I have written a paper on applying a mathematical theory to a linguistic problem. I privately submitted it to several renowned professors (some of them very famous indeed) in the field of linguistics, semantics and so on. They made some suggestions and expressed some criticism on some details, but for the most part they praised the quality of the paper.

Following their suggestion, I submitted it to a leading journal in the field. The answer I got from the journal’s preliminary assessment was that the paper had huge potential, but was too mathematical for them. They advised me to resort to their sister publication, where much more focus on natural language processing and mathematics is to be found. The answer was the mirror image: nice paper, definitely scienficially worthy, but too soft, that is, too linguistic or informal for advanced mathematicians or computer scientists.

Now I am in no man’s land. The paper is indeed interdisciplinary (as corresponds to a linguist using some mathematics as he needs them), but I find it very unfortunate that due to a false sense of the own domain, noone seems to feel responsible for its contents, which I deem valuable. Before trying any further submission, I was entertaining the option of submitting it to the ArXiv, but I do not know whether that will make any sense.

How can I proceed to find a journal that considers my paper to fit within its scope?

I posted this question on Math Stack Exchange before and was recommended to repost it here.

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    Have you put the paper on arXiv yet?
    – Nobody
    Commented Jan 15, 2016 at 12:22
  • 1
    No, not yet. I have sent it to a couple of journals, with the above mentiones answer. My fear is that putting it in arxiv might make it count as a non-publication and even prevent its future publication in a journal. Apparently, that would not matter if I get a nice echo in the community via arxiv but I am unsure about that. Commented Jan 15, 2016 at 12:27
  • 1
    What is your question? Are you just asking if people want to read your paper (which is not on-topic), or something else?
    – jakebeal
    Commented Jan 15, 2016 at 13:24
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    @JavierArias: I heavily edited your question, reducing it to a single question that should be on-topic here – note that “What shall I do?” is rarely a good question for this site. To this end, I removed a lot of details that I consider to be irrelevant and to divert from your actual problem and made your question more general. Please check whether everything is still according to your intentions.
    – Wrzlprmft
    Commented Jan 15, 2016 at 14:35
  • 3
    @Wrzlprmft Thanks for editing. It is fine with me. Let see if I get fruitful feedback and advice. Commented Jan 15, 2016 at 14:38

6 Answers 6


I sense impatience or even desperation in your original question and comments: If you have got serious indications of you are about to be scooped by other scientists, then I will advise you to publish now on ArXiv or likewise. In some other scenarios, you could benefit most of keeping your paper secret forever. More on this later on.

Do you realize that your research from a mathematician's point of view most likely is applied science, but might be basic science in the field of natural language analysis? Scientists with a pure linguistic background might not even be aware of the potential of advanced mathematic theories.

I can hardly imagine a single paper suitable for journals in different fields without heavy editing aimed for each separate field: Mathematicians want to read about implementation details of the theory, and why one method works better than other ones. Too less of this stuff and your work is “too soft”. However, they do not care about the implications of your results in the field of linguistics. Language researchers prefer to know what results you can achieve using advanced mathematics but too many implementation details will look like unnecessary "noise", which never will pass the assessment committee.

Even you do not like the journal's comments I will encourage you to consider that they provides you with useful facts.

Suppose a journal accepted your paper just to make you happy. Language researchers scanning literature for a method to solving a specific problem identical to yours setup, say extract meaning of natural language texts in the style of IBM’s Watson, will not get the point in relation to their fields, because they do not understand larger parts of your paper. Mathematicians looking for examples of appliances of the theory you applied, say bayesian networks, will quickly move on to papers they can read with lesser efforts. Only people with experience from both fields can take full advantage of the paper, which implies a very low number of citations. That is not what you want.

Interdisciplinary research often leads to spectacular new knowledge and if your paper contains revolutionary concepts or eye-catching implications, it could be a candidate for Nature or Science without changes. Also, try reading “call for papers” for conferences. If you match their hot topics, they will probably accept your paper as it is.

