The idea for this topic came from students. One of the requirements for completing PGDM is to write a paper and publish it before term 6. Since I was teaching (along with Prof Shampa) Business Research Methods in term 3, students wanted to know how to write a good research paper that is highly likely to be published in an indexed journal. To not belie their hopes, I put together a lecture mainly based on a series of articles that appeared in the Academy of Management Journal on publishing in AMJ. These articles were forwarded by Prof Nitin Garg, Director, some time ago. I have added a few more points here and there, and I hope to repeat this blog in future research methodology classes (PGDM and FPM).
In my own experience (though I have only a few papers published in indexed journals), the success of an article is decided at the very beginning of the project itself. The acceptance of a manuscript largely depends on the topic of the study. No matter how well a paper is written, if its topic is not appealing, it will, in all probability, stand rejected. The question then is how the topic should suit a good journal. The editors of AMJ have named five requirements: significance, novelty, curiosity, scope, and actionability. I could add one more criterion, clarity of argument and style.
The first and foremost point to consider while selecting a topic is whether it “confronts or contributes to a grand challenge” (Colquitt & George, 2011). By grand challenge, the authors mean that the idea should be bold and come out with a not-so-common approach to tackle that idea. Grand challenges may be and are not limited to eradicating poverty, illiteracy, and terrorism. The spirit is to take up an unresolved problem and delve into it. However, every time one writes a paper, one may not come up with an unresolved problem to tackle, but no matter how little, the paper should contribute towards it. The research should clarify how it contributes towards solving a larger problem.
Most of the journals would indeed look for novelty in the topic. One of the ways to create a novel topic is to go for a multi-disciplinary approach. For example, in 2004, Donald Lehmann edited a special issue of the Journal of Marketing “that paved the way for future developments at the marketing–finance interface” (Edeling et al., 2021). Thus, combining marketing and finance can lead to new ideas and new words; their article identifies and synthesizes four key emerging research areas: digital marketing and firm value, tradeoffs between “doing good” and “doing well,” the mechanisms of firm-value effects, and feedback effects.
The fact is that the novelty can initially draw the readers’ attention. However, the manuscript needs something more than novelty to hold their attention. The topic needs to kindle and sustain curiosity. As a metaphor, curiosity is a mystery. Carrying the mystery metaphor forward, the mystery novels are absorbing and engaging because one does not the ending until the end of the novel.
Topics would arouse curiosity when their propositions are counter to taken-for-granted assumptions (Davis, 1971). For example, a study focused on showing that eating sugar does not cause diabetes or productivity of employees increases with more breaks during working hours would arouse curiosity because it challenges the reader’s initial expectations. According to Alvesson & Ka¨rreman (2007), “interesting research topics flow out of “breakdowns”: surprising findings in one’s own data.”
If you, as an author, can keep the reader guessing till the end, you have an effective topic at hand.
Most of the good journals vouch for scope. Scope in our discussion stands for the length and breadth of the study covered. Has the study adequately sampled in terms of relevant constructs, mechanisms, and perspectives? A good study cannot be significant (Requirement number 1 above) if it tackles only limited constructs, perspectives, or sample. Another word that nearly describes the scope, though not entirely, is research rigour.
According to AMJ, they rarely publish any article that is significantly shorter than 40 pages. Also, they “suspect that other submissions struggle with scope because authors slice their data too thin—trying to get multiple good papers out of a data set rather than one great one.”
There is one fear in following the above requirement; that the article might get too big. The issue can be better left to the reviewers to decide. They can suggest dropping some variables to bring more focus to the topic at hand.
A good topic requires that it should be actionable. How can managers use the finding in their day-to-day work? In other words, it should offer actionable insight for managerial practice.
“Five major ways that management studies can be actionable: (1) offering counterintuitive insights, (2) highlighting the effect of new and important practices, (3) showing inconsistencies in, and consequences of, practices, (4) suggesting a specific theory to explain an interesting and current situation, and (5) identifying an iconic phenomenon that opens new areas of inquiry and practice.” (McGahan, 2007)
- Clarity of argument and style
Academic writing differs from other writing, such as college essays or writings for newspapers.
There are two aspects to clarity and readability:
1. the language itself and
2. the structure of the paper.
Good writing does not necessarily use fancy language. Unless one understands clearly the word’s denotations (meaning) and connotations (implications), it is advisable to avoid them. Journal editors look for a logical argument presented in a clear, easy-to-understand structure. Authors should ensure that the argument flows smoothly within the sections. The paragraphs should follow logically with no sudden or unexplained jumps, and the conclusion should wrap up the argument and not include new material. Some writings are brilliant because they manage to convey great ideas really simply.
Some tips for good academic writing are:
1. Write mostly in active voice. Though the passive voice is not grammatically incorrect, the active voice makes writing more straightforward.
2. Avoid wordy, vague, cluttered, and long sentences.
3. Focus on essentials. Unnecessary details and repetition are disliked.
4. Do not use slang or colloquial expressions.
In conclusion, an effective topic allows researchers to contribute significantly by following a novel method and sustaining curiosity, building an ambitious scope, and presenting actionable insights. All the above actions are performed with clarity of argument and style.
Alvesson, M., & Ka¨rreman, D. (2007). Constructing mystery: Empirical matters in theory development. Academy of Management Review, 32, 1265-1281.
Colquitt, & George. (2011, June). FROM THE EDITORS PUBLISHING IN AMJ—PART 1: TOPIC CHOICE. The Academy of Management Journal , 54(3), 432-435.
Davis, M. S. (1971). That’s interesting! Toward a phenomenology of sociology and a sociology of phenomenology. Philosophy and Social Science, 1:, 1, 309 –344.
Edeling, A., Srinivasan, S., & Hanssens, D. M. (2021, December). The marketing–finance interface: A new integrative review of metrics, methods, and findings and an agenda for future research . International Journal of Research in Marketing, 38(4), 857-876.
McGahan, A. (2007). Academic research that matters to managers: On zebras, dogs, lemmings, hammers, and turnips. Academy of Management Journal, 50, 748-753.