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In historical research I came across a novel question and, after investing time in it, I have an answer. This helps my original project, but the explanation to the novel question is so substantial that I would like to publish it separately.

It is well known that X did Y. The thesis of the proposed article is that Z explains X's decision. Unfortunately, I can't point to any publication that asks why X did Y, and Z has no obvious relevance to present day issues.

Why should reviewers want to see an article addressing an unknown problem? What can I do to justify the project?

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    How do other people in your field do it? Every question must have been asked for a first time. Feb 3 '20 at 6:40
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    One of the world's most remarkable scientists (Bob Langer) was once quoted "as a student you get judged by how good your answer is, as a researcher you get judged by how good your question is" (I'm paraphrasing). Feb 3 '20 at 12:34
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If you provide enough context and frame the issue in a way that makes the question of why X did Y as a compelling one, and if the answer that the reason X did Y was Z is sufficiently interesting, nontrivial, and/or based on evidence that was hard to find or required combining information from several unrelated sources in some surprising way, well, then, to quote Rudyard Kipling, “Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it - you’ll have yourself a fine research paper.

Conversely, if the question of why X did Y is not compelling, then even if it was the case that someone had asked it at one point, that might not guarantee that your paper would be seen as worth publishing.

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  • Thank you. Definitely Z is nontrivial; I will seek to make the why compelling. Feb 5 '20 at 17:23
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Well, this is the core of research: You ask questions due to your knowledge and expertise that others probably cannot ask. And then you publish your results. There is no general need to justify the question as long as your question makes sense. It will be sufficient if you describe how you arrived at that question. You certainly have read some literature for that, so you will also cite some sources.

And reviewers will be happy with it if your methods are fine, your results are plausible etc.

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