I wonder if anyone else has noticed that the market for expository papers in mathematics is very narrow (more so than it used to be, perhaps).

Are there any journals which publish expository work, especially at the "intermediate" level? By intermediate, I mean neither (i) aimed at an audience of students, especially undergraduate students (e.g. Mathematics Magazine) nor (ii) surveys of entire fields of mathematics and/or descriptions of spectacular new results written by veteran experts in the field (e.g. the Bulletin, the Notices).

Let me give some examples from my own writing, mostly just to fix ideas. (I do not mean to complain.)

1) About six years ago I submitted an expository paper "On the discrete geometry of Chicken McNuggets" to the American Mathematical Monthly. The point of the paper was to illustrate the utility of simple reasoning about lattices in Euclidean space to give a proof of Schur's Theorem on the number of representations of an integer by a linear form in positive integers. The paper was rejected; one reviewer said something like (I paraphrase) "I have the feeling that this would be a rather routine result for someone versed in the geometry of numbers." This shows that the paper was not being viewed as expository -- i.e., a work whose goal is the presentation of a known result in a way which will make it accessible and appealing to a broader audience. I shared the news with my officemate at the time, Dr. Gil Alon, and he found the topic interesting. Together we "researchized" the paper by working a little harder and proving some (apparently) new exact formulas for representation numbers. This new version was accepted by the Journal of Integer Sequences:


This is not a sad story for me overall because I learned more about the problem ("The Diophantine Problem of Frobenius") in writing the second version with Gil. But still, something is lost: the first version was a writeup of a talk that I have given to advanced undergraduate / basic graduate audiences at several places. For a long time, this was my "general audience" talk, and it worked at getting people involved and interested: people always came up to me afterward with further questions and suggested improvements, much more so than any arithmetic geometry talk I have ever given. The main result in our JIS paper is unfortunately a little technical [not deep, not sophisticated; just technical: lots of gcd's and inverses modulo various things] to state, and although I have recommended to several students to read this paper, so far nothing has come of it.

2) A few years ago I managed to reprove a theorem of Luther Claborn (every abelian group is isomorphic to the class group of some Dedekind domain) by using elliptic curves along the lines of a suggestion by Michael Rosen (who reproved the result in the countable case). I asked around and was advised to submit the paper to L'Enseignement Mathematique. In my writeup, I made the conscious decision to write the paper in an expository way: that is, I included a lot of background material and explained connections between the various results, even things which were not directly related to the theorem in question. The paper was accepted; but the referee made it clear that s/he would have preferred a more streamlined, research oriented approach. Thus EM, despite its name ("Mathematical Education"), seems to be primarily a research journal (which likes papers taking new looks at old or easily stated problems: it's certainly a good journal and I'm proud to be published in it), and I was able to smuggle in some exposition under the cover of a new research result.

3) I have an expository paper on factorization in integral domains:


[Added: And a newer version: http://math.uga.edu/~pete/factorization2010.pdf.]

It is not finished and not completely polished, but it has been circulating around the internet for about a year now. Again, this completely expository paper has attracted more attention than most of my research papers. Sometimes people talk about it as though it were a preprint or an actual paper, but it isn't: I do not know of any journal that would publish a 30 page paper giving an intermediate-level exposition of the theory of factorization in integral domains. Is there such a journal?

Added: In my factorization paper, I build on similar expositions by the leading algebraists P. Samuel and P.M. Cohn. I think these two papers, published in 1968 and 1973, are both excellent examples of the sort of "intermediate exposition" I have in mind (closer to the high end of the range, but still intermediate: one of the main results Samuel discusses, Nagata's Theorem, was published in 1957 so was not exactly hot off the presses when Samuel wrote his article). Both articles were published by the American Mathematical Monthly! I don't think the Monthly would publish either of them nowadays.

Added: I have recently submitted a paper to the Monthly:


(By another coincidence, this paper is a mildly souped up answer to MO question #26. But I did the "research" on this paper in the lonely pre-MO days of 2008.)

Looking at this paper helps me to see that the line between research and exposition can be blurry. I think it is primarily an expository paper -- in that the emphasis is on the presentation of the results rather than the results themselves -- but I didn't have the guts to submit it anywhere without claiming some small research novelty: "The computation of the irredundant linear covering number appears to be new." I'll let you know what happens to it.

