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What do editors really want?

Options:     Print Version - What do editors really want? , part 2 Print view

Article Sections

  1. Introduction
  2. Research papers: what do editors particularly value?
  3. Other types of papers
  4. References

Research papers: what do editors particularly value?

Common themes running through Emerald's "Meet the editor" interviews are described below, and most apply to all types of articles, although concern about research methodology is obviously most important to articles that draw on empirical research.

1. Originality

The desire for something original, which looks at things with a fresh perspective and raises questions not previously asked, was something mentioned again and again in the interviews. The editor of Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal put it most succinctly:

"The 'So what?' question is absolutely crucial and often invoked by AAAJ reviewers. It is the ultimate test of a paper's significance. Who should care? Why should they care? What difference does it make?"

The originality can be in the content – for example coverage of a Cinderella service (elder care) contributed to one paper winning an Outstanding Paper Award (Donoghue et al.; 2005) – but it can also involve looking at a problem with a fresh perspective, such as applying a different research method or fresh disciplinary lens. Topicality may help: for example Joyce Liddle, editor of the International Journal of Public Sector Management describes how an article on Katrina, the hurricane that devastated New Orleans, was rushed through review for timely publication.

If you are aiming at a well established journal, it helps to make the originality of your submission stand out. This is how John Peters, Emerald's former chief executive officer and editor of Management Decision puts it:

"As to what gets a paper on a suitable topic into the review process, look at it this way. We publish over 100 papers a year, out of a total of around 1,000 submissions. So, a paper needs to stand out as interesting, challenging and different. And the place it needs to stand out is up front, in the title, the abstract and the front page. If the interest only occurs half way through the paper, it may get missed. It's the same principle as a job application, or a piece of marketing literature."

There's also a general expectation that papers should make a contribution towards knowledge, open up the debate, and reveal opportunities for further research.

2. Research rigour

It's fairly obvious that rigour in research comes high up the wish list for an editor of academic journals:

  • the methodology should be appropriate,
  • the conclusions drawn should be justified and relevant, and
  • the research systematic, well planned and well executed.

The research should also be based in a theoretical background with a discussion of relevant literature, and all works cited should be correctly and thoroughly referenced.

Most editors are quite open about the research approach: there is certainly no bias towards quantitative research and in fact some editors particularly welcome a qualitative perspective. This is not only the case with topics where the study of behaviour is important, such as leadership or change management, but also those disciplines where qualitative approaches have been less common, such as strategic management or accountancy.

Journal of Strategy and Management; Qualitative Research in Accounting and Management, and Managerial Auditing Journal are all examples of titles which welcome qualitative methodologies rigorously executed. According to Deryl Northcott, editor of Qualitative Research in Accounting and Management, mixed method research, which uses both qualitative and quantitative techniques, is emerging as an important approach in its own right.

It can be taken as read that the research behind the article should be sound and presented as such, but how much detail is needed?

There is no hard and fast rule and it's important to check with the individual journal as to whether a section of methodology is required. However, there seems to be a fairly general view that authors provide enough information to back up their case, but not so much that it overwhelms.

Wesley Johnson, editor of Journal of Business and Industrial Marketing, suggests that:

"The data should be there in so far as it is necessary to the case or thesis, but does not need to be reported in full unless the author has used a particularly novel methodology, and the emphasis should be on applications."

Brian Jones of Journal of Historical Research in Marketing argues that the methodology should be "transparent":

"... while it isn't necessary to include a separate research method section, there should be some explicit discussion of sources and their selection".

Other editors, such as Bo Edvardsson of Journal of Service Management, and Lawrence F. Travis III of Policing: An International Journal of Police Strategies and Management, take transparency to mean that the user could replicate the study, and check credibility.

The "point" of the article, however, should not be the research itself, but its implications, particularly for practice. Richard C. Leventhal of Journal of Consumer Marketing and Journal of Product and Brand Management probably speaks for quite a few when he dismisses research that is done purely for the author's gratification, while Göran Svensson of European Business Review says:

" ... statistical and methodological technicalities should support the topic of the paper, not be a window dressing where there are no sound implications, conclusions and contributions".

