How Can You Make Your Research Remarkable?

The details of what makes a specific research project into a remarkable “purple cow” differ depending on the who that your what is for.1

Andreas Köstenberger, the long-standing editor of the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, has one of the best, concise descriptions of what he looks for when assessing for JETS‘s readers whether a submission meets the bar of publishability.2

The Big Picture of Remarkable

When looking at this kind of description, however, it’s easy to lose sight of the forest for all of the trees it contains.

So, before digesting these comments, it’s worth stressing the bigger picture. The question “What will make my research publishable?” is essentially the same question as “What will make it remarkable?” or, more colorfully, “What will make it a purple cow?”

Additional details like those below are helpful and necessary. But they don’t change the bigger picture of what you’re aiming for.

At most, they tell you what specific shade of purple your research project should have for your audience. Your essential goal remains making your research purple, remarkable, extra-ordinary.

An Example Shade of Remarkable

With that bigger picture of the purple cow firmly in view, let me move to summarizing Köstenberger’s account of the shade he finds appropriate for JETS.

As Köstenberger structures his comments, he has four main criteria with a few add-ons. For clarity’s sake here, though, I’m going to unpack these broader criteria into 11 discrete elements.

For JETS, Köstenberger thinks “purple” research does the following:

  1. Treats all of the relevant primary literature as presented in that literature’s standard-setting edition(s).
  2. Treats all of the relevant secondary literature, whatever form it appears in (e.g., commentaries, monographs, journal articles).
  3. Addresses a preponderance of current literature, especially from within the past 10–15 years.
  4. Critically and substantively engages the literature, rather than merely citing it.
  5. Evenhanded, fair presentation of information.
  6. Directly engages objections and opposing arguments.
  7. Exhibits a mature, well-rounded perspective.
  8. Makes a contribution to scholarship by advancing beyond what is already known or accepted, even when advocating essentially those same positions.
  9. Fits the scope of topics the journal publishes, even if perhaps in unexpected or unique ways.
  10. Adheres to the journal’s stylistic and technical expectations. And
  11. Reflects what the author would be happy to have as the piece’s final form.

So, these 11 elements give you a sense of the particular shade of purple most appropriate for JETS.3

Other Shades of Remarkable

But even if your project’s audience lies elsewhere, you’re still doing biblical scholarship. And you’re still wanting that scholarship to be publishable, you’re still wanting it to be purple.

You might need a slightly different shade of purple than is appropriate for JETS. But you’re still looking for a shade of purple.

The fact that both you and JETS are looking for purple biblical scholarship means that, while there will be differences in application, the 11 items listed above likely apply to your who also. After all, you’re looking for a different shade of purple—not a different color from the palette.

Let’s say, for instance, that you’re trying to publish your research in a sermon, but you say at one point, “Now, I wasn’t able exactly to decide what illustration might fit best here. So, I’m just going to skip to the next point. Come back next Sunday, though, and I’ll be sure to give this same sermon with a perfect illustration included.”

That’s not going to be good for encouraging your congregation to engage with what you’re presenting either at the moment or the following Sunday.

Given the difference in its genre, exactly this kind of situation doesn’t come up for JETS. But you can see easily how it violates principle 11 above to have your research in a form that you’d be happy with as its final form.


Multiple other examples could be given for how the 11-point list above might best apply for particular kinds of publishing for particular kinds of audiences.

But what you’re working on publishing in whatever venue is biblical scholarship. And that commonality means that there’s a strong family resemblance between what makes for purple biblical scholarship in one context and what makes for the same thing in another, albeit in a slightly different shade.

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

  2. For Köstenberger’s full comments, see “Editorial,” JETS 44 (2001): 1–3. 

  3. Also useful are the Evangelical Theological Society’s guidelines for quality conference paper proposals. These guidelines recommend that proposals “include a focused abstract that:

    • provides an overview of the argumentation, including a clear thesis statement and the main point(s) of the paper
    • clearly shows connections to the field’s literature
    • highlights the contribution the paper seeks to make to the field
    • and is 200 to 500 words in length.

    Additionally the proposal should have a clear, concise, professional title that avoids jargon and sensationalism and is a maximum of 96 characters in length. We would recommend that you have several colleagues read and critique the proposal with these guidelines in mind.” “Crafting a Quality Proposal,” The Evangelical Theological Society, n.d. 

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2 responses to “How Can You Make Your Research Remarkable?”

  1. Daryl Docterman Avatar
    Daryl Docterman

    Thanks, David! “A purple cow!” I grew up on a farm, so this really spoke to me. Good stuff!

    1. J. David Stark Avatar

      Thanks, Daryl. It really is a nice metaphor. 🙂

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