A lot.
a. Exercising can help you think about and develop ideas, mull over referee reports, and so on. Exercise is also just good for you.
4. How to get feedback.
a. If you want feedback on your papers or ideas from fellow grad students or professors, you can:
i. Ask if he or she would be willing to talk some philosophy with you for a few minutes.
ii. Ask if he or she would be willing to read your paper and provide feedback.
iii. I strongly suggest (i). Typically, it will take a long time to get feedback if you take route (ii), whereas you get immediate feedback with route (i). (This is probably because (i) involves much less work on the part of your colleague.)
1. “But Perry, I have no time to do any of this. You just have tons of free time that the rest of us aren’t blessed with.”
a. Unless you have more than one wife, more than two kids, more than one part-time non-philosophy job, and have more than one religious commitment, you very probably have more available time than me. All of this is to say that you very probably have enough time to e.g. always have 4 papers under review, write for at least an hour a day, etc.
b. Being a graduate student (at least in the humanities) is the easiest “job” in the world. All you do is take a few classes, research, TA, and write. You should have ample free time—especially once you’re finished with course work.
c. (Obvious) Tips to increase your productivity:
i. Reduce the amount you drink. (Or do drugs.)
ii. Instead of spending 2 hours a day watching TV, spend 1 hour (or less).
iii. Instead of scrolling on social media 2 hours a day, scroll for 1 hour (or less).
iv. Delete social media platforms that suck up your time without giving you a substantial benefit.
v. Don’t be a wuss.
2. “But Perry, you’re just so smart that it’s so easy for you to publish.”
a. This isn’t true. If you’re a graduate student, you’re probably smarter than me.
3. “But Perry, I have no ideas for papers to write.”
a. Presumably, you have at least some ideas that you can turn into papers. As a graduate student, you should have some passion towards whatever subject you’re studying, and you presumably have some interesting insight to give on that subject. But if you are struggling, consider writing a response piece on a subject you’re passionate about. That’s simple enough.
i. Note: journals typically only consider response pieces to articles they published. So writing a response piece can be risky: if the journal rejects your piece, you probably can’t publish it elsewhere unless you substantially revise it and make it into a stand-alone piece. (The only journal I know that considers response pieces to articles published elsewhere is Philosophia.)
4. “But Perry, my papers are extremely controversial and extremely niche, so no journal will publish them.”
a. While some unorthodox positions are extremely frowned upon by parts of the profession, this doesn’t preclude publishing. The same goes for niche topics. While it might be harder and take longer to publish these types of articles, it can still be done. In fact, I have published very controversial papers and very niche papers in multiple venues. So, again, it can be done.
i. Of course, publishing an article that argues for a frowned upon, unorthodox position might not be a good choice in terms of career prospects. So keep that in mind.
5. “But Perry, your papers are all garbage. So it doesn’t matter that they’re published.”
a. I’m only offering advice on how to publish as a graduate student. So even if you think my papers are garbage, all of this advice is still applicable.
D: GOOD RESOURCES ON PUBLISHING
a. “Productive in Publishing” by Jason Brennan
b. “Publishing in Philosophy” by Michael Huemer
c. “Advice on Publishing Peer Review Articles” by John Danaher
Comments and further suggestions welcome.
[image: Sou Fujimoto, “Many Small Cubes” (detail)]
UPDATE (from JW): There has been a fair amount of pushback against parts of this post here and on social media. I thought I’d say a few words in response. No one, not even the author, is saying that someone should publish 18 articles while they are a graduate student. However, the fact of the matter is that for many graduate students at many programs, having a couple of publications prior to going on the job market will help them get a job, and having none may significantly hinder their job prospects. You might lament this situation for various reasons, such as those put forward by David Velleman in this previous guest post, or because of how a productivity-focused job market privileges the already-privileged and least-burdened (with, say, economic hardship, health problems, discrimination, caring responsibilities, etc.). However, it is a kind of collective action problem—one each graduate student can only navigate, not solve, and the advice in this post is for navigating the system, not reforming it. That said, I do understand the post gives the impression of emphasizing quantity over quality, particularly in its advice about the time it should take to write a paper of submittable quality, and that this is problematic in a few ways (both prudentially for the graduate student, but also for the editors and referees, the burdens on some of whom—and the system as a whole—are already tremendous). So criticism—along these lines and others—is, as always, welcome.
UPDATE 2: Perry Hendricks responds to some of the criticisms of the post in the comments, here.