When Do You Need to Wait to Ship?

You want to know whether your research is publishable.1 I’ve suggested the only way to answer this question is to ship the best work you can do and see what happens.

But should you always ship everything when you think it’s ready? Or are there some times when you need to wait to ship?

Start with Who

When deciding what your research should be, you need to start with considering who it’s for.2

The same is true when you’re deciding what it means to publish your research.

And not surprisingly, the same principle applies when you’re contemplating shipping your work.

The key questions are

  1. Is your who a professor in a degree you’re doing? And
  2. Is that degree in any way related to the research you’re considering shipping?

If not, then there’s nothing stopping you from moving ahead. But if so, you’ve got a couple other boxes to check to make sure you ship at the best time.

If You’re a Student …

When writing as a student, there’s at least one special case where you might both have a purple cow and need to wait to ship it.3

Beyond this, there might be more. I think the thoughts I’m sharing here generally apply. But definitely above these, you should prioritize the particular requirements you’re under for your program.

Still, the general principle you want to consider carefully relates to the uniqueness of your future work in your program. That way, you can avoid inadvertently creating difficulties for yourself by publishing your research in certain venues too soon.

A good example is that a PhD thesis or dissertation generally needs to make a unique contribution to scholarship. Sometimes, the same can be true at the masterBut if you’ve already published in a journal a key part of what you were hoping to do for your dissertation, you might find that your institution won’t any longer consider that dissertation to make a unique contribution.

Even though you published the article, the key point may be that you’ve published it. And given that it’s published, it’s out there. Saying the same thing (or something substantially similar) in longer form may mean that that’s no longer unique.

On the other hand, if you publish a key finding when teaching orally in your faith community, it might not raise any eyebrows at all. The who for your dissertation may be sufficiently different from the who for your oral presentation that your dissertation’s who still finds that project to be a unique contribution.


So, as a student, you need to clearly understand what a particular kind of publication might commit you to.

Then, you can decide whether you’re okay with that. Or you can treat what you’ve created as part of a larger research project that you’ll ship once you think the larger whole is clearly purple.

  1. Header image provided by Kai Pilger

  2. Here, I’m particularly playing off of and adapting the discussion of Jim Collins, Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap … and Others Don’t (New York: HarperBusiness, 2001), 41–64. 

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

How Do You Know What Color Your Research Is?

For research to be publishable, it needs to be remarkable.1 It needs to be extraordinary—like a purple cow is extraordinary among typically black and brown cows.2

Who your research is for will help determine what shade of purple it should be, or what counts as remarkable.3 But whatever shade that is, it’s still a shade of purple, still a kind of remarkable. It’s not a kind of mundanity, not a shade of black or brown.

And it’s quite easy to spot a purple cow, or remarkable research—except when it’s not.

That ambiguity begs the question, “How do you know what color the cow really is?”

If you’re evaluating your research for yourself, how do you know whether you’re right in seeing it as publishable? If you receive negative feedback (whether from someone else or from your own internal critic), how do you whether your research really is publishable?

The answer to these questions comes in two parts.

1. Recognize colorblindness is possible.

First, you have to recognize the colorblindness or bias you or others might have either for or against your work based on how it appears.

You or your reviewers might be seeing purple, black, and brown, exactly where they are. Any of you might rightly see a piece of research as publishable or not quite there yet.

Or you or your reviewers might be seeing black or brown for purple, or purple for black or brown. Any of you might see publishable research as not really there or vice versa.

Recognizing the possibility of this colorblindness doesn’t do much to definitively answer the question of whether your research is publishable.

Still, it’s a necessary preliminary without which you can’t come to the second step that will ultimately answer the question.

What Publishing Is: A Reprise

But before I come to that second part, let me come back to what I’ve proposed as the essential core of what publishing is.

In publishing,

  • you open your research to examination by others and
  • others examine your research where you’ve made it accessible.

The point that bears stressing here is that you can only directly control the first of these two aspects of what publishing means.

Whether others will expend the effort to engage and examine your research is ultimately up to them.

You can and should use your best judgment to discern the what that will be best for your who. And that judgment is something you can improve over time.

But what others do (or don’t do) with your research isn’t something you can directly control. At best, it’s something over which you have only indirect influence.

What does this mean then for answering the question of how to know whether your research is, in fact, publishable?

2. Ship your research.

It means, simply, that this isn’t a question you can answer by yourself. You need others to help you answer it.

You can and should do the best you can to make sure your research is clearly purple. Others might agree or disagree.

