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Journal of Managerial Issues - Review Philosophy and Review Process

Review Philosophy and Review Process

The JMI seeks to publish quality empirical, theoretical and methodological papers in business management research. The overriding criterion for publication in the JMI is knowledge gained about the theory of organizations and the practices of management. The JMI is intended to foster research from a variety of business school and related disciplines. As such, it is open to, and indeed encourages, a wide range of emerging methods, conceptual approaches and substantive problem areas within the domain of business behavior. The goal is to make the JMI an open-minded, fair and receptive vehicle for quality business research, regardless of the method, theory, or disciplinary origin. The editorial review process is the mechanism through which that goal can be achieved or thwarted.

A key feature of the review process is the attempt to apply consistent quality standards across diverse research by relying on reviewers representing disciplines characterized by certain methods and approaches and by calling on appropriate ad hoc reviewers. The goal is to obtain the best match possible between authors and reviewers.

Procedurally, it is important to arrive at a decision on a manuscript in a timely and constructive fashion, with a minimum of iterations. The goal is to reach the initial editorial decision on a manuscript within 60 days of submission. Another goal is to try to provide enough direction to authors when requesting a revision so that one revision should be sufficient to make a final decision on most manuscripts; multiple iterations of revision and review are a frustration for all concerned. Clearly, these two goals will not be attained for every manuscript, but the intent is to meet these objectives for as high a proportion of submissions as is feasible.

One approach for minimizing the number of iterations is the concept of forming a "blind partnership" between reviewers and authors, so that all parties are working toward the same goal of disseminating interesting knowledge about business behavior. Some journals take the position that it is the Editor's job to accept manuscripts, while it is the reviewer's job to reject them. This position is unnecessarily adversarial and counterproductive. So many hurdles can be erected from a variety of perspectives that the process hinders rather than facilitates dissemination of knowledge. Although it is imperative to avoid any relaxation in scholarly standards, it should be possible for reviewers to cooperate with the Editor to identify any truly meritorious (i.e., knowledge-generating) aspects of an otherwise flawed manuscript.

The assignment of (typically) two reviewers to a manuscript to be evaluated is made on the basis of attempting to provide the highest quality reviewers possible for that manuscript. A key to assuring review quality is a good "match" of the reviewer's interest and the content of the manuscript. If a reviewer receives a manuscript that he or she feels unqualified to evaluate properly, the manuscript should be promptly returned to the Editor with a note to that effect. Thus, pursuit of the objective of providing quality reviews on any manuscript begins with the Editor's decision regarding the most qualified reviewers. The remainder of the burden, though, rests on the reviewer.

Each article submitted to the JMI is subjected to the following reviewing process:

  1. An initial screening by the Editor to determine the suitability of the article for the Journal.
  2. Assuming it is suitable, it is assigned to two referees, according to its functional and methodological content.
  3. A careful review by two referees, each of whom makes a recommendation to the Editor and supplies comments for the author.
  4. An appraisal of the reviews by the Editor, who makes an initial decision regarding publication of the paper and transmits the reviews and this decision to the author. If the Editor feels the paper has potential for publication, the author is invited to make revisions according to the referees' suggestions.
  5. A final decision by the Editor, who appraises the entire review process, making certain that all revisions suggested by the referees prerequisite to publication have been made.

The Editor reserves the right to deviate from the above procedures when circumstances suggest that it would be most appropriate to do so.

Components of a "Quality" Review

A quality review is necessarily defined as a review that is helpful to the Editor in making a decision about the disposition of a manuscript. Additionally, and even more important, is the guidance provided in the review to the Editor and the author(s) regarding modifications that may improve the manuscript. Finally, and perhaps most important, is the role of the review in facilitating the dissemination of interesting knowledge about business behavior through the pages of the JMI. A brief discussion of the components of a "quality" review follows.

Critical Evaluation
The sine qua non of a quality review is rigorous evaluation of the manuscript. All major assertions, claims, analyses, etc., should be considered in detail for clarity, correctness, and conciseness. It is appropriate in conducting this critical evaluation to note both positive and negative aspects of the manuscript. Authors need to know what they have done well and not just what they have done poorly. The critical evaluation must be communicated clearly, persuasively and in enough detail to convey the basis for the evaluation. In a sense, the reviewer is in the position of trying to convince the Editor and the author(s) of the particular points raised in the review.

A second vital component of a quality review is the promptness with which it is delivered. The JMI's goal is to reach the initial decision on a manuscript within 60 days of the date of submission. In order to reach this objective, reviewers must complete their portion of the task within four to six weeks. Agreeing to take on a JMI review assignment, then, is implicitly an agreement to prioritize that review sufficiently so that it can be delivered in time to be helpful.

