Hazen, B. (2016), "Overcoming basic barriers to publishing research", International Journal of Logistics Management, The, Vol. 27 No. 1. https://doi.org/10.1108/IJLM-12-2015-0226Download as .RIS
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Overcoming basic barriers to publishing research
Article Type: Editorial From: The International Journal of Logistics Management, Volume 27, Issue 1.
The International Journal of Logistics Management (IJLM) is receiving an increasingly large number of new submissions. Consequently, due to limited journal space, authors competing for this space are raising the standards of quality, and redefining what constitutes a "publishable" article in IJLM. There are several "how-to" editorials regarding how to publish high-quality research, which include several tips for improving one’s chances in the review process (i.e. Davis, 2014; Fawcett et al., 2014; Mollenkopf, 2014), and I encourage authors to use these and other resources when designing their research and preparing their manuscripts. Unfortunately, it seems that authors sometimes overlook suggestions outlined in these resources. Further, every journal in our field has its own evolving (and sometimes ambiguous) standards. Therefore, I feel it necessary to publicize to IJLM’s authors, reviewers, and readers some common shortcomings that often present barriers to publishing in the Journal.
The points below are not intended to be an all-inclusive checklist. Further, they do not necessarily represent "minimum standards" or advice that, if followed, will guarantee acceptance. Instead, this list is simply the presentation of some common shortcomings. Indeed, manuscripts that fail to overcome these shortcomings will continue to result in a low chance of acceptance. The purpose of this brief editorial is to outline some of the most common and preventable barriers to publishing in this Journal. These barriers include:
1. Lack of theoretical contribution: I am surprised when I see a manuscript that is submitted without mention of theory. This typically leads to an immediate reject. Interestingly, most of these manuscripts do make meaningful contributions to theory, but the authors never discuss the theory. A more common occurrence is when authors mention a theory on the front-end of the paper as a reason to motivate the study, but then fail to explain any meaningful contribution that the research makes to theory. Authors need to not just mention theory or use theory as a basis for the research, but instead clearly show how and where their research contributes to building or extending theory. In some cases, bringing in and testing theory from other disciplines might represent a theoretical contribution, but authors should be cautioned that contextualizing theory or constructs is not a contribution in itself. Instead, authors should describe where these theories fall short in explaining logistics/supply chain management (L/SCM) phenomena, and show how the theory can be extended or modified to adequately explain phenomena. In sum, research needs to be rooted in theory and also contribute to enhancing our understanding of theory.
2. Poor writing or grammar: the Journal enjoys an international readership and authors from six of the world’s seven continents routinely contribute manuscripts. Thus, authors speak and write in a multitude of languages. However, this Journal is published in English. Furthermore, expert academic writing is challenging to produce in and of itself, even for native English speakers. As an academic journal, IJLM only publishes articles that are clearly written in English and presented in an academic manner. Professional proof reading services are widely available. Although typically not cheap, these services can help make the difference between an article that is difficult to understand (which I will not send out to reviewers) and one that has potential to progress through the review process. Finally, I also urge authors to not merely use a friend who has better English skills to proof the paper. Indeed, even I, a native English speaker, still require grammatical editing from time to time. If you are asked to have the paper professionally proofed before resubmitting, then please do just that. Better still; please have this done before submitting the original manuscript.
3. Too specific to research context: articles published at the journal must have universal appeal. I often see articles that have research questions that are detrimentally specific to a certain region or country. If the research question mentions that the focus of the study is, for instance, on 3PLs in California, and there is no discussion of how the findings have implications for those outside of California, then why would anyone from another US state or, for that matter, another country concern himself or herself with the article? We all understand that we must be cautious to not to over-generalize our research findings, and I am not advocating generalizing research findings beyond what is reasonable. Thus, care should be taken during study design and manuscript preparation to make sure that the research is broad enough to be applicable to the universal readership. If it cannot be generalized beyond the specific research context, then the article is likely not suitable for IJLM. Instead, authors should design and execute studies that use the context for what it is, and then clearly describe how the phenomena under investigation apply to L/SCM settings.
4. Using context as a contribution: related to the above, specific contexts can represent useful laboratories for testing theory in a meaningful way. However, a context in and of itself is not a contribution. For instance, showing how a theory that originated with US authors also explains phenomenon in, say, China is not a theoretical contribution. Further, showing that one approach used in distribution management is also useful in procurement is also not a contribution. Instead, authors should seek to find something about the context where additional theory needs to be used to fully explain phenomena. Or, perhaps they can show that a theory essentially fails to predict outcomes in a given context, which then drives scholars to rethink the basis of that theory. Taking this kind of approach can be a useful way to use context as an appropriate laboratory for extending, or refuting theory.
5. Positioned as an Operations Research (OR) paper: OR and L/SCM are disciplines that share similar roots and seek to solve related problems. However, I see many submissions that are clearly OR articles, targeted for an OR audience. I suggest that authors submit these articles to OR journals. However, if there is a relevant OR article that is effectively positioned in the L/SCM literature and makes a clear contribution to theory and practice in L/SCM, then we are happy to review such articles.