But whatever their assessment, your core responsibility is to “ship” your work, or make it available. In that way, you start the process of testing whether it is, in fact, publishable.4

If the “others” that constitute your audience agree, that’s great! If not, what have you learned?

What you haven’t learned is that your isn’t publishable. What you have learned is that it didn’t look publishable to the folks that rejected it.

It’s still an open question as to who’s right and whether your research actually is publishable. But you can only get to the answer to that question by … wait for it … shipping it again.

By all means, learn from the feedback you got about what didn’t look purple in the process of your work’s rejection. By all means, revise your work as best you can so that you think it will look more clearly purple the next time around.5


In the end, you can only know whether your work is publishable by putting it out there, shipping it, and seeing what happens.

Publication isn’t something you can directly control. So, focus instead on what you can control—sitting down, producing research that looks purple as best you can honestly tell, and putting it out there to see whether you get agreement or suggestions for improving its hue.

  1. Header image provided by Kordula Vahle

  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). 

  3. 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). 

  4. For more on the importance of making creative work available for others, see Seth Godin, The Practice: Shipping Creative Work (New York: Portfolio, 2020). 

  5. On the importance of revising rejected material and putting the revised version back out for publication, see also Stanley E. Porter, Inking the Deal: A Guide for Successful Academic Publishing (Waco, TX: Baylor University, 2010), 89–102. 

Two Problems You Can Have Creating Purple Research

It’s all very well and good to say that determining whether research is publishable is essentially the same action as seeing whether a cow is purple.1

But is that actually the case? Wouldn’t a purple cow be easier to spot than publishable research?

Talking about remarkable purpleness on a cow is one thing. But your research doesn’t stand up in front of you obviously attesting its own publishability, or purpleness.

So, isn’t recognizing purple research entirely different from recognizing a purple cow? And what should you make of times when you think you have a purple cow but it turns out not to be publishable as you’d hoped?

In a word, no. Recognizing purple cows, purple research, or anything else as extraordinary is a substantially similar action. And the different venues for this action suffer from the same challenges, although those challenges take different forms for their particular cases.

Sometimes the ordinary and unremarkable can be confused with the extraordinary and remarkable. Sometimes purple can be confused with black or brown.

From the perspective of your research, this can happen in two ways:

  1. Your research might be a black or brown cow that looks purple. Or
  2. Your research might be a purple cow that looks black or brown.

1. When Black or Brown Cows Look Purple

If you put on tinted glasses, everything you see you’ll see as having the hue of those glasses.

So, if your glasses have purple lenses, what you see through them will appear some shade of purple.

Without the glasses, you might look and see a black or brown cow. But with the glasses, you might see the cow as purple.

In this case, however, what’s exceptional isn’t the cow. It’s the glasses through which you’re looking at the cow.

When a couple is newly in love, they might look at each other through “rose-colored” glasses.

Similarly, when each of us looks at his or her own research, it’s always a temptation to look through “purple-colored” glasses.

The research might, in fact, be quite ordinary and unremarkable. But because of our personal investment in it, it looks to us like the brightest and clearest shade of publishable purple ever known.

In this case, maybe what we’ve produced is on the way to being remarkable. But what’s more remarkable—what’s more purple—is how overly favorable we are toward it.

2. When Purple Cows Look Black or Brown

On the other hand, the opposite may also happen. You might have a purple cow, but that cow might look black or brown.

Put your purple cow in the shade, or look at it in the dim light of early morning or evening, and it might look just as black or brown as any other cow.

In this case, the cow is actually purple. But because of how it’s seen (i.e., the kind of light, or lack thereof), it looks black or brown.

Maybe you have a purple cow. But maybe that journal or publisher you sent it to turned it down. However your research looked to the person(s) deciding whether to accept it as publishable, it definitely didn’t look purple.

Or maybe you’re looking at your own work this way. Maybe it is a purple cow and would find pretty ready acceptance for publication. But maybe you doubt that, so you hold back on it, either worried or convinced that your purple cow might just be black or brown after all.


So, yes, sometimes it’s hard to tell whether research is actually publishable or not. But those difficulties are the same kind that come up if you’re trying to determine whether a cow is purple.

Purple cows can look black or brown just like publishable research can look like it isn’t. Black or brown cows can look purple just as publishable research can look like it is.

Fortunately, when you come across these kinds of uncertainties, there’s a definitive way to tell for sure whether your research is purple or not.

  1. Header image provided by Kordula Vahle. 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). 

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. 

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).