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What do editors really want?

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By Margaret Adolphus


Is it possible neatly to sum up what the editors of academic journals are looking for? The quick – and slick – answer, is that it depends on the journal. And any intending author should certainly do their research to make sure not only that the topic fits a journal's editorial philosophy, but also that they understand its quality variables.

According to Professors Parker and Guthrie of Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal:

"Authors should carefully evaluate the subject areas, philosophies and methodologies exhibited by journals in order to target those with the best fit to their work. They should also look for indicators of quality required including identity of the editorial board, number of revisions indicated for published articles over recent years, extent of empirical evidence, literature referencing and level of theorizing in articles published."

However, if you examine the desired qualities described by a number of editors, you quickly find that there are surprising commonalities – most, for example, want something "new" and "fresh", while editors of research journals are looking for rigorous methodology. And, whilst making sure that you are within your chosen journal's editorial scope is important, knowing the plus factors preferred by many editors will certainly help you land in the review pile and then sail through it.

Emerald is a long established publisher with over 200 journals and a wide range of serials, series and books in a variety of disciplines. A good source of in-depth information on writing for an Emerald publication is available on this website in the "Meet the editor" interviews section. The interviews provide information on a publication's mission, the community it serves, and the sort of contributions it is looking for.

Reading through the profiles gives a good indication of the sort of answers you might get if you got a panel of editors together in a room, and asked them the sorts of things that really get them excited about a submission.

Articles usually follow a fairly particular template, with the following features:

  • The introduction: what is the purpose of the paper, its scope?
  • The research methodology used – which one, why, and how.
  • A literature review – an examination of what has gone before, a situation of the research within a theoretical framework. The preference is generally for coherent discussion of a few authors who are significant to the research.
  • The findings from the research, with an explanation of why those findings were extrapolated from the data, perhaps with a brief account of the analysis.
  • A conclusion which restates the purpose of the research, encapsulates the main, and most interesting, findings, and looks at their implications.
  • References to the literature quoted, which should be complete and in the style used in the journal.

An article may tick all these boxes, but to stand out it needs to have something a bit special. What makes it "special" is examined in the following sections.

Important note for readers

All editors' comments quoted in this guide are taken from the relevant "Meet the editor" interview. Whilst the author has taken care to ensure that the views expressed are still current, when targeting a particular journal, you are advised to check with the editor that he or she still values these qualities when you write in with your proposal.