Otherwise, it is a matter of finding that journal, which you most easily can make your paper fit into, and which is the best choice for your career: Did you ever ask yourself why you wrote this paper? Academic ambitions? Then I guess only journals of linguistics will count. Do you look for a position as researcher in a private company? Then you should go for applied mathematics.

Based on the comment "definitely scienficially worthy, but too soft" and the professors' general acceptance, it sounds like that the right way for just proper academic recognition could be to rewrite your paper as a book. Wiley, Prentice Hall, etc. tend to listen to recommendations from professors - their actual customers. A submission to ArXiv does not prevent this, and you do not write a single line until you have got a signed contract.

Follow up on just submitting to ArXiv:

A scientist uncovering new areas should always discuss the potential for patents with attorneys before attempting to publish. Publishing prevents patenting. Patenting will worst case only delay publishing.

If your research is useful for software making Siri looking like a toy, I assumes you would like to get along with financial strong companies (Google/Microsoft), which usually keeps their best secrets as secrets and that means no patents/publishing. You deserves economic recognition too.

Good luck!

  • Well, the thing is, it might be the case that some applications are derived from the line of research the paper describes.....My problem is, I do not know how to evaluate that, and I am a little afraid, because maybe everything is trivia at certain levels for computer scientist and the like..or maybe I will be played out as a naive idiot so to speak.....I woud like to protect my financial interest if the whole thing is worthy.... Commented Jan 17, 2016 at 22:11
  • No, I am not particulary afraid of peers scooping my paper. Most linguist would not understand much of it, to be honest. They would pretend the do, though. Commented Jan 17, 2016 at 22:19
  • Feel free to contact me under [email protected] . My web (still work in progress) may also be helpful for those of you who want to know a bit about my background: javierarias.info Commented Jan 17, 2016 at 22:21
  • I certainly did not write the paper due to academic ambitions, since this paper deviates from most of the other stuff I usually publish, and yet I somehow find it much more valuable. I started writing it because I just wanted to understand a certain problem to the core...... Commented Jan 17, 2016 at 22:31
  • I have just read your C.V. and I am impressed even I am a computer scientist. You are older and certainly much more experienced than I thought. If you find the topic of your paper that interesting as you do, when you decide to write a paper, then with your experience taken into account, I feel completely sure that the scientific value of your paper is sufficient for almost any journal of linguistics.
    – Gyrfalcon
    Commented Jan 18, 2016 at 0:43

Interdisciplinary papers have this problem a lot. A - now - very influential paper in my field, I was told by the first author, was in limbo for 4 years before it was published, despite the senior author being world-famous.

Persistence is the key. Try to find someone influential who is knowledgeable and you can convince to help you expanding/adapting/explaining the work better and you could then co-submit with. Or else, you could consider aiming for a general-purpose journal such as PLoS ONE, and whose reviewers are advised to select by novelty and correctness, rather than (subjectively judged) relevance.

Learning to write for the specific audience of a journal can also help.

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    +1 for "Learning to write for the specific audience of a journal can also help." Commented Jan 15, 2016 at 13:03
  • @Captain Emacs Thanks for your comments. I have contacted an important scholar expert on one of the authors I dealt with in the paper, and maybe he will help me publish it. Let us see. I am just not too confifent, i hate the whole patronizing attitude in academics. I myself am not a nobody, got shortlisted for a Professorship in Zurich a couple of years ago, but what drives me nuts is the inner feeling, exactly the same paper would have a totally different treatment or acceptance if my status were different. It sucks. Commented Jan 15, 2016 at 14:05
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    I could tell you stories... However, ultimately you are largely not responsible for your environment where you cannot change it; you are only responsible for your actions. You cannot change gravity, so you build stairs. You cannot change the winter, so you buy warm clothes. You cannot change your peers, so you build bridges. You are the only person you can change, and even that is hard. Others have their own package to worry about, and may have started out as idealists and ended up pragmatists or opportunists. Very few manage to resist that. Commented Jan 15, 2016 at 14:50
  • I wish I could favorite your comment. Wonderful! And nice answer
    – llrs
    Commented Jan 18, 2016 at 8:33
  • hard to believe this is the only solution mentioning PLoS ONE. its metier is uniting all fields. (this could also be true of other megajournals, i don't know.)
    – user14140
    Commented May 1, 2016 at 5:44

Here are some suggestions to get your work published, that may or may not apply to your case – you have to judge for yourself.

