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 of the readers are important considerations. 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 be useful, interesting, and accessible to, physicists from outside the specific subdiscipline that is the subject of the manuscript.

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. 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, although using undergraduate-level physics to solve interesting or puzzling real-world problems can be valuable. Manuscripts on topics that largely parallel those already available in textbooks or monographs and that differ from them primarily in style rather than coverage are not suitable contributions. While most papers will focus on the advanced undergraduate curriculum, some will be of interest to instructors in post-graduate programs. 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.

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 is particularly interested in 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 prospective graduate students to current research topics. 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.

Manuscripts announcing new theoretical or experimental results, or questioning well-established and successful theories, are not acceptable and should be submitted to an archival research journal. If a manuscript is otherwise acceptable as a contribution, the inclusion of new results is not an insurmountable barrier to publication. Nevertheless, authors of such manuscripts should consider carefully whether AJP is the appropriate venue for presenting their results. Manuscripts describing original research that clarifies past misunderstandings or allows a broader view of a subject are acceptable. Manuscripts that demonstrate new relations between hitherto unrelated areas of physics are appropriate. Manuscripts that show new ways of understanding, explaining, or deriving familiar results are also acceptable. Such manuscripts must provide some original physical insight and not just be a clever derivation.

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. Most of these articles are solicited, and thus authors planning such articles are asked to consult with the editors at an early stage.

Unlike archival 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, and need not have abstracts. 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.

Disciplined significant controversy 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, a significant conclusion 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 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. These papers should focus on how new knowledge about effective teaching can be applied in the classroom. If a major part of the paper is a discussion of the methodology by which this information was gained, or a presentation of the statistics that support the determination of a significant result, then it is probably not appropriate for AJP (although this information 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. Judgement must be used in presenting studies of theoretical issues that are not strongly linked to near-term applicability to teaching; some issues may be sufficiently interesting to the general AJP readership to be included.