6. Failure to contribute to the literature on L/SCM: L/SCM topics span across many other disciplines. This reach and range of L/SCM is one of the characteristics that defines our discipline. However, some authors become so concerned with the surrounding literature from other disciplines that the contribution to L/SCM becomes lost. This is often a function of a poor literature review, and poor positioning on the front-end of the article. When I see a new submission that seems to span across topics (say, OR, management information systems, industrial engineering, etc.), one of the first things that I do is review the references section. More often than not, I find that there is little to no mention of articles from L/SCM journals. I am by no means recommending that authors should arbitrarily include references to IJLM and other top journals in the field, but once a paper is written and there are few references to these journals, authors should seriously consider whether or not IJLM is an appropriate outlet. If authors wish to target IJLM, they should be deliberate in their positioning of the article.
7. Failure to provide actionable recommendations for practitioners: I see many great research articles that barely mention (if at all) implications for managers and other practitioners. IJLM has a rich history of publishing articles from which someone outside of academia can pick up and glean useful and actionable information. This tradition needs to continue, and research articles that do not provide significant managerial implications will have little chance of acceptance.
8. Poor article structure and failure to include basic elements: although there is no "one size fits all" format for a research article and different methods call for different structures, there are some foundational elements that need to be included in every article. There are also some points that need to be made at certain places in the article. I outline some of these, below:
The article should start off with motivation for the research, defining the problem in a way that shows relevance to both academicians and practitioners.
The research question and/or statement of purpose need to be very clear and stated early in the article. The contributions of the research for theory and practice need to be explicitly stated in the introduction.
The article must include enough of a literature review to show where this article "fits" into the general stream of L/SCM literature. I reiterate this point that I made earlier ((6), above) because it is often a primary reason for a desk reject. Although literature from outside the discipline can surely be used here, the case needs to be made for how this new article complements and extends knowledge in the L/SCM area.
Theory needs to be discussed throughout, and emphasized on both the front- and back-end of the article.
The method description and analysis procedures need to be consistent with other recent articles published in IJLM and other top L/SCM journals. Authors do not need to "reinvent the wheel," and are encouraged to benchmark exemplar articles. With rare exception, the research context and specifics regarding the research population or sample frame do not need to be discussed in the front-end of the paper; save this discussion for the method section.
The results need to be presented clearly and concisely, yet with enough detail to demonstrate validity and reliability.
The article should include adequate discussion, and should further describe the previously stated contributions and implications for theory and practice. I see too many articles that skip a discussion section, moving straight from a presentation of the results to a conclusion that only briefly mentions the meaning of the study. If the research does not provide enough motivation to present a well-articulated discussion, then one might question if that research was even worth doing in the first place.
There should be a presentation of limitations, as well as future research ideas.
9. Submitting an article simply to "receive some feedback": some scholars believe it is a good idea to submit an article to a journal (knowing that it is incomplete or does not represent his or her best work) in order to obtain useful feedback. However, I do not find this to be an ethical practice. Journals expend finite resources to review manuscripts. One review typically represents at least a half-day’s work for a reviewer (if not much more), and editors and associate editors spend a good deal of time managing the review process, reading manuscripts, and making decisions. I ask that authors do not submit anything to IJLM that does not represent their best effort. I also encourage authors to send their prepared manuscripts to colleagues and senior scholars to receive "friendly reviews" before submitting. These colleagues can spend a fraction of the time reviewing the paper as they would doing a formal review, and can usually offer more pointed and candid feedback. Articles that are sent to IJLM that obviously do not represent a best effort are likely to be desk rejected.
I hope that authors wishing to submit to IJLM can find this information helpful in preparing manuscripts for submission. Although some of the points above might seem rudimentary, these are common mistakes that both junior and senior scholars seem to make. I am certain that most authors know this information already, but when it comes time to get an article out for review, sometimes even the easy stuff can be missed; I, too am guiltily of some of the above mistakes from time to time!
Again, this editorial is not meant to be an all-inclusive checklist for writing a "publishable" article, but rather a list of the most common barriers to entry that I have come across in my time as an editor. I look forward to continuing to receive high-quality submissions, and wish all prospective authors the best of luck as they prepare their manuscripts for consideration.
Benjamin T. Hazen
The author would like to thank Professor Alex Ellinger, Editor of the International Journal of Physical Distribution and Logistics Management, for his helpful feedback, which strengthened this editorial.
Davis, D.F. (2014), "Research that makes a difference", International Journal of Physical Distribution and Logistics Management, Vol. 44 No. 5
Fawcett, S.E., Waller, M.A., Miller, J.W., Schwieterman, M.A., Hazen, B.T. and Overstreet, R.E. (2014), "A trail guide to publishing success: tips on writing influential conceptual, qualitative, and survey research", Journal of Business Logistics, Vol. 35 No. 1, pp. 1-16
Mollenkopf, D. (2014), "What does it take to get published these days?", International Journal of Physical Distribution and Logistics Management, Vol. 44 No. 3