Ask the journals

When submitting a rejected paper to another journal, it is often recommendable (and some journals even require it) that you detail to which journals you submitted your papers before and why they rejected it. In your specific case, this may lead to editors being more lenient regarding the scope, in particular if we are talking about sister journals and even more so, if they aspire to cover the entirety of a given field.

If you did not do this, I recommend writing to both journals you submitted to so far and inform them that the respective sister journal also rejected the paper for being out of its scope. At the same time, you can ask the respective journals to recommend a suitable target journal.

Another possibility that you have to consider is that declaring the paper off-topic was an easy way out for the editors to deal with a paper they didn’t really know what to do with. So it may be that your paper does have some relevant flaws that were unmentioned. If you write to the journals as suggested above (and if you do not make any accusations in this direction), they may give you some hints as to what you can improve.

Ask your private reviewers

Another inspiration for journal selection may come from the professors who privately reviewed your paper. If it pertains to their field, they should be able to recommend you a journal. At the same time, you can ask them whether there is anything they would change about the paper to adapt it to the journal they suggest.

Split your paper

This is a standard technique used by my interdisciplinary surrounding: Publish a methods paper (or similar) in a more theoretical journal and then publish an application paper in a more applied journal. A major problem of an interdisciplinary paper – even though never said explicitly – may be the journals have no idea who could review it (this problem would even arise with mega journals). Remember that they need to find a number of people who have sufficient knowledge of all relevant fields and they have to accept to review. Splitting your paper may allow each part to be reviewed by experts of the respective field and thus solve this problem.

  • Thanks for your comments. With regard to the journals, the second one was informed about the first one's good judgdement on the paper (an even about the names of some of the private reviewers I sent it to before the first submission) and about their recommendation to submit it to their sister journal, due to the scope. So there is no excuse there. You may be right that the paper may have been a nuisance to them: their assessment came later than they had promised. Maybe they are just not competent to read some parts of it and instead of confessing that, they give that answer. Commented Jan 15, 2016 at 15:19
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    @JavierArias This 'lack of competence' that you mention is a sign of appropriateness of the venue though. As the reviewers are a representation of the audience of of the journal. If they cannot find reviewers that are competent to properly review it, likely the bulk of the audience won't be able to either, and so not a good fit.
    – Mr.Mindor
    Commented Jan 15, 2016 at 19:38
  • @Mr.Mindor Well, the point is that interdiscoplinary work assumes competence in at least two branches of knowledge. Unfortunately the division of labour in academics mostly produces what Germans call "Fachidioten". So basically there is hardly anybody prepared / able to read innovative stuff. My point beinglack of competence should not backfire against the author, who is not responsible for it and has made a huge effort to come to grips with two disciplines or domains. Commented Jan 15, 2016 at 19:54
  • You might help them out by suggesting some possible reviewers, or people to contact to suggest them.
    – vonbrand
    Commented Jan 16, 2016 at 0:15
  • That's some nickname you have there... what happened to the vowels? :-(
    – einpoklum
    Commented Jan 17, 2016 at 10:35

To go a little further than Captain Emacs's answer: even for people doing non-interdisciplinary fields, it's pretty common for nice papers having trouble finding a venue. One important conjecture in my field (and has motivated a lot of my personal research) was made 30 years ago and remains unpublished because the author had trouble getting it accepted and eventually gave up.

In addition to persistence being important, I want to add: browse journals for similar kinds of papers.

I also had trouble getting one of my papers published because it was on a novel type of problem, which both makes it hard to gauge interest and makes it hard to find appropriate referees. The first journal we submitted to had it refereed by someone in another field who didn't seem so interested in the pure mathematical aspects. Then we tried a couple of other journals (including one recommended by an editor of a previous submission) who said it wasn't a good fit and/or couldn't find referees. After looking around again and browsing a lot of papers in various journals, we finally found an appropriate one. Yay!

