Stalking the Perfect Journal

For professional linguists, Geoff Pullum’s “Topic … Comment” essays in Natural Language and Linguistic Theory were always a highlight. They are collected in the great volume called “The Great Eskimo Vocabulary Hoax and Other Irreverent Essays on the Study of Language” — highly recommended. Particularly relevant for us here, are three essays on the design and conduct of academic journals: “Stalking the perfect journal”, “Seven deadly sins in journal publishing”, and “Punctuation and human freedom”. The third one is relevant for the style guide for S&P and we’ll get to that soon. The other two advocate certain important features that the perfect journal should have. Let’s go through them one by one.

1. Dates of receipt and revision printed along with each article published.

We will do that.

2. Month of publication printed in each issue.

Since we will publish each article as soon as it is ready, we will publish the exact date of publication on the first page of the article as part of an entire block of crucial bibliographic meta-data.

3. Author’s full mailing address published with every article.

We will do that. (A question arises: should we update this information if an author moves?)

4. Contents list on cover.

In its electronic form, S&P has no cover, so this doesn’t quite apply. Nevertheless, we will advertise the full contents in many ways to provide as much convenient information about what we are publishing as possible.

5. Page numbers on spine of each issue.

Again, this doesn’t apply to the electronic form of S&P. But we’ll see what can be done with the print-on-demand version.

6. First/last page numbers printed on first page of each article.

We will do that, again as part of the comprehensive block of crucial bibliographic meta-data on the first page of each article.

7. Footnotes on the page.

Ah yes, of course. There’s no excuse for journals that still do not do this. Even the Journal of Semantics, which was a hold out for some years, now has footnotes rather than endnotes.

8. Announcements of articles to appear in forthcoming issues.

Since we publish articles as soon as they are ready, there is no time lag during which we would have to maintain such a list. But perhaps, we can list forthcoming articles as soon as we have received the final revised manuscript and while we do final copy-editing and type-setting?

9. Style sheet printed in each issue.

Again, this doesn’t apply to the electronic form of S&P. But we will print our editorial info including the style sheet in each print-on-demand copy (annual volumes and — if we have them — individual issues).

10. Squibs, notes, discussion.

Pullum would like to see journals publishing “short notes or squibs, presenting briefly statable observations or critical comments […] Such a forum is a very important one when a field is faced with an explosively growing literature”. We have already asked for advice on this question and will consider it for S&P. Perhaps, to some extent blogs could take over this function.

11. Blind refereeing.

We will give authors the option of submitting anonymous manuscripts. But it has to be acknowledged that it is hard to maintain anonymity in a small field and in the context of the internet, as discussed elsewhere (here, here, and here).

12. Heterogeneity of editorial influence.

We will have a very extensive Editorial Board, which will hopefully ensure that the journal can truly reflect the diversity of the field.

13. Publication of names of accepting referees.

This is a somewhat radical proposal, which we will not (yet?) adopt. As stated elsewhere, we plan to consider experimentation with the traditional peer review mechanisms at some future point, but not in the crucial start-up phase where we need to establish S&P as a reputable venue for high-quality research.

OK. I hope it’s clear that we have all the intentions to make S&P the perfect journal. Perhaps, you’ll help us by telling us about features that you would like to see.

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About Kai von Fintel

I'm a professor of linguistics at MIT. I work on meaning. I am also Associate Dean of MIT's School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences. I have a wife, two kids, two cats, and a dog. I live in an intentional community (Mosaic Commons Cohousing) in Berlin, Massachusetts. I am a runner. I like soccer, a lot. I was born on a cold winter’s night in a small village on the Lüneburg Heath in Northern Germany.

2 thoughts on “Stalking the Perfect Journal

  1. Pullum’s first desideratum is “Dates of receipt and revision printed along with each article published”, but journals should actually be more ambitious: They should publish the date when the first decision was taken. If the time lag between the receipt date and the revision date is 18 months, one can conclude nothing from this: The journal reviewers/editors could have been very quick, but it took the author very long to do the revisions; or the journal editors/reviewers needed over a year (as has happened to me with a renowned journal), and the author was very quick. To assess a journal’s performance, one crucially needs the “first decision” date.

  2. That’s a very good point, Martin. Of course, we were going to track that kind of statistics internally, but you’re right: we should publish all relevant dates: submitted, first decision, revision received, accepted, published.

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