The popular view of the role of reviewers is that they are to serve as "gatekeepers," separating the wheat from the chaff. Unfortunately, this view focuses attention on the evaluative aspect of the reviewer's role. Viewing the review as a constructive process designed to maximize the potential contribution of a piece of work reveals the more challenging and more satisfying aspect of the review process. It is one thing to write a review that condemns a flawed research effort; it is something beyond that to point out an avenue for salvaging the meritorious portion of that research.

One cautionary qualification exists with respect to this constructive process, and that is the temptation to attempt to force the author(s) to write the paper "in one's own image." The research is the property of the author(s), and while serious consideration must be given to reviewers' comments, the author(s) will not be "held hostage" by a reviewer's ideas when a disagreement exists that is a matter of opinion rather than one of fact.

Fairness and Impartiality
A key to a quality review is the attempt by the reviewer to be impartial and fair-minded in his or her evaluation. If a reviewer cannot compartmentalize his or her evaluation process from the desire to defend a "pet" theory; to exercise hostility toward the supposed author(s); or simply to reject the manuscript out-of-hand on philosophical grounds, etc., then the reviewer should disqualify himself or herself from the review. The review process must be characterized by fairness, open-mindedness, and impartiality to as great an extent as is humanly possible.

A quality review is one in which negative evaluations of the manuscript are delivered as diplomatically as possible. Criticisms can be delivered in a gentle, constructive fashion rather than through the use of inflammatory language. In all cases, comments must be directed only to the manuscript and not at the author(s), their assumed motives, or lack of competence. An insulting or patronizing review not only damages the JMI's reputation, but also fails to achieve the goal of communicating with the author(s). A good rule of thumb is to write the review as though it were not "blind," and the reviewers are known to the author(s).

The JMI, like many other journals, operates on a "double blind" basis. The authors are not informed of the identity of the reviewers, nor are the authors identified to the reviewers, except as their identities can be ascertained by reading the manuscript. It is a violation of professional ethics and the author's right to privacy to discuss a JMI manuscript with anyone else. Occasions will arise when a reviewer may wish to consult with a colleague who is more proficient in a particular area; such consultation is acceptable (even laudable) but should be limited. What is of greater concern is the need to avoid "gossip" about one's most recent JMI review, especially when the (supposed) author(s) are identified in the conversation. It is not fair to the author(s), or the Editor, or the Journal when reviewers discuss that which the JMI has promised will remain confidential.

A high quality review is thorough in all aspects of both the evaluative process and the communication process. Principle aspects of the manuscript that need to be addressed by reviewers are clarity of objectives, conceptual rigor, methodological rigor, logical organization, treatment of relevant literature, discussion of results, readability, length-contribution ratio, significance of topic, and significance of contribution.

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Components of the Review Format

To help reviewers provide authors with a thorough and complete review, the following review format is used by the JMI.

The Reviewer Report Form. The Reviewer Report Form (RRF) is the focal point for a JMI review. It contains the basic record-keeping information that is essential to managing the review process efficiently. The intent of the series of close-ended rating scales that appear on the RRF is to serve as a "reminder" to the reviewer of the key considerations in the evaluation of the manuscript. The response to these scales also serves a useful diagnostic purpose for the Editor in the search for areas of reviewer consensus. Few, if any, Accept/Reject decisions will be made on the basis of these scales, but they will be useful in explaining to an author the reason for a rejection or an important deficiency to correct in a possible revision.

The two questions on the RRF regarding the title and the abstract are intended to improve the JMI's accuracy of communication to the reader who scans the Table of Contents and/or reads abstracts before deciding to read entire articles. In a sense, the title and abstract are "labels" for the paper, and as such they should be accurate and informative.

The overall recommendation is the most important piece of information the reviewer provides on the RRF. Each of the six responses is described next.

Accept Unconditionally
This rarely-used category should be reserved for manuscripts that are virtually flawless in their content. Selection of this recommendation should be accompanied by comments directed to the Editor in support of such a strong evaluation. In general, when a reviewer makes this recommendation, he or she will be regarded as having "signed off" on the manuscript.

Accept Subject to Minor Revisions
This recommendation should be made in cases where the manuscript is judged to be quite strong and in need of only minor additions, deletions, or corrections. The exact nature of the desired revisions must be detailed in the Author Comments, such that the Editor can evaluate the revised manuscript without returning the new version to the reviewer. The types of revisions implied here are very straightforward and precise. Essentially, then, this recommendation is tantamount to accepting the appropriately revised manuscript for publication.

