Academic paper review processes: reflections from an Associate Editor

Professor Jason Shaw (image courtesy of The Hong Kong Polytechnic University)

The academic paper review process can be discouraging, humorous, strange, frustrating, and challenging to one’s self esteem – let’s face it, reviewers’ comments can be brutal, and yet character building at the same time. WOW guest, Professor Jason Shaw (The Hong Kong Polytechnic University) offered insights into his post as an Associate Editor (2010-2013) of the Academy of Management Journal (AMJ), and more than twenty years as a researcher, during a lively time of reflection yesterday (14 May, 2015).

As a starting point, Jason reminds us that a desk-rejected paper right off the bat means that you have not even first convinced your “own people” – that is, associate editors working in your field of research. So, how do we overcome this to ensure our paper gets to the review stage?

“Start with a clear story from your first sentence”, says Jason. Avoid general statements and provide the reader with the purpose of your paper; that is, how your paper challenges, changes or advances what is already known about the literature in your field – this is where the value of your paper lies. Follow this up with statements about why the paper is interesting – and not just to you!! – and why the literature needs another paper on your topic.

For introductions, Jason insists not to start the paper too broadly:

“If your challenge/ change/ advance contribution sentence doesn’t appear until the bottom of the second paragraph, delete the first two paragraphs!” You need to be focused and very clear!

In presenting your method and results, he recommends employing the three C’s – completeness, clarity and credibility. Just as curious as you are, so too are reviewers. For completeness, be descriptive (but clear) about your statistics [for quantitative data]. Provide step-by-step instructions that describe the problem, and explain what your data looks like. Use publically available resources and reference materials to add context to secondary data.

Around clarity, Professor Shaw recommends that you:

…“avoid ambiguous statements,… and don’t try to hide non-significant findings – report them and explain why your findings were significant or not. Provide reasons in the discussion – was the theory you used wrong? Does your research offer alternatives or new areas of study [in which] further investigation can be taken. A paper is more interesting if, for example, some of your predictions were not confirmed. To add credibility, explain your design and sampling choices, and include robustness checks – ask what happens if I make different assumptions or operationalisations?”

Finally, Jason reminds us that reviewers are the same people who sit across from us at the office:

“Be respectful of their comments – you’re in conversation with another person! – and do as much as possible when revising and resubmitting your paper in response to these. Lose the gratuitous reviewer flattery – it’s annoying, and give them ‘choices’ on decisions you perceive to be tough. Action is better than argument.”

And remember, it is important to persevere through the review process!

Griffith staff and students can access a recording of this presentation, including a copy of Professor Shaw’s PowerPoint, by contacting the Centre Manager: wow@griffith.edu.au.

You can also check out Jason’s editorial from 2012 in AMJ with tips on responding to reviewers.

Story by: Clare Inwood and Dr Sue Ressia