Finance: Research, Policy and Anecdotes

Second young writers workshop

I am just coming back from the 2nd young writers workshop in Bonn; an intensive and interactive meeting of junior researchers (post-doc and assistant professor level) and more senior researchers (always relative, obviously!), where the latter shared with the former their experience with the publication process.  

I have discussed some issues in a blog entry two years ago, but have some additional points, partly coming out of discussions with other participants at the workshop.  Over the past six years, I have been editor at three different journals, each one with their different approaches and procedures. In the following, I will discuss some important points on the procedures (mainly referring to the JBF) but also more generally on the editorial process.  


First, where and when should you submit? Perfect is the enemy of the good; so, there is a point in not waiting too long for submission. Also, some topics are rather hot and there might be other people working on it (as happened to me in my job market paper, though I was lucky and published first). On the other hand, do not submit a paper before you have presented it at conferences, seminars etc. Get as much feedback as possible, before submitting.  As pointed out ad nauseam by editors across the profession – editors and referees are not here to help you improve and polish your paper, there are here to judge it and possibly push you the extra step needed. Choosing a journal is always tricky – one school of thought is to always start at the top, as lower-ranked journals are not worth your time (especially with a tenure clock ticking); my approach has been that sometimes I have very interesting projects and papers that might still be worthwhile publishing even if not in a top journal.


Second, what is the process?  For the following, I speak mainly for myself, though I assume that my co-editors at the JBF follow similar approaches.  There are three options for papers that come into my editorial inbox at the JBF: first, desk rejects (mainly because of limited contribution or being too specialised for the JBF; in some cases where the paper is in my own area and there are clear methodological deficiencies, I also desk-reject); second, papers I handle myself and send out to reviewers; third, papers I assign to an associate editor.  Associate editors again have two options; recommend desk-reject or send out to reviewers.  Even though managing editors have the final word, it would be rare for me not to follow the advice of the associate editor. In cases of split reviewer decisions, however, I take another close look at the paper and the reports.


Third, when reading for the first time as editor at a paper, what am I looking for?  As for most people in our profession, my time is scarce and I expect to get an overview of the paper after having read the introduction, with a first impression at the end of the first page. As I wrote in my earlier blog entry, the four most important messages (motivation, research question, methodology and contribution) have to be clearly presented in the introduction, (ideally) mentioned on the first page, and summarised in the abstract. How important are title and letter to the editor – the former can whet the appetite (but do not ask a question in the title that you then do not answer), the latter is rather unimportant, unless you have something important to tell the editor (conflict with other papers/authors/possible reviewers).


Fourth, how important is a proper identification and has our profession gone too far in focusing on identification rather than stressing research questions and policy implications? It is a question we often discuss also among the managing editors at Economic Policy (who come from different fields of economics). Proper policy advice should be based on proper identification, but there is also the issue of internal vs. external validity (best example is experimental field evidence vs. broad cross-country evidence). One important aspect in this debate is the novelty of the question (where even documenting correlation might be interesting); in more established if not saturated literature it is much less attractive to have yet another paper with half-baked identification.  However, confirming a well-established result by a just slightly refined identification strategy might not be as exciting either.  But as always, the devil is in the details, so there is no clear answer here.


Fifth, appeals! The first reaction after any rejection is “how stupid are these referees and how could the editor have followed their advice.” Take a deep breath! If you feel like writing a nasty email, write it, save it, read it the next morning, and delete it!  Is it worth appealing a decision?  I have appealed myself four times over the past 10 years or so, and was successful twice. Do not argue with an editor or referee over lack of contribution or (even worse) poor writing. There are very limited circumstances where such an appeal makes sense, including obvious and critical mistakes of the referees – but these have to be critical for the decision of the editor to reject the paper. Finance journals have tightened the process for appeals quite a lot recently, including that the paper will go to a different editor and a new reviewer, so the hurdle is quite high.  In almost all cases, it is best to move on; after carefully considering the comments of the reviewers, as they might be very valid and they might also be your reviewer at the next journal.


Finally, a word of encouragement.  There are many reasons why our profession has trended towards co-authored papers, one might be that it is easier to share the frustration of rejections.