Abstract: Publishing an article in Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Faith and Scholarship involves a process of which many people are not aware. I’m sure it is obvious to all that articles don’t just spring from the mind of an author and onto the printed page. In this essay I draw back the curtain just a bit to give readers a glimpse and, hopefully, an understanding of the process.
Over a decade ago, in August 2012, I was at the annual FAIR Conference. As has been normal at every such conference except one, Dan Peterson was the concluding speaker. As he finished his remarks, he announced the launch of the Interpreter journal. It was on Tuesday, July 31, 2012, that the journal’s first article was published. The second article was published ten days later, on Friday, August 10.
Almost four years later, in April 2016, I joined The Interpreter Foundation and took the reins of the journal. This is a position I have handled for over the past seven years. There have been almost 600 weeks since the first article was published in Interpreter, and we haven’t missed a single one of those weeks. This record can be viewed, by some, as a matter of pride. I don’t view it as pride, so much, but as a matter of consistency and dependability. Over the past 11 years our readership has come to expect at least one article every Friday, and so far we’ve delivered on that expectation.
This article — the one you are reading right now — is the 747th article published in Interpreter. Last week’s article was the final one for Volume 59 of Interpreter, and this article will appear as the Introduction of that volume. In recognition of completing 59 volumes and such a prodigious number of articles, I thought it profitable and, perhaps, interesting to share a few more statistics and pull back the curtain just a bit to give an idea of what it takes to bring an article to publication.
[Page viii]A Few Statistics
In our 59 volumes we have published over 18,800 pages from 212 primary authors. (Several dozen secondary co-authors are not included in that author count. Most authors have written only a single article (127 authors), but some have written many more. Dan Peterson is the most-credited author, with 60 articles. This makes sense, since he has written the introduction essays for most of our 59 volumes. A close second is Matt Bowen (59 articles), followed by Jeff Lindsay (24) and Brant Gardner (24). That leaves 580 articles published by the remaining 208 primary authors.1
Based on the best information available, our three most popular articles (the “top three”)2 are the following:
- Christopher J. Blythe, “Vaughn J. Featherstone’s Atlanta Temple Letter,” Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship 37 (2020): 309–18, https://interpreterfoundation.org/vaughn-j-featherstones-atlanta-temple-letter/
- Terryl L. Givens, “Letter to a Doubter,” Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture 4 (2013): 131–46, https://interpreterfoundation.org/letter-to-a-doubter/.
- Roger Nicholson, “The Spectacles, the Stone, the Hat, and the Book: A Twenty-first Century Believer’s View of the Book of Mormon Translation,” Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture 5 (2013): 121–90, https://interpreterfoundation.org/the-spectacles-the-stone-the-hat-and-the-book-a-twenty-first-century-believers-view-of-the-book-of-mormon-translation/.
It is understandable to me that out of the top three articles, two are from a decade ago (2013), as that aging has provided more time for them to be read, re-read, and disseminated. In other words, they have aged well. Somewhat more surprising is the top article, by Christopher [Page ix]Blythe, that appeared relatively recently, in 2020. And, I could note that the top article has, as of this writing, almost 15% more views than the second-place article.
You may have noticed another thing that should be evident in this top-three list: The full name of Interpreter has changed over the years. When we first published, the full name was Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture. That name held us in good stead for our first 29 volumes. Beginning with Volume 30, in late 2018, our current name was introduced: Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship.
The Detailed Path to Publication
If I had to break down Interpreter’s articles into three very simple editorial categories, I would do so as regular articles, book reviews, and holiday essays.3 None of our articles — regardless of category — are “commissioned” in the traditional sense. By that, I mean we don’t find and assign authors to write on any particular topic, nor do we provide authorial stipends for having written an article.
The procedure for publication differs slightly based on which of these categories we are talking about. First, on the Fridays before both Easter and Christmas we publish what we call a holiday essay. These are generally personal essays about the significance that the invited author places on the holiday. Some are very short and others are longer. Some are quite personal and others are more academic. I find all of them to be a delight, as do other readers of Interpreter.
Book reviews are a mixed collection. We may invite someone to review a book if we feel that the book at point would be of interest to our readership and that the individual we invite has expertise that would tend toward a good review. Many book reviews, however, are from individuals who have simply read a book and, for one reason or another, have written a review of that book.
Regular articles are the bulk of what we publish. In the simple categorization scheme outlined earlier, these are articles that are neither book reviews nor holiday essays; they are “everything else.” Very, very few regular articles that end up in Interpreter have their genesis [Page x]in suggestions made by us.4 The vast majority are articles conceived, researched, and written by scholars simply because they are intrigued by a particular area of study.
When someone writes a book review or a regular article, they submit it to us using this page on our website:
This page provides quite a bit of guidance on how to prepare an article, and it provides more information on our article publication process than I go into in this essay. I point out the page because it will always have the most up-to-date information on our procedures.
Once an article is submitted, it is handled in one of three ways, depending on its category, as described earlier. If it is a holiday essay, it comes directly to me. If it is a book review, it is sent to our book review committee for initial reading. If it is a regular article, it may be read by myself, but more than likely it will be read by either Jeff Lindsay, my co-editor, or Godfrey Ellis, our associate editor. We make the first determination as to whether a submission is appropriate for Interpreter or not. If we determine that it is, then we start the article through the peer review and development process. In the case of a book review, the book review committee determines whether the review should be published, and if the review is of significant length, it may also be peer reviewed.5
Peer review is an interesting process. Some critics of Interpreter (and there have been more than a few, the majority of whom are a subset of the larger set composed of critics of Dan Peterson, the Church, or apologetic efforts in support of the Church) have asserted, without evidence, that peer review is not done at Interpreter. Some have grudgingly conceded that peer review may be done, but it is done by an incestuous group that also publishes in Interpreter. In this assessment, Interpreter is essentially a vanity press where authors and reviewers scratch each other’s backs [Page xi]and periodically switch places, all to meaninglessly assert that peer review occurs.
