Advice to journal authors
I wrote this advice to authors while I was co-editor of Governance (2009-2017). It was originally published on the Governance blog.
Governance welcomes scholarship on public policy, institutions and administration that is timely and relevant to its readership, which is comprised of scholars and professionals around the world. Here are seven pieces of advice to authors interested in submitting manuscripts to the journal:
1. Understand the aims of the journal. Look at recent issues. And subscribe to our monthly newsletter. Consider whether your manuscript fits with the interests of our readers. For example, we don’t publish articles on corporate governance.
2. Make your case directly. This might be the most important piece of advice! Many papers fail in the review process simply because it is not clear what the author is trying to say. Successful manuscripts capture the attention of editors and reviewers. They do this by developing a claim or finding that is novel and important, and presenting that claim clearly and directly. Authors have three opportunities to present their claim within the first three pages of their manuscript:
- The title should signal, so far as possible within twelve words, what the main claim or finding is.
- The same is true of the abstract. Make sure that the main claim is stated at the start of the abstract, not at the end.
- The whole argument should be outlined once again within the introduction to the paper, which generally should not be longer than two pages. Never finish an introduction by saying that “conclusions will be discussed in a final section of this paper.” Tell the reader what the conclusions are, and why they matter. A strong introduction conveys the main claim or finding at its start, not its end.
3. Remember that journal writing is a form of technical or business writing. Journal articles are different than books. There is no room for circumlocution or ornamental prose. Use plain language, and excise any words or passages that are not immediately relevant to the argument. (See George Orwell’s six rules for writing.) In each section of the paper, begin by telling readers what you intend to argue in that section. Never exceed the overall limit of 9,000 words, including all elements of the paper.
4. Understand the editorial constraints. Governance publishes twenty-four research articles a year. If too many articles are accepted for publication, then the delay in publishing articles grows longer. At the moment, the delay for print publication is about fourteen months. We don’t want the queue of accepted papers to get longer. That means that we must think carefully about the number of submissions that are sent out for review. Governance receives almost three hundred submissions a year. About seventy percent are not sent out for review. Many of these papers fit with the journal’s interests, but are not as compelling as others that have been sent to us. Today, we return submissions that would have been accepted for review a few years ago. We make decisions on whether to send submissions out for review within two or three days of their receipt. Otherwise, it usually takes about eight weeks to obtain reviews for a manuscript, although there is substantial variation in review time.
5. Recognize the effect of globalization. There is an acronym often used by defense and intelligence agencies that can be used in our work as well: AUSCANZUKUS. It stands for Australia-Canada-New Zealand-United Kingdom-United States. These countries, along with western European nations, account for a disproportionate number of articles published in Governance and other journals. By contrast, there are a number of populous countries (such as China, India, Indonesia, Brazil, Pakistan, Nigeria, Bangladesh, and the Philippines, which together account for half of the global population) whose immense governance challenges have not received adequate attention in the pages of our journal. Like other journals, Governance is trying to address this imbalance. This has an important implication for western European and AUSCANZUKUS authors. It means that there is less space for articles that deal narrowly with governance questions in those regions. Where possible, the broader relevance of arguments must be established. And the standards for judging the importance of articles have also been raised. All other considerations being equal, an article that examines an incremental reform within an high-performing public service in Europe or America must be given lower priority than a paper addressing more fundamental problems of governance within a larger developing country.
6. Topics to avoid. With experience, it is possible to identify some subjects that rarely do well in the review process:
- Papers that propose a new framework, theory or paradigm, without an empirical component demonstrating the superiority of that framework over existing models. Similarly, papers whose main purpose is to raise questions for further research, rather than answering one of those questions.
- Papers whose main conclusion is that the implementation of reforms is complex and influenced by many political and bureaucratic considerations. Or papers whose main finding is that the diffusion or transfer of policies is complicated by domestic political and institutional factors. This is well-traveled territory. Something more must be shown than the fact of complication itself.
- Econometric fishing expeditions. These are papers that conduct statistical analyses on a newly discovered dataset until significant findings are produced. The proper approach is to begin with a theory and then test it.
- Papers that attempt to conduct statistical analyses using country-level governance indicators and other country-level measures as the dependent and independent variables. Reviewers usually raise concerns about the reliability of these indicators, and worry that the theories on which such high-level analyses are built are too simplistic.
7. Handle rejection elegantly. Editors and reviewers are well-intentioned scholars who have taken time to consider your work. If your manuscript is not accepted for review or publication, don’t take it as a personal affront. Don’t respond immediately to an email notifying you about an unfavorable decision. Take a day before you reply. Never question the good faith or competence of a reviewer. You can ask the editors to elaborate on their reasons for rejecting your submission. But also ask yourself why well-intentioned readers could not see the power of your argument.