When attempting to publish a paper, it is arguably as important to submit to the journal best suited to the paper as it is for the paper to be of high quality. Most of the papers in Sciencewould be rejected by Scientific Americanand vice versa. Similarly, it doesn’t make sense to attempt to publish a chemistry paper in a humanities journal. While these observations are less than revelatory, they bring out the point that most (all?) journals specialize in publishing a certain “type” of article. PURis no exception; it too publishes a certain type of article. “But wait”, you say, “I thought PUR was an interdisciplinary journal?!” Indeed, we are. But, as the Science/Scientific Americandichotomy mentioned above suggests, one can define “type” along more dimensions than just subject matter.
The discussion presented below will outline the characteristics that typify the papers published by PUR. It is perhaps best conceived of as a long-winded checklist of characteristics to check for in your paper before submitting it to PUR. If your attention-span doesn't extend more than a thousand words, there's also a Reader's Digest version of everything at the end.
Now, if your paper doesn’t check off all of the boxes this doesn’t mean that you need to go back and rewrite everything. Rather, that probably just means that you’d be best off finding another venue for publication. If your paper does check off all of the boxes, that doesn't mean that it will be accepted for publication. It just means that your paper has avoided many of the common pitfalls that cause us to reject submissions.
Submission guidelines can be split into two broad categories. The first category deals with objective criteria like eligibility and formatting requirements. All of that stuff is rather dry so we’ll skip over most of it here. Instead we’ll refer you to the standards of publication page and Submissions FAQ, which lay everything out in black and white. The most important takeaways from these pages are 1) you must submit a paper that was written while you were enrolled as an undergraduate at a college or university and 2) take your name off of your submitted paper(!).
The other category deals with the more subjective aspects of the editorial process. The idea of discussing “subjective aspects of the editorial process” in general terms may (and perhaps should) send up red flags. How can we talk about our subjective thought process without having a paper in front of us? That doesn’t seem like a sound way to go about publishing a journal.
Let’s reframe the issue like this: we have read hundreds of submissions over the years. Upon reflection, one realizes that certain features are correlated with rejected submissions and other features are correlated with accepted submissions. None of these features were necessarily reasons why a given submissions was rejected or accepted. Rather they are better conceived as (noisy) signals of “quality”.
The guide is structured around headings that name superficial qualities of papers - the signals. Below each heading is a brief discussion of the signal and the underlying aspect of overall paper quality that it commonly connotes. As a potential submitter, it may be best to begin by asking: 1) does my paper possess this (superficial) signal and, if so, 2) does my paper also possess the substantive, underlying attribute of “quality” that this signal connotes? Both of these steps, of course, require you to exercise a good deal of judgment. The idea, though, is to provide some jumping-off points for determining whether your paper would be a good fit for PUR (or whether PUR would be a good fit for your paper, whichever way youprefer).
1. Class Papers
Class papers are an odd breed of prose, even within the realm of “scholarly” writing. First, they generally take as their reader the instructor or TA of the course, who is well-versed in the subject-matter and [probably] wrote the prompt themselves. This allows one to get away with a lot of otherwise necessary elements like, say, a literature review or telling your reader why they should even care about your subject in the first place.
Capstone or senior thesis classes are, of course, an exception. In that case the stated intent is to create just the sort of work that PUR seeks to publish.
2. Review Papers
Let me posit that there are two types of review paper. The first type of review paper is written explicitly as a review of the existing literature on a given topic. It is of interest to readers because it provides a synthesized and relatively brief survey of the field. It is--in some limited sense--encyclopedic.
The second type of review paper is really an accidental review paper. A paper becomes an accidental review paper when a) the writer reads a bunch of stuff and b) it lacks any particular direction. Property (a) should be distinguished from the “reading a bunch of stuff” discussed in the previous paragraph. In the former case, the reading and synthesis is directed towards a constellation of literature that is self-referential and builds on itself. In the latter case, the reading is directed at a given topic or line of thought. The sources or literature, however, possess no necessary connection (except, perhaps, that which the author imposes on them). The author makes some suggestions that their sources fit into some bigger idea but they never really come out and say what exactly that idea is.
Reading accidental review papers is like reading a series of summaries. The summaries themselves may be well-written and display an understanding of the material. When they’re all spliced together, however, these summaries create a confused, unoriginal paper.
One of the main causes of accidental review papers is the lack of a sharp thesis. You don’t need to underline your thesis sentence or anything like that. You should, however, be able to articulate the main thrust of your work in a few sentences. The entirety of the paper should strive towards proving or arguing for your thesis. Standards of proof differ across disciplines (this is where you should refer to prior literature) but the basic idea still stands. A journal article is too short a space to make seven arguments concerning the causes of the First World War. Write a book if you want to do that.
No, we don’t count citations. Do you have citations, though? You should. There is, of course, no magic number from which one can determine that an author has incorporated, credited the appropriate sources. Math papers can often get away with fewer than ten. Empirical economics papers will often cite something close to one hundred. It all depends.