(Added: it was accepted by the Monthly.)

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    $\begingroup$ Me too. I have to admit I am actually more interested in doing expository work in the future than research work, so I would really like to know where to get started. $\endgroup$ – Qiaochu Yuan Feb 15 '10 at 22:03
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    $\begingroup$ +1. I am also interested in doing some sort of expository work. $\endgroup$ – Akhil Mathew Feb 15 '10 at 22:32
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    $\begingroup$ @Pete: You're right. A refereed expository journal article is definitely worth more than a posting on a wiki for, say, a tenure dossier. (It's off-topic, but I can't help but add that in a research-oriented department neither carries much weight at all. I would advise any tenure-track person in a research math department to avoid devoting much effort to expository articles. Writing too many expository articles can actually harm your case, because it looks like you're diverting too much energy away from your research.) $\endgroup$ – Deane Yang Feb 16 '10 at 18:44
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    $\begingroup$ Some Famous Person (was it Gian-Carlo Rota?) said you're remembered more for your expository work than for your research. $\endgroup$ – Michael Hardy Nov 10 '10 at 18:40
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    $\begingroup$ In his introduction to Stanley's Enumerative Combinatorics II, Rota said, "The mathematical community professes a snobbish distaste for expository writing, but the facts are at variance with the words. In actual reality, the names of authors of a handful of successful textbooks written in this century are included in the list of most celebrated mathematicians of our time". Hardy (who took exposisiton quiote seriously) had written in his apology "Exposition, criticism, appreciation, is work for second-rate minds." $\endgroup$ – Amritanshu Prasad Mar 10 '11 at 4:09

33 Answers 33


Just last night I was looking for a journal that would accept a (largely) survey paper with some new results. I discovered for myself Aequationes Mathematicae. I had previously considered Expositiones Mathematicae, but had uneasy feelings about it since it is Elsavier (my first and only, and very recent, experience with Elsevier was not a pleasant one). Aequat. Math. is published by Springer (however, see my comments below about Springer).

From the description of Aequat. Math.:

$\bullet$ An international journal of pure and applied mathematics, which emphasizes functional equations, dynamical systems, iteration theory, combinatorics, and geometry.

$\bullet$ Publishes research papers, high quality survey articles, reports of meetings, bibliographies, and summaries of recent developments and research in the field.

aequationes mathematicae is an international journal of pure and applied mathematics, which emphasizes functional equations, dynamical systems, iteration theory, combinatorics, and geometry. The journal publishes research papers, reports of meetings, and bibliographies. High quality survey articles are an especially welcome feature. In addition, summaries of recent developments and research in the field are published rapidly.

However, it seems that they rather restrict the spectrum of fields in which they publish (the first point above).

A few words about Springer: Depending on your view on science journals, you may have uneasy feelings about publishing in Springer. It seems that some mathematicians are considering boycotting Springer (e.g. J. Baez here) for various reasons (such as rising journal costs). I don't know much about this issue, but we all know about the situation with Elsevier.


For probability Thierry, in addition to probability surveys already mentioned, the Séminaire de Probabilités (around one volume per year in the Lecture Notes on Mathematics, Springer) also publishes surveys.

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Have you considered writing a Math blog ? Or sending your original paper for 'invited post' to an existing math-blog writer with appropriate scope and audience. Math blogs don't have the permanence of a math journal. But I'm pretty sure they get more attention from students than Expository math journals.

Your question reminds me of one of my favorite math paper Fractions by L.R. Ford in Amer. Math. Monthly Vol. 45, No. 9 (Nov., 1938), pp. 586-601. The first sentence of the paper is particularly delightful when thinking of the far reaching consequences this paper had. Take Rademacher exact formula for the partition number for example...

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    $\begingroup$ 'Blog' was already suggested in another answer. $\endgroup$ – user9072 May 20 '12 at 21:07
  • $\begingroup$ No comment ^^... $\endgroup$ – Samuel Vidal May 20 '12 at 23:32
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    $\begingroup$ I am not sure what the point of you (no) comment is. I for one thought you might care about an answer to the question in your answer. Following my hint you could find in particular "Not that mathblogs are a bad thing: they are a very positive recent addition to the mathematical community. But I feel strongly that they are not the answer to my question. – Pete L. Clark Feb 15 2010 at 22:49" $\endgroup$ – user9072 May 21 '12 at 3:00

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