Also, in order for editors and likely referees to be able to properly understand it and find it appropriate, you may need to rewrite it for the intended audience of the journal (Cap. Emacs' last point). Again, browsing papers in the journal will help you get a better sense of the intended audience.

  • Would it make sense to upload the text in Arxiv? Or would it be counterproductive? Commented Jan 15, 2016 at 20:03
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    @JavierArias For your paper? I don't know about being "counterproductive" but it might not be appropriate if it's more a linguistics paper than a math paper. (We put ours on the arXiv, but our paper was just a math paper.) It's also possible that journals in fields without an arXiv culture may not want to publish something posted on a preprint server.
    – Kimball
    Commented Jan 15, 2016 at 20:29
  • Well, I guess the most reasonable thing to do is to wait one or two weeks to see if that Professor expert on Zellig Harris can find a venue for the paper. If it does not pan out, then I guess I will upload it in the Arxiv. The paper is half math half linguistics, I would say, and is relevant for both kinds of audience (assuming one is open-minded enough to approach it bias-free).Let us see..... Commented Jan 15, 2016 at 20:49
  • To enforce the "persistence" aspect further: I did need 4 consecutive submissions once to get a (quite nice in my opinion) paper published, and if I remember half a dozen for another which was interdisciplinary (math+eco). There is more randomness in the process than the answers you got may indicate. Commented Jan 16, 2016 at 10:06
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    @JavierArias: point is, quality does need the right person to be recognized. If your paper did not end up in the right hand in the previous submission, it may do in later ones. I agree that some habits are frustrating, but there is little point reworking the whole world compared to take concrete action, such as resubmit. By the way, the suggestion to send to PLoS ONE might be very good, as they are precisely designed to try avoid the pitfall you are in (among other things), but you will have to pay 1500$ or ask a waiver. Commented Jan 16, 2016 at 10:59

Linguistics Ph.D. student here.

I'd say keep looking through the linguistics journals. Several of the big name ones seem to be able to handle quantitative analysis just fine, and some of them welcome it.

What I'm thinking of specifically is that at the recent meeting of the Linguistic Society of America, the award for the best paper that appeared in the prestigious journal Language in 2015 was given to a phylogenetic analysis of various features found in the Indo-European languages, pinpointing the likely geographic origin of the language family. I read this article in its entirety when it first appeared in print. It's fairly math-heavy for a linguistics article, and I certainly didn't understand all of the numbers and statistics in it; regardless, evidently the journal evidently did not object, and the linguistics community in general was impressed. Offhand, I know that Language also once published an innovative article detailing a rather unorthodox use of geometry as applied to the analysis of a language's morphology. What you've come up with probably isn't weirder than that, at a guess.

I get the feeling that even theoretical linguistics is becoming more and more receptive to empirical/quantitative work. The Journal of Semantics was pretty open to interdisciplinary research last time I looked into it. Others that might be worth trying: Linguistic Inquiry, Natural Language and Linguistic Theory, and Natural Language Semantics. (And if you can tie the project to language change at all, Language Variation and Change always expects to see numbers in some form or another.)