This is not true, however. Peer review is an arduous, double-blind process that can take months. The general process, as practiced at Interpreter, can be found in deeper detail at this page:
During the time I have been associated with Interpreter, there have been 134 individuals who have completed peer reviews for us. Some of those (87, or 65%) have written at least one article for us. Of the 134 peer reviewers, 124 (92.5%) have graduate degrees, including PhD, EdD, MD, JD, and MA. The preponderance of reviewers (82, or 61%) have earned a PhD. Reviewers have earned their degrees from a wide variety of schools, such as BYU, UCLA, Harvard, Yale, Purdue, and the University of Chicago. In total, peer reviewers’ degrees represent a total of 65 universities. We have utilized peer reviewers from a wide variety of disciplines, including (but not limited to) historians, psychologists, chemists, lawyers, engineers, religion professors, marketing professors, mathematicians, linguists, archaeologists, and Near Eastern studies scholars.
I have also read complaints from some critics that Interpreter doesn’t really do peer review because we don’t utilize reviewers who aren’t members of the Church. This has always struck me as a rather specious argument. First, we have used some non-member reviewers, but admittedly not many. Second, there are a vanishingly small number of people who would have the qualifications to, say, review a paper on linguistic analysis of the Book of Mormon and not be a Church member. Why? Because most linguists who are not members would never have any knowledge of or expertise in the linguistic patterns in the Book of Mormon. It is the same for virtually any other field of study relative to topics that are the focus of articles we publish. Third, we don’t check the religious credentials or orthodoxy of any of our reviewers.
If I were to be managing editor of a publication related to Model T automobiles, it would not make sense to preclude anyone who had owned, driven, or worked on a Model T from reviewing articles for that publication. Those intimately familiar with Model T cars are those most likely to render a productive review of such articles. Similarly, those intimately familiar with the Church, its doctrines, its history, and academic research related to such areas are the ones most likely, it seems to me, to provide valuable feedback on scholarly articles in those niches of interest to Interpreter readers.
[Page xii]I find it interesting that numerous authors have commented that the review process at Interpreter is more rigorous than any such process they experienced when publishing in other academic venues. Some authors have found it so arduous that they have withdrawn their papers. (Fortunately, these instances are few and very far between.) In general, only about 46% of the regular articles submitted to Interpreter make it through initial evaluation and the peer review process. Those papers that make it through the peer review and development process, however, end up as much stronger papers than when initially submitted.
It is at this point that the article is formally accepted and is placed into our production process. Here is where I often first read the paper,6 making sure that the development notes generated during peer review are resolved. I also ensure that the paper is formatted correctly in Microsoft Word, which makes the rest of the production process smoother.
I then arrange for the paper’s sources to be checked. When a paper is accepted for publication, authors are required to provide PDF or photographic copies of all sources they cite within their paper.7 These sources, along with the paper, are assigned to one of three source checkers. These individuals check each source to make sure that quotes are correct and appropriately cited. Quotes and scriptures are checked to make sure they are being represented accurately by the author. The source checkers consult any online resources necessary and often make visits to physical library collections to ensure accuracy. In addition, any citations are formatted to meet guidelines found in The Chicago Manual of Style.8
Once source checking is completed, I review the paper again to make sure the source checker didn’t miss anything. If the source checker discovered issues that need to be addressed, I also take care of working with the author to get them resolved.
Next, the paper is sent off for copy editing. This is capably managed by Tanya Spackman, who utilizes copy editors who have significant experience with editing manuscripts. Editing is done according to[Page xiii] a detailed house style guide that is based upon The Chicago Manual of Style, the Church’s style guide, and The SBL Handbook of Style.9
When copy editing is complete, I review the paper once again to make sure there are no remaining issues that need to be addressed. I then send the paper to our typesetter and, after typesetting, review it a fourth time. Finally, I send it to the author and to either Jeff Lindsay or Godfrey Ellis — whichever one worked with the author during peer review and development — to review and make sure that nothing was inadvertently lost or confused in the production process. This is usually the first time any of these individuals have seen the paper since the end of the peer review process.
It is not unusual at this point for there to be an iterative process of review and refinement by the author. When the paper is pronounced as finished by the author, it is still possible that very minor changes may be made as we create the audio and HTML versions of the paper. Finally, I arrange with Kyler Rasmussen to do the blog post that accompanies the publication of recent regular articles.
As you can tell, the process of publishing a paper in Interpreter can be an arduous and detailed one — a long and winding road. Are the papers that we produce “letter perfect?” No, not always. It is very possible for us or for readers to discover errors even after publication, despite our best efforts.10 We do whatever we can, however, to ensure that the papers are in the very best condition possible.
There is one other important thing to mention — almost everyone involved with the evaluation, development, production, and publication of a paper in Interpreter is a volunteer. They give of their time freely because they believe in the Restoration and they believe in the succinct statement of our mission: Supporting The Church of Jesus Christ of [Page xiv]Latter-day Saints through Scholarship. We all have talents, and we believe that they can be serviceably used11 in support of this mission and the Church.
Personally, I am daily thankful for the efforts of such volunteers. I see the fruits of their efforts intimately. I am especially thankful for Jeff Lindsay, Godfrey Ellis, the peer reviewers, Tanya Spackman, the source checkers, Kyler Rasmussen, and the dozens of people I work with to bring an article to publication. Very few people ever see the efforts of these individuals, but I see them and I know the Lord sees them. It is these people, and so many more, that make The Interpreter Foundation possible.