A guide for the perplexed author in semantics

Note: at the upcoming LSA annual meeting in Portland, I will be part of a session about the publication process. My role will be to talk about open access in linguistics. I just remembered that I had lying around a draft guide to publishing articles. So, here’s the draft. I’d be very grateful for feedback so I can improve this document but also figure out what makes sense to talk about in Portland.

You have written something that you think other people should read. You want the input of other experts. You want your ideas to make their way through the discipline. You want the excellence of your ideas to reflect positively on you. How best to achieve those goals? What follows are my recommendations. These are my opinions only, but I have reached them over my 25 years in the discipline. I hope that some might find this subjective guide useful.

My main prescription is: disseminate early, often, and relentlessly.

Make your work available

As soon as you have a handout or slides that you’ve used for an official talk, put that on your website. When you have a draft paper, put it on your website. In each case, also point people at it through whatever networks you are part of (your department, contacts at other institutions, your Facebook, Twitter, Google+ connections).

Post to repositories

By the time you have a revised draft that is ready for submission, it’s time to also share it via disciplinary repositories (LingBuzz, Semantics Archive, PhilPapers).


Excursus: Why not stop here? Why submit to peer-reviewed journals? At some point in the future, we might reach a system where you post something to the disciplinary repository, peer review occurs in the open, and you revise your paper accordingly. The paper gets rated and assessed by various metrics (likes, number of comments, number of downloads, number of citation). We are not there yet. And to be honest, I am a firm believer in high quality peer review of the old-fashioned kind. If and when we move to the kind of free-for-all I just sketched, I’m worried that quality work from young and hereto-forth unknown authors will not get the attention it deserves. Of course, whatever the superstars put in the repository will get all the attention it deserves (and more). But the expert feedback curation from good editors and peer reviewers of good journals makes it much more likely that the discipline will be exposed to the merits of new work even if it doesn’t come from the superstars.

So, yes, submit to peer-reviewed journals. I hope they’re here to stay.


Choosing a journal

When it comes time to submit your work to a journal, the first consideration in choosing a journal is whether it is an appropriate and adequately high profile venue for the work. Journals differ along various additional dimensions: quality of peer review and editorial feedback, speediness of the review and decision process, respect for author’s rights (including the right to make available preprints and postprints), quality (and existence) of copy-editing, quality (and existence) of professional typesetting (including whether they accept LaTeX source rather than insisting on a less sophisticated format), whether or not they publish an online-first/early version of a paper as soon as it is ready, speediness of publication of print version. If you are new-ish to the field, you should ask for advice from trusted mentors.

Don’t let them lock up your work

Many journals lock up your work behind a toll access barrier. You should attempt to mitigate that lock up, because it is in your best interest for your work to be as easily accessible by as many readers as possible. It is imperative that you carefully read the publishing agreement that the publisher will ask you to sign. Make sure to understand in detail which rights to your own work you are being asked to sign away. In fact, it makes a lot of sense to include this in your decision of where to submit. There is a handy service that lets you explore the policies journals have with respect to your rights as an author: Sherpa/RoMEO.

a. Unless forced otherwise by the publisher, keep the early versions of your work (sometimes called preprints) on your website and in disciplinary and/or institutional repositories, but add to the downloads all the bibliographic detail of the published version.

b. Unless the standard publisher’s agreement already gives you the right to provide open access to your final manuscript (sometimes called postprints; the version you prepared for final submission after receiving peer review and editorial feedback, but before copy-editing and publisher’s typesetting), try to insist on that right. You can try to make your signing of the agreement contingent on the publisher accepting an author’s amendment. See the SPARC Addendum.

c. An increasing number of publishers offer to make your paper open access if you pay them a fee. This is called an author-pays hybrid open access model. There is a suspicion that publishers charge excessive author fees (“double dipping” since they still rake in subscription fees for a journal that only contains sporadic open access articles). Some universities subsidize such fees. Fees can also sometimes be charged to grants that funded the research reported in the published article.

d. There are some journals that are entirely open access and charge author fees to fund their operations (this is often called gold open access). This is an unusual model in linguistics and at this point pretty much irrelevant to publication in semantics. Some universities subsidize such fees. Fees can also sometimes be charged to grants that funded the research reported in the published article.

e. There are some journals that are entirely open access and DO NOT charge author fees. These are typically funded through institutional support (this is sometimes called platinum open access). Semantics & Pragmatics is one such journal. Others in adjacent areas are The Philosophers’ Imprint and the Australasian Journal of Logic.

Don’t get involved with edited volumes

Sometimes you might be asked to contribute your work as a chapter in an edited volume or handbook. I have done this (sometimes after having a hard time getting a paper published in a peer-reviewed journal, sometimes because it felt like an easy way to get something out, sometimes because I felt an obligation to the editors). I recommend against it. Edited volumes are a poor vehicle for cutting edge work. They are not as rigorously reviewed as top journals. They are not recognized by promotion & tenure committees as particularly impressive. They often take an enormously long time to get published, often more than even the most egregiously slow journals. Don’t do it.


Any questions or comments? Comment below. Email me. Tweet in response to the announcement of this post on twitter. Leave a Facebook comment.

Written on Permanent link to this article.