What do editors at academic journals look for when they review submissions? To find out, we went straight to the source, speaking with editors at four prominent accounting journals. They shared their perspectives on what makes for a good research paper, and offered their best advice for improving your chances of publication:
- Be clear. Make sure readers can readily understand what your argument is.
Keith Robson, Ph.D., co-editor-in-chief of Accounting, Organizations and Society and accounting and management control professor at HEC Paris, said that it is especially important authors are clear about the domain their paper is covering, the research questions it presents, and the contribution it makes.
“Those are the criteria that carry across all submissions, and failings in those areas are the main reasons papers might be rejected,” he said.
Researchers should also make sure there are no gaps in their argument.
“In order to draw a particular conclusion, you may have to go from A to B to C, but what some authors tend to do is make a leap of faith when drawing conclusions. They show evidence from A to C, and they just talk about B as being the reason without actually providing evidence for it,” said Lakshmanan Shivakumar, Ph.D., co-editor of the Review of Accounting Studies and The Accounting Review and professor of accounting at London Business School.
- Road-test the paper. There is a lot to be said for getting feedback on your paper before you submit it to a journal.
“I think sometimes there’s a degree of preciousness about having written the paper, and in your own mind it’s perfect,” Robson said. “But authors should go out and workshop it [by] presenting it at conferences and showing it to close colleagues — you really can tell the difference between papers that have been well workshopped and those that have not.”
- Know the journal you’re submitting to. You will save both yourself and editors a lot of time and energy by making sure you’re sending your paper to the appropriate journal.
“It does surprise me as an editor how often we desk-reject a paper that is perfectly fine on its own terms but just has gone to the wrong journal,” Robson said. Sometimes, he said, that fact is “obvious even from the citations and references because it doesn’t engage with debates, questions, and publications that are in the journal it’s supposed to be targeting”.
Also, be sure to look at the publishing norms and guidelines of the journal you’re submitting to, including the aims and scopes.
“As long as you follow the journal’s style, it shouldn’t be a problem,” Robson said. “If you don’t, for reviewers, this shows a certain lack of attention; it shows that you haven’t looked at what the journal expects, and it might suggest you don’t know so much about the journal.”
- Be mindful about revise-and resubmit requests. Once you send your paper to a journal, you’re going to receive a referee report back that is either going to be a rejection or a request to revise and resubmit.
“If your paper is rejected, don’t immediately send it somewhere else,” said John Core, Ph.D., editor at the Journal of Accounting and Economics and accounting professor at the MIT Sloan School of Management, because the same person might review papers at more than one journal. If they receive your paper again and see that you haven’t made any revisions, it is a sign that you are not serious about improving the paper, he said.
If you receive a revise-and-resubmit request, try to send the paper back within six months or so, he added.
- Consider doing research in your home region. Shivakumar suggested that authors living outside the US look for interesting opportunities for research in their own countries.
“Authors should look in regions that they are highly familiar with and use their detailed institutional knowledge to address a lot of very interesting research questions,” he said.
He noted, however, that researchers need to ensure their research is applicable outside their home country. “It should be able to teach people around the world how things can be done differently and, if they are done differently, what the consequences will be,” he said.
- Get English-language help if you need it. If you’re submitting an article to an English-language journal but English is not your first or strongest language, consider collaborating with a co-author who writes it well, said Khim Kelly, Ph.D., an editor of Contemporary Accounting Research, and professor of accounting at the University of Central Florida,
“Most journal articles and studies now are team-based, so if your strength is in one area, get someone else on the team who is strong in another area and together you can complement each other,” she said.
Another solution is hiring a copy editor who can help make sure the paper communicates clearly in the English language, Robson said. (He does caution authors that copy editors might not necessarily understand accounting or statistical terminology.) Working with a copy editor can also be helpful even if English is your first language.
Having a translator or English-speaking co-author can also help during research that involves interviews or field studies in English.
— Hannah Pitstick is a freelance writer based in the US. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Courtney Vien, a senior editor on the Association's Magazines and Newsletters team, at Courtney.Vien@aicpa-cima.com.