Secrets of Economics Editors
I recently read Secrets of Economics Editors, edited by Michael Szenberg and Lall Ramrattan. While most of the book concerns editors’ experiences at various journals, it also has useful information for writers. I’ve summarized some of that information below. Enjoy!
Before you submit your paper, research multiple journals to find the right one. Check out each journal’s history, and look for papers that are relevant to yours. Don’t pick out a journal whose audience could find your paper too specialized (this can be a cause for rejection). Doing your homework will ensure the paper is suitable and might also help you find a referee (later on, of course).
The paper itself
Like a story, your paper should guide the reader through the beginning (strong abstract and clear introduction), middle, and end (meaningful, informative conclusion––not a summary).
The abstract and introduction is the first part of the paper that’s seen. You need to be clear on what your paper contributes and how it relates to other papers. Doing this will ensure the paper is easier to understand, which then increases the chance of being accepted.
For example, after your paper is sent to the journal, the editor reviews it. If the abstract and introduction is too wordy or hard to understand, the editor may immediately reject it. If the paper isn’t rejected, he or she then sends it along to prospective referees, who then decides whether or not they’ll send a report or recommendation back to the editor. The paper risks being rejected if they find the abstract and/or introduction difficult to read. It sounds unfair, but referees and editors don’t have the time to sift through and try to understand the text. It needs to click immediately.
If your paper is rejected because the referee doesn’t understand the paper, figure out why. Did the paper give them a “misleading impression”? Check the referee reports and editor comments that usually come with a rejection. Carefully go through your paper, and check it against the reports and comments. Using their comments and suggestions, revise the paper so that future readers won’t be misled or confused.
Also, if you are told to revise and resubmit, it’s best to respond with a list of corrections made and how you addressed any suggestions.
As the book suggests, “If you know that you are not a good or careful writer, hire a professional copyeditor who might not help with the paper’s technical details but can straighten out your syntax.” A copyeditor won’t challenge the paper’s substance but will instead “smooth” the overall presentation.
If you don’t want to hire a professional editor, proofread your paper very carefully, and make sure there are no misspellings, grammatical errors, punctuation mistakes (yes, punctuate equations), and math miscalculations. One editor noted that a majority of authors don’t “follow the rules and policies and don’t properly comply with editorial directions.” You don’t want to be one of those people.
Also, when self-editing, make sure you do the following:
Avoid using flowery language and elaborate words––get straight to the point. Journals are looking for clear, concise language that can be read by the average adult reader.
Don’t include an excessive amount of tables, figures, and appendices.
Ensure the details you include are will interest the readers. Is this important to know? Am I just documenting my steps, or am I providing information the audience really wants to know?
Check to see if your paper is too long, as long manuscripts “try the patience of editors and referees, bog down the review process, and prolong the time between submission and initial decision.”
If the journal requests footnotes, use footnotes. If they request endnotes, use endnotes. If the journal wants the paper double-spaced, just do it.
Cross-check citations to confirm there are no references missing. This is something you can hire an editor to do, and most academic editors can do this quickly.
Figures should be “camera-ready.” I’ve seen a lot of figures where the print is blurred, making the figure hard to understand.
Again, make sure your paper is polished. As an editor in the book said, if you have errors in your paper, “[t]hese are clear indicators that you are not serious, not careful, and do not want your paper published.”
Have colleagues check your work
You should ask your colleagues to read and comment on your paper, as they may discover “obvious errors in the underlying theory or in the empirical tests.” They can also provide suggestions to improvement the paper’s exposition or logical structure.
Also, before submitting, try presenting the paper at seminars and conferences. Your colleagues will provide useful suggestions, which you should take note of.
References and citations
Make sure your references are not out of date. References that are several years old may give the impression that either you haven’t kept up with the literature or your topic is no longer an interest to the field. As one editor said, “If there’s no more recent references, maybe the profession is not interested in your topic. In this case, explain why they should be.”
If you were asked to resubmit, check all references online and update your paper; also see if there are any new references you could add.
Don’t just cite leading authorities but also younger or more specialized scholars currently working in the field, as their work could be more directly relevant for your paper.
Remember that following these suggestions won’t guarantee that your articles will be published, but you will speed up the publication process. And if you need any assistance with editing, feel free to contact me!