3. Relevance to practice

Much of the above is probably common to most academic journals; relevance to practice may be more unique to Emerald, reflecting its particular values of "research that makes a difference" and the belief that a better managed world is a better place.

Thus, many editors explicitly stress the importance of stating the implications of the research for practice: how can managers use the work in their day-to-day lives? Research should not be discussed for its own sake, but for the difference it can make. Some journals require a specific section, or an executive summary, so the busy manager can flip through and take what is immediately relevant; all require the link with the workplace to be made explicit.

Wesley Johnston of Journal of Business and Industrial Marketing will not publish any paper unless there is a strong section on managerial implications. He provides a couple of examples of papers which combine rigorous research with application:

  1. Deeter-Schmelz and Kennedy (2004) who not only provide empirical data in a study of the role of the Internet in buyer-seller relationships, but also discuss the ongoing role of the salesperson, and
  2. Hunt and Derozier (2004) who provide a strong conceptual framework in their article on resource advantage theory, and use it to analyse recent forms of competition.

Some articles are actually rooted in practice, for example providing a particular analysis of some business-related activity; others provide a rich description of a particular situation as a case study. Some journals encourage practitioners to submit their research, perhaps teamed up with an academic and hence providing complementary perspectives. If you are a practitioner working on your own, it's worth contacting the editor to check what level of research detail and literature review is expected.

4. International

Emerald is an international publisher, and an international outlook is particularly important for all its journals, so if your study is located in one country, consider its broader implications so that an international audience will want to read it.

One way of doing this is by comparative studies, looking at different practices across different countries. For example, an editorial in International Journal of Managerial Finance commends a paper examining the differences in debt financing between international and domestic industrial firms operating in Turkey, Germany and the UK (Michayluk and Zurbruegg, 2005).

Editors are genuinely looking to be comprehensive in their coverage, so if you notice that a journal has few contributions from your part of the world, then you may be sure that the editor will want to hear from you, providing you also fit in with the stipulations mentioned above. It may be, too, that you will be able to provide a different perspective: Bob Doherty of Social Enterprise Journal, for example, is conscious that in North America, there's more empahsis on enterprise, whereas Europe stresses the social.

5. Clarity of argument and style

There is a certain type of academic writing which is not noted for its clarity, however clarity and readability are just what many editors want.

There are two aspects to clarity and readability:

  1. the language itself, and
  2. the structure of the paper.

Editors look for a good, clear structure and an argument that is logically presented. Having to write an abstract can help here: for guidance, see the instructions for writing a structured abstract for Emerald in the "How to... write an abstract" author guide.

If you follow the suggested headings, you will have a structure for your paper:

  • your purpose in writing it,
  • the research design,
  • your findings,
  • the limitations of the research,
  • its practical and social applications, and
  • its originality and value.

You should have a clear purpose statement, and the conclusion should wrap up the argument and not include new material, apart from the significance of the research and further avenues to explore.

It is also important that the argument should flow smoothly within the sections: paragraphs should follow on logically with no breaks in sense, or sudden, unexplained jumps.

Many editors talk about "well written" articles – which means more than just grammatically correct. David Nicholas, former editor of Aslib Proceedings, highlights some particular contributions which can be used as a benchmark:

"If you want some examples, Robin Hunt, who set up The Guardian website, did four articles for us, Peter Cole, the deputy editor of The Guardian, wrote a couple, and there's also Robert Withey, a librarian. They all write so brilliantly and beautifully, they manage to convey great ideas really simply, they are really aspirational figures in trying to change the tortuous prose that is often typical of our field."

"Tortuous prose" is unfortunately a feature of many academic disciplines, but the ability to convey complex ideas simply and in such a way as can be understood outside a small circle is a very important quality. For more information, see the "How to... write more simply" author guide.

If your first language is not English, you may be reading this with a sinking heart. Don't worry, we are talking about the ideal and many editors are strongly committed to working with people who may not be able to express themselves perfectly, providing they have good ideas. If you are in this position, it's a good idea to drop a line to the editor of the journal you are targeting to find out whether they are prepared to help. Further guidance can be found in the guide, "How to... prepare papers if English is not your first language".