Writing for Management Journals: Common Pitfalls

Article excerpt


Publishing success requires an understanding of the relevant standards by which one's work will be evaluated. Of particular importance are criteria used by journal referees. If a writer measures his/her work by the yardstick used by journal referees, he/she is likely to gain a new perspective of its potential for publication.

This paper examines quantitative and qualitative manuscript review and information provided by referees of a management journal over a three-year period, and draws on related studies in the literature. It provides insights into what referees look for in a paper and into common research and writing problems that lead to manuscript rejection.

The paper also sets forth strategies for increasing publishing success. It should be useful to new, aspiring authors as well as to experienced writers.


Some researchers have an uncanny ability to publish in quality academic journals. Many factors explain why they are successful: research competence, topic selection, timing, journal targeting, writing ability, and perhaps even institutional affiliation and author's reputation. Certainly, part of the publishing success equation is an understanding of what journal referees look for in a manuscript.

The purpose of this paper is to offer some insights into referee manuscript evaluation. We shall focus on the reasons for manuscript rejection. Information provided by referees for a management journal over a three-year period of time are analyzed. From referee data and related research, some important pitfalls are identified. Understanding the pitfalls common to manuscript rejection should help authors avoid a similar fate.

The paper also suggests some strategies for strengthening research and writing skills. Particular attention is given to ways for the new, aspiring researcher/writer to be successful.


Refereed journals use external manuscript reviewers. Referees' recommendations are an important consideration in the decision by the editor whether to publish a manuscript. In fact, for many journals, referees' recommendations are the determining factor, except in special cases (e.g., when a paper is invited by the editor; when the editor serves as a "tie-breaker" in manuscript evaluation). Thus, it is not surprising that journal referees are often viewed as "gatekeepers," separating wheat from chaff.

The editor structures the review process by determining manuscript evaluation criteria and procedures. The criteria guide, and perhaps even constrain, referees' evaluations and recommendations to the editor, and thus are an impor.ant yardstick for writers to assess.

In an attempt to identify criteria commonly used by journal editors, a letter of inquiry was sent to seventy-five editors of management journals. Each editor was asked whether they gave their referees formal criteria for evaluating manuscripts, and if so, to identify them. From the forty-six useable responses received, thirty-two editors answered "yes" and provided their evaluation criteria. From this, composite criteria for manuscript evaluation were derived. Each component listed below was identified as being important by one-half or more of the respondents.

Appropriateness for journal

Interest of subject

Timeliness of subject and work

Significance of topic

Clarity of objectives

Conceptual/analytical rigor

Methodological rigor

Treatment of relevant literature

Clarity of presentation


Quality of research design

Logical organization

Adequacy of data analysis

Legitimacy of conclusions

Discussion of results

Manuscript length/contribution ratio

Significance of contribution (in present form, and potentially, if revised).

These criteria help identify the domain of manuscript evaluation, and provide a good checklist for appraising the quality of one's own work. …