Encourage Revision in Accordance with Accompanying Comments
This recommendation should be used for manuscripts which seem to offer a high degree of potential for eventual publication but which have significant deficiencies that must be corrected. For instance, a piece of research on an important topic may not have been presented clearly or questions may exist about some aspect of its method. This recommendation should be used when the reviewer believes that a satisfactory clarification or answer to a methodological query would result in an acceptable manuscript. Detailed Author Comments outlining the key concerns are extremely important in support of this recommendation.

It is important to note that a recommendation in this category should in no way be construed as a "guarantee" of eventual publication. In some cases, a seemingly promising manuscript will fail to deliver upon further clarification or analysis.

Reject in Current Form, but Allow Resubmission of a Substantially Different Version as Outlined in Author Comments
The essential difference between this recommendation and the "encourage revision" option is that the current version of the manuscript is not publishable in anything approximating its present form. It is at this level that the reviewer "creativity" plays a major role, and the notion of the "blind partnership" mentioned earlier comes into play. Rather than simply reject a flawed manuscript as completely unsalvageable, this recommendation, with its accompanying Author Comments, details a "plan" for producing a potentially publishable, but substantially different, manuscript. Common instances where this recommendation may be called for include:

  • shortening of an article-length manuscript to research-in-brief length;
  • substantially improving the conceptual development;
  • reanalyzing data with more appropriate analytical procedures;
  • conducting an empirical study to complement the conceptual development, or to replace or supplement a flawed study in the present manuscript; and
  • repositioning the research in more appropriate fashion, given its content, method and apparent contribution.

Papers receiving this recommendation are quite unlikely to achieve publishable status with a single revision, given the magnitude of the revision required. In view of the amount of effort implied for reviewers, the Editor and authors alike, this recommendation should be used sparingly.

Reject, Despite Some Merit, Because the Likelihood of Successful Revision is Remote
In a sense, a manuscript receiving this recommendation might be viewed simply as one which has a very low probability of ever making a contribution. While a paper that is "allowed" the possibility of resubmitting may be judged to have major problems on two or three dimensions listed on the front of the RRF, a paper receiving this recommendation would most likely be judged to have major problems on several dimensions.

Reject Unconditionally
This recommendation should be used when a manuscript offers no potential, even after revision, for making a contribution to the literature. For example, the topic may be of trivial importance or outside the domain of the Journal; the basic conceptual development may be extremely weak or even incorrect; or the empirical work may have a fatal flaw.

Regardless of the nature of the flaw that condemns a manuscript to this category, a diplomatic set of Author Comments should accompany the RRF. The author(s) need to know why their paper has been rejected without the possibility of revising. In such instances, however, the Author Comments need not be as extensive as in the previous categories. It is more efficient to identify clearly one or two fatal flaws that serve to dispatch the manuscript, and conserve reviewing time and energy for manuscripts that stand to benefit from reviewer input.

Author Comments

The Author Comments represent the most important component of the JMI review, for they provide the rationale for the reviewer's evaluation of the manuscript as well as helpful suggestions for the improvement of the paper. Author Comments should never contain any semblance of a recommended disposition for the manuscript. Such recommendations should be made in the comments directed to the Editor only; it is the Editor's responsibility to make the final decision and also to decide the best way to communicate the decision to the author(s).

Author Comments are generally most helpful to both the author(s) and the Editor when they begin with a summary or "gestalt" assessment of the reviewer's reaction to the manuscript. This "big picture" is invaluable in providing a context for the more specific, detailed comments that follow. The summary is especially important in identifying the most important of the reviewer's concerns.

Author Comments should be typed on the Author Comments Form. Again, as discussed previously, the nature of the Author Comments should be critical and thorough, but always diplomatic and constructive. Save the "spleen venting" for the Comments for the Editor Only.

Comments for the Editor Only

The remarks intended for the eyes of the Editor only should be in the form of a cover letter. This is the form where the reviewer may be brutally frank regarding the manuscript. The Comments for the Editor Only should be useful in "guiding" the Editor through the more extensive Author Comments. Here a recommended disposition by the reviewer is perfectly appropriate, as is amplification of key aspects of the evaluation.

Concluding Remarks: The Importance of Dedicated Reviewers

Without the dedicated efforts of reviewers, the JMI could not be a top-quality journal. While it is true that any journal is only as good as the authors who contribute their research to it, it is also true that a good journal is made better by the reviewers who labor on behalf of it. The reviewing process is much more than "gate keeping," it is, at its heart, a "value-added" mechanism that helps to strengthen the overall contribution to knowledge made in the pages of JMI.

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Journal of Managerial Issues