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Editors’ view on the review process in accounting journals, presented at the EAA 2017
In the 2017 EAA Congress, the editors of leading accounting journals presented some useful insights into the review process. The editors in the panel were Keith Robson, editor of Accounting Organizations and Society; Hervé Stolowy, editor of European Accounting Review; Mark Clatworthy, joint editor of Accounting and Business Research; Mary Barth, incoming editor of The Accounting Review, Paul André, editor of Accounting in Europe; and Peter Pope, joint-editor of Journal of Business Finance and Accounting.
The debate started with the important question of what is a good accounting paper? We all know about the importance of contribution and of a well-crafted design but Keith Robson, editor of Accounting Organizations and Society, presented a useful checklist which can help authors to prepare a high quality manuscript: 1. What is the phenomenon that you study? 2. Why is that phenomenon important? 3. What do we know and not know about it? 4. How do you aim to address the problem (empirically, theoretically, etc.)? 5. How do you implement it (methods and methodology)? 6. What do you find (results)? 7. What do your findings mean (discussion of the results)? 8. What do you add to the literature (contribution)? 9. Why should we care about the findings (contribution and motivation)?
In addition to this guidance, several editors mentioned the importance of ensuring a good fit between the focus of the paper and the scope of the journals. In fact, the editors noted that desk rejection decisions are often motivated by the mismatch between the paper and the aims and scope of the journal; so, please read the aims of the journal before submitting your work. Another important piece of advice relates to the writing up of the paper. Academic papers follow writing conventions in terms of English style and in terms of the setting up of the paper. Follow the writing conventions of the journal you are aiming for and keep your target audience in mind at all times.
The next topic addressed by the panelists was the review process and the work of the reviewers. When you submit your work, take into account that the reviewers are specialists in the field and their job is to provide the editor with an independent and specialist opinion on whether or not the paper can follow a path towards publication. It is natural that the reviewers (when the journal uses more than one) provide seemingly different views about the paper, which makes the editor’s perspective a critical part of the review process. The editor’s role is to estimate the likelihood that the review process will help the paper to reach a publishable stage. Usually, the editor is able to make a good estimation of that likelihood in the second round, suggesting that a thorough and effective response in the second round is extremely important. Hence, if you receive an R&R decision, pay attention to the path forward (main concerns and critical recommendations) indicated in the editor’s letter. Use the response letter to the editor to explain how you have addressed the main concerns, how you dealt with the reviewers’ requests, and why you have not considered some of the requests. Keep in mind that addressing every single request of the reviewers is not a necessary condition to move the paper forward. If there are reasons for not addressing some of the requests, explain it, in the right tone, in the response memorandum. If you feel that the reviewers’ requests are irreconcilable, you can even ask for a polite clarification to the editor. You should not feel that the reviewers’ long list of demands and concerns shows an intention to reject the paper sooner or later. Reviewers are asking more of authors because the standards of what constitutes a good accounting paper are increasing, alongside with what is happening in other disciplines.
How should you act when you put on the shoes of the reviewer? Write a concise and constructive review report, indicating the main concerns and the secondary issues. You should aim for a 2-4 page review - a 20 page review is unlikely to help the editor form an opinion about the paper. Do not ask authors “all you can think of”, rather suggest ways to improve the paper towards a publishable standard. Essentially, provide authors with the constructive review that you wish to receive.
Some useful readings:
Berk, J.B., Campbell, R. H. and Hirshleifer, D. 2017. How to write an effective referee report and improve the scientific review process, Journal of Economic Perspectives, 31 (1), 231-244
Moizer, P. 2009. Publishing in accounting journals: A fair game? Accounting, Organizations and Society, 34, 285-304.
Spiegel, M. 2012. Reviewing less – Progressing more. The Review of Financial Studies, 25(5), 1331-1338