American Journal of Physics®

Statement of Editorial Policy

The American Journal of Physics publishes papers that will support, inform, and delight a diverse audience of college and university physics teachers. It strives to present papers that are not only original, correct, and significant, but also carefully written and interesting to a large number of physics educators. Technical correctness is necessary, but it is not the only condition for acceptance. Clarity of exposition and potential interest to the readers are equally essential. It is the reader, not the author, who must receive the benefit of the doubt. To be publishable in AJP, a manuscript must be written for, and also must be useful, interesting, and accessible to a broad range of physicists.

Many of the published papers will be directly useful in the classroom. They may describe new approaches to teaching or present interesting additions to course content and assignments. While most papers will focus on the intermediate and advanced undergraduate curriculum, some will be of interest to instructors in post-graduate programs. Pedagogical value can be added to all articles by including suggested problems or projects for students. Examples include problems with analytical solutions, computational exercises and simulations, and the analysis of experimental data.

Papers that introduce new laboratory or demonstration apparatus, techniques, or exercises are also welcomed. Although brief papers that only describe how to build a new apparatus are acceptable, authors are also encouraged to share observations of how students interact with the apparatus. Papers that propose new student experiments based on novel uses of existing apparatus are also acceptable. In all cases, the approximate cost of the apparatus should be included, along with information on how to obtain the components.

The Journal invites manuscripts that can be used to bring contemporary research in physics and related fields into the classroom. Such manuscripts should not be review articles, but rather self-contained articles that describe a particular aspect of a research topic in such a way that it is accessible to as many physicists as possible. These articles may be useful to instructors who want to show how a course topic relates to current research and also may introduce undergraduates to current research topics.

Shorter manuscripts are generally more desirable than longer ones, and authors should consider submitting longer derivations, additional applications, program scripts, and data tables as supplementary material. Occasionally, review or tutorial articles are published, often of a length greater than that of the average article. These articles are solicited, and thus authors wishing to write such articles must consult with the editors at an early stage.

Unlike research journals, which may present accurate research results with little consideration of how many readers will be interested, AJP strives to present a carefully curated sampling of the most readable and interesting articles related to physics teaching. The importance of graceful, clear, accessible writing cannot be overemphasized.

Most readers of a particular article will not be specialists in the subject matter presented. The introductory paragraphs should carefully present the context of the new work and should explain how this new work builds on and differs from the cited material. Manuscripts must take proper cognizance of previous work, and authors should be particularly careful to search physics education journals for related work. Such referencing is especially helpful to beginning teachers, and may remind others of once well-known ideas, proofs, or techniques that may again be useful to physics teachers and students. It is the responsibility of the author to provide adequate references to previous work, and submissions that lack them will be returned to the author without review.

Contributions are considered for sections including Regular Articles, Notes and Discussion, Instructional Laboratories and Demonstrations, Computational Physics, Guest Editorials, and Letters to the Editor. Regular articles should usually not exceed six journal pages, with notes and other contributions being substantially shorter. Notes are short communications that are usually confined to the discussion of a single concept, or comments on previously published articles. The Instructional Laboratories and Demonstrations section generally focuses on new apparatus and techniques for instructional laboratory exercises and demonstrations. Letters to the Editor are selected for their likely interest to readers. Book Reviews and Resource Letters are solicited, not contributed, and undergo a separate review process.

Collegial disagreement has a proper place in the Journal, but extended argumentation does not. To encourage the former and discourage the latter, the editors will forward to authors any communications received that are critical of their published work. Authors and critics will then be asked to correspond directly with one another. If after this correspondence, an improved understanding is reached, they will be encouraged to prepare a brief jointly-authored Note. If such an agreement should prove impossible, the critic’s Note may be published alone, or followed by the authors’ response if it makes a significant addition to the discussion. Letters to the editor are also appropriate for briefer comments on an article; these will be published following the same procedure as for Notes, although without necessarily requiring peer review. In no case will there be more than one round of discussion of a paper.

The Physics Education Research (PER) section of AJP stopped accepting manuscripts in 2018 (see the editorial in the January 2018 issue of AJP). AJP continues to accept papers on physics teaching. It is rare that the same paper can be submitted to AJP and to Physical Review Physics Education Research or other education research journals, since the writing styles are quite different. A paper for AJP should have minimal discussion of the study itself and should focus on how the new knowledge can inform the practice of physics teaching. If desired, details such as methodology and statistics may be included in supplementary material. The paper should carefully define terms that may not be familiar to the typical AJP reader. If the manuscript includes many such terms, it may be a sign that it is not suited for AJP.

Why was my paper rejected?

Papers should significantly aid the learning of physics and not be primarily a display of cleverness and erudition; in fact, the harder a paper is to read, the more useful and rewarding must be its result.

The mere solution of a problem seldom constitutes an acceptable contribution, regardless of how difficult the problem, although using undergraduate-level physics to solve interesting or puzzling real-world problems can be valuable. If these topics are studied by specialists in fields outside of physics, then it is essential that the writer is aware of this work and provides citations to the most relevant articles.

Manuscripts that show new ways of understanding, explaining, or deriving familiar results must provide some original physical insight and not just be a clever derivation.

Manuscripts on topics that largely parallel those already available in textbooks, monographs, or other published articles and that differ from them primarily in style rather than coverage are not suitable contributions. AJP is not a venue to remind readers of previously published ideas and techniques that are not included in current textbooks.

Papers on teaching introductory physics that might be of use to both secondary school and university instructors should normally be submitted to AAPT’s other journal, The Physics Teacher. However, papers that will not be of use to secondary school teachers or that exceed TPT’s restrictions on length or depth may be appropriate for AJP.

Most papers will be useful around the world, but topics that are only useful outside of the U.S. higher educational system are generally not acceptable.

Manuscripts announcing new theoretical or experimental physics research results, or questioning well-established and successful theories, are not acceptable and should be submitted to a research journal for proper vetting.

If a manuscript is otherwise acceptable as a contribution, the inclusion of new results is not an insurmountable barrier to publication. For example, some papers will present measurements on mechanical systems with explanations that could supplement undergraduate teaching. Nevertheless, authors of such manuscripts should consider carefully whether AJP is the appropriate venue for presenting their results. In particular, improvements to previous studies (published either in AJP or in other journals) are seldom appropriate, unless the result provides significant new insight that will be valuable to a broad range of physics teachers. For that reason, authors should use caution in submitting manuscripts that solve challenges such as those posed by the International Young Physicists Tournament, since by the time the paper could be published in AJP, its solutions are likely to be well publicized in other venues, and it may be rejected once those solutions have appeared.

Manuscripts may clarify past misunderstandings, allow a broader view of a subject, or demonstrate new relations between hitherto unrelated areas of physics. These manuscripts will be judged for their potential interest to readers.

While AJP is aimed at undergraduate teaching, it should not be confused with a journal for undergraduates. Instructors are the primary audience. Similarly, it should not be confused with a journal of undergraduate research. Even though the results were obtained by undergraduates, that does not make them automatically of interest to readers of AJP. If they do not fall within AJP’s editorial policy, they should be published in a standard research journal or in a journal that specializes in presenting undergraduate research. Finally, it is not a venue for undergraduate writing. It is an extraordinarily rare undergraduate who can understand the audience of physics instructors and write appropriately for them.

Where significant controversy exists on a subject, for example, for many topics that are studied within the foundations of physics communities, AJP is usually not an appropriate venue. Disagreements among experts should be settled within the research literature.