  • Well, i was not thinking about providing too many details, but since you mention many journals I guess I should give a bit of info. I first submitted the paper privately to 5 professors in the US. One of them, Noam Chomsky, answered back some 10 days later or so, telling me, very concisely, that he found it very appealing and interesting, but that it was well beyond what he has worked on the topic (and on language). An former Professor of mine, Barbara Partee, gave me a more detailed response. with suggestions for corrections and so on,which I partly incorporated. Commented Jan 17, 2016 at 19:29
  • We thought about discussing the topic further, but since she was on travel and very busy, we put that off for a while and now I am not sure whether it makes much sense annoying anyone with it. Some other Professors also answered, like Lila Gleitman and, specially Robert Barsky, an expert on Zellig Harris, who is now the person I hope my help me with publishing the text. Out of all the answers I was encouraged to submit it to Linguistic Inquiry, which I did. That was the first Journal. The second was its sister publication Computational Linguitics. Commented Jan 17, 2016 at 19:32
  • After that, I was about to send it to Information and Computaiton, but the contact email seemed not to be active anymore, so I stopped there. Meanwhile, the editor in chief od Computational Linguistics suggested me to submit it to Language, Logic and Information or else upload it at Arxiv. So now I am waiting for Professor Barsky's reaction and suggestion. If that does not work, Maybe I will give one more journal a chance or just move straight to Arxiv. I do not what this to become an aeternal issue. Commented Jan 17, 2016 at 19:35
  • The paper is NOT about quantitative analysis in the way in which linguists like to see it (statistical analysis of basic vocabulary, two tailed t-tests for significance of phonological acquisition by children and so on). It deals with Zellig Harris's view on sublanguages in a way which sheds some light in the history of the interplay between Noether's school and Structural Linguistics. Ia has quite a lot of maths in it, but it is not a quantitative paper as frequently understood in the field. Commented Jan 17, 2016 at 19:42
  • Those of you interested in having a copy of the paper can contact me privately at [email protected]. For info on my CV and prior publications, you may have a look at javierarias.info. Commented Jan 17, 2016 at 19:44

My suggestion is to try to present the result in a conference first. In some fields (not sure if that's true for yours) the bar for getting into a conference is lower to some extent; and even if that's not true, a conference organizers may be more inclined to have a "weird stuff / odds and ends / couldn't fit this anywhere else" session. Maybe even try to get it in as a non-refereed paper, i.e. as an invited talk - that would mean contacting the organizers rather than the program committee, or both.

When this happens, you might be able to attract enough attention to increase your chance for a journal publication.

This is not to detract from the fine suggestions in @Wrzlprmft's excellent answer.

  • I have attended some dozens of conferences in my life, in many of them I had a talk or a poster. Now I am done with that, on many reasons (also health reasons). There is a (not so) fine line between some reasonable marketing of something (basically, let a wide audience know that you exist, that a given work has been done) and lobbying becoming almost a full-time job. I have done some of the first and theis thread is referred to possible ways of doing it better or more efectively. I am definitively not doing the second thing anymore. Commented Jan 17, 2016 at 10:53
  • Many of the insightful findings by Thomas Kuhn with regard to scientific paradigms have become unfortunately, some fossilized form of sociological sectarism on the part of dominant groups of power. I have reach something in my life on purely independent terms, even got considered for very importante positions such as Zurich despite not haviunbg a Godfather, and now I had it with it. My attitude is: i have something that I deem valuable, I let people know about it. Does the world want it or not? If not, I move on. I know the stuff myself, have no further interest in annoying anyone. Commented Jan 17, 2016 at 10:57
  • I am moviing this stuff as much as I can on the web, I have contacted professors, have mathematicians read the paper, and so on. No serious criticisism has come thus far. All considered it a valuable paper. I am trying to publish the paper, but I am not sacrificing my few energy left or my whole life on this. I just do not have the energy anymore. If people want to publish it, great. If not, bad luck for all, I close all my academic windows and that is, back to my small garden. Commented Jan 17, 2016 at 11:01
  • All suggestions are welcome, but please, keep in mind: I am not world famous or anything, but I am not a graduating student either.I am not a nobody in my field, I have a solid publication track and for me it would be very easy to just keep on publishing very specific narrow-minded stuff, with almost automatics acceptance. If I write this kind of interdisciplinaty paper is because that is what I deem really valuable and the only way of really thinking problems in a deep fashion. So I see it like a real effort and some sort of testament or favour to others. If noone wants it, I get the message Commented Jan 17, 2016 at 11:04
  • For me, the message being conveyed if this paper is not accepted is something like: please keep on publishing your eaisy stuff, we all are happy with that. Do not make our lives miserable with that other kind of paper. That is the kind of message which makes me very sad, and part of the reason why I am not attending conferences or any other vanity fair any longer. I hope you know better grasp my context, thus making yous answers target the goal in a more appropriate way. Sorry for my typos in the whole thread. The program does not always allow me to edit and correct them. Commented Jan 17, 2016 at 11:07

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