Here’s another way to look at citations. Is there a part of the paper where you go through and talk about prior or related work on your topic (i.e. a literature review)? Have you read more than one or two pieces of prior or related literature? Did you differentiate your work from those pieces?
In cases where the primary/secondary sources distinction is applicable, it is generally best if your main focus is on the primary sources. Ideally, your paper will do something like review the secondary literature and then analyze a bunch of primary sources that everyone has ignored, building evidence for a radical new thesis all the while. Easier said than done. I know.
5. Page Count
No counting here, either. This one can go both ways, though. There are those papers where you had to go through and rephrase sentences to get under so many words (And don’t forget to put the word count at the bottom! [an obvious class paper tell]). If you did this, you’re probably not doing justice to the complexity and richness of the topic. There are also those papers with the arbitrarily-large page count minimums. You know that you BSed the last four pages to hit that mark but still--somehow--received a fine grade. At the very least, delete those last four pages before you send it to us.
A fine-sounding but uninformative principle for thinking about the appropriate length of a piece is: include everything that pertains to your thesis and cut everything that doesn’t. “Pertains” is important. Don’t cut or exclude elements that are inconvenient for your thesis. If the editorial board doesn’t catch it then the refs will. Another bromide: don’t suppress facts that don’t fit into your thesis; use them to spur the development of a better, more refined one!
6. Readership, Jargon, and the Like
Jargon needs to be explained. If you’ve just spent weeks or months thinking about the super-ideal-this-or-that then you might be inclined to think that everything is obvious. It’s not. You don’t need to spell out everything but add a sentence of explanation when you first mention a term or put in a footnote--do something.
Here’s one way to think about jargon, specialization, and the like. For one, you don’t need to be writing for every Joe and Jane you pass on the street. Think of your readership as the educated layperson. This person reads the paper, is familiar with Shakespeare and a few other literary-philosophical biggies, and is willing to work a little bit to understand the ideas you’re trying to express. This person has not, however, memorized every little news item they’ve read over the past twenty years or spent the better part of their lives parsing through less-commonly-quoted passages of Shakespeare. They’re also not going to spend all day trying to figure out what you’re saying if you don’t make any effort to tell them.
A quick shout-out to all of those papers about novels: introduce the characters. Don’t just start talking about Ruggles and Tietjens and how obviously antagonistic they are towards one another. Reading a paper about a novel that doesn’t say anything about plot or characters is like overhearing the gossip of [very] boring strangers. No, your argument is not so strong that you can get away without doing this. It’s impossible to judge the substance of an argument if one is clueless about the underlying material. All of this is especially important if you’re writing about “one of the least well-known and most under-appreciated writers of the -- century/decade/15 minutes.”
7. Composition, Grammar, and English
Actually, we don’t care all that much about your usage, grammar, or English fluency--up to a point. If you’ve got a good idea and some strong evidence and everything else, then we’re not going to reject your paper on the basis of comma usage. That’s what proofreading is for.
Grammar conventions do exist for a reason, namely, facilitating the transmission of ideas. But hey! Doesn’t your paper trying to transmit ideas? Maybe you should at least make sure that your grammar and such isn’t so atrocious that no one has any idea what you’re trying to say?
Paper writing pro-tip: Ask a parent/legal guardian/BFF/ someone-who-is-clueless-about-your-subject to proofread your paper.
Similar principles apply at the sentence level.
If you think that paper organization is a Bourgeois convention meant to constrain the mind to only think only within a strict set of bounds and never realize that its creative force is suppressed by the tri-force of money, greed, and corruption, then you might think about sending your paper elsewhere.
Papers need some sort of organization scheme. This doesn’t mean that you need to have subsubsub...sub-section 22.214.171.124.6....1. Indeed, you need not have section headers at all.
What is important is that your reader know (or at least accept) why they’re reading what they’re reading. “How does this paragraph about dogfighting on page eleven fit into Victorian educational reform again?” The other thing you don’t want is for your reader to get to your conclusion and say, “Well that came out of nowhere.”
Oftentimes it is helpful to provide some sort of run-down of what’s going to happen in the paper. You don’t have to write, “First I’m going to talk about this. Next, I’m going to talk about that...Finally, BLAH.” It’s fine to be creative with this or any other aspect of organization. Just don’t forget that organization must first, well, organize.
The Reader’s Digest Version:
Consider a Venn-diagram. In one circle is the set of papers pertaining to your topic. In the other is the set of papers previously published by PUR. The goal of PUR is to publish papers in the intersection of those two sets. You could, then, compare your paper to two representative papers in each set. The question here is not whether the content of your paper is identical to these representative papers but whether it shares similar stylistic and structural characteristics with each.
Here are a few questions you might ask when reading these representative papers: How long is it? How does the author organize their discussion? Who are they citing? How are they using their sources? How do they introduce specialized terms? (Or do they?) What sort of reader are they writing for?