For Your Research to Be Publishable, You Need to Make It Purple

Who your research is for should determine what it will need to be and what it will mean to publish your research to that audience.1

Your audience might be specialists in biblical studies or not. But that fact doesn’t have any direct bearing on whether your research is good or scholarly.

If that’s all the case, however, what does it mean to for your research to be publishable?

In particular, can anything definite be said about what “publishable” means and that might apply across different audiences?

Is there some stable core to what it means to be “publishable” that you can then flesh out, shade, and understand more fully in the context of whatever particular audience a particular research project has in view?

There is. And the application sometimes might be more complicated. But the core task is fairly straightforward.

Determining whether research is publishable is essentially the same action as seeing whether a cow is purple.2

Did You See that Purple Cow?

When I was growing up, our family would occasionally take take road trips to visit extended family. And like any road trip of any length a fair amount of those trips took place in between major population centers.

In those “in between” spaces in the Midwest, when we looked out the side windows of the car, we frequently saw two things.

The first was corn … and then there was more corn. But in amongst all the corn were, second, cows.

Corn and cows. Brown cows, black cows. More corn, more brown and black cows.

For that area, all of that was quite typical, quite normal, quite unremarkable.

But what if, when we looked out the car window, we saw instead a plainly purple cow?

That wouldn’t be at all typical, normal, or unremarkable.

It would, instead, be quite exceptional, abnormal, and noteworthy.

Why Publishability Is Purpleness

A genuinely purple cow would be a pretty special thing. It would be something worth taking note of, worth engaging, worth remarking about. It would be remarkable.

And for that reason, the question of publishability essentially boils down to that of purpleness.

If your research is a brown cow in a field of other brown and black cows in between fields of corn, there might be nothing particularly wrong with it. It might be unimpeachably ordinary. But so long as it’s just ordinary, it’s not publishable.

You might make it available. But is it something you’re audience is going to find worth actually examining?

They might hear or read your research. But are they going to engage with it?

The odds are good they probably won’t.

So, what you’re looking for when you’re looking to create publishable research is research that’s remarkable, research that’s extraordinary, research that your audience finds worth active examination and not just passive absorption.


  1. Header image provided by Kordula Vahle. For the “first who, then what” principle, I’m particularly playing off of and adapting the discussions of Jim Collins, Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap … and Others Don’t (New York: HarperBusiness, 2001), 41–64; Seth Godin, Linchpin: Are You Indispensable? (New York: Portfolio, 2010). 

  2. The “purple cow” metaphor here and below I’ve borrowed from Seth Godin, Purple Cow: Transform Your Business by Being Remarkable (New York: Portfolio, 2003). 

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