The editors of Journal of Finance, Journal of Financial Economics, and Review of Financial Studies recently published in their three journals a joint editorial pointing out that they are seeing too many authors submitting papers that are not ready for the rigorous review process. In their view, too many authors submit papers prematurely in the hopes that the reviewer will help them “make it better” and in so doing turn it in to a paper of publishable quality. A related problem, they point out, is that many authors will simply submit a rejected paper to another journal without following the editor’s or referee’s advice by making changes. These issues impose substantial costs, in the form of time and effort, on the limited pool of editors and referees.
We agree unequivocally with these editors. In fact, there is some reason to believe that we might have to deal even more with the problem of papers being submitted “too early” than the three top tier journals in the field.
Each of the three executive editors of the JFR read every submission to the journal. Many papers are desk rejected by us, meaning that the paper is not sent out for a full review. Our assessments are based upon the paper’s potential contribution to the literature, the appropriateness of the topic, and the quality of the writing, hypothesis development, data, and methodology. Further, we desk reject a paper only if there is a strong consensus among the three of us. Still, we have desk rejected 62% of all submissions received between January 1, 2012 and November 8, 2013. This percentage is only slightly higher than prior editorial teams of the JFR, and has generally increased over the years. Importantly, we believe that this desk rejection rate is illustrative of the issues raised by the editors above.
A common trait across our desk rejected papers, beyond simply not being ready for submission, is the poor exposition of the paper. Specifically, the grammar, punctuation, and syntax are sufficiently poor that the editors often cannot fully understand the contribution of the paper, much less see a path toward publication. It is the author’s job to strongly motivate and present his or her story clearly. It is not an editor’s or reviewer’s job to find the author’s motivation and story, and in the review process edit the paper.
Another problem that seems to surface often is the use of data from a non-U.S. country applied to a research question previously addressed with U.S. data. There are numerous instances when such research can be contributive. For example, if there are differences in market mechanisms, tax laws, governance structures, etc., that allow a refined analysis of a question, or if differences allow one to better control for alternative hypotheses, the use of non-U.S. data is viewed positively. If this is not the case, however, the submission is not put into the review process.
Our practice is to send papers to our associate editors and (for most papers) ask them to find an additional referee. Because we know that associate editors’ and referees’ time is a scarce and valuable resource, and because we view the problems discussed above as significant, we are making changes to the journal’s desk rejection policy and submission fees.