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ABSTRACT

This editorial provides an overview of the inner workings of the Journal of Small Business Management and its editorial and peer review processes. In doing so it offers practical insights relevant to authors looking to publish scholarly work in the fields of entrepreneurship and small business scholarship. Specifically, this article discusses the process JSBM uses to review all submissions, the most common causes for a desk reject decision, guidance on best practices for manuscript submission and publication success, and the importance of engagement with the scholarly community.

Introduction

The Journal of Small Business Management (JSBM) publishes scholarly research 旺财体育 in the fields of entrepreneurship and small business management. As the official journal of the International Council for Small Business (ICSB), JSBM is one of the many ways ICSB supports ongoing thought leadership and the free exchange of ideas. The journal, which is circulated to more than 60 countries around the world, is a highly regarded proprietor of scholarly research. Specifically, JSBM is rated an 鈥淎鈥 journal by the Australian Business Dean鈥檚 Council; a Top 15 Journal for technology entrepreneurship (Ratinho et al., 2015); and is abstracted or indexed in more than 20 places, including ABI/INFORM, ProQuest, Clarivate Analytics, and EBSCO Publishing. In addition, JSBM had a 2019 Impact Factor of 3.461 and is presently rated as a 鈥3鈥 on the Chartered Association of Business Schools鈥 Academic Journal Guide. Without question, JSBM鈥檚 reach and impact continues to grow.

At the time of writing, the authors of this editorial are preparing to assume leadership over JSBM. To prepare for this tremendous responsibility, a careful review of all JSBM manuscript submissions and editor decisions over the last five聽years was conducted to identify reviewer trends and areas of opportunity. During this time, the journal was under the very capable leadership of George T. Solomon, who was supported by a team of approximately 40 associate editors. This five-year review included the analysis of more than 3,500 manuscript submissions received between January 1, 2015, and December 31, 2019. In considering the results of our internal analysis, it was apparent that our findings would be valuable to not just authors looking to submit to JSBM but also to entrepreneurship scholars more broadly defined. Thus, in this editorial we synthesize our findings with the hope of providing clarity on the JBSM manuscript review process as well as more generalized best practice recommendations for publishing entrepreneurship research. In addition, we address many of the common questions prospective authors ask the editorial office as they prepare their work for submission, as these questions and answers were often interconnected to the results of our analysis.

This article proceeds as follows. First, we discuss the process JSBM uses to review all submissions. Second, we discuss the most common reasons for a desk rejection. Third, we offer guidance on best practices for manuscript submission and publication success. We conclude by discussing the importance of engagement with the scholarly community.

JSBM鈥檚 manuscript review process

Many authors ask about JSBM鈥檚 manuscript review process and corresponding time line. With regard to process, all manuscripts submitted to JSBM undergo a five-step review process, as summarized in Table 1.

Table 1. JSBM鈥檚 five-step manuscript review process

Step 1: Administrative review

When a manuscript is submitted, the submitted files undergo an administrative review. This process is done by a paid, professional staff member, not an academic editor. It is designed to identify any known challenges the manuscript may pose, as well as to ensure that the manuscript and any corresponding files are ready for blind peer review. During this step, manuscripts may be administratively desk rejected if they lack originality, do not conform to the journal鈥檚 submission guidelines, or are not written clearly and concisely.

Step 2: Managing editor review

Once a manuscript submission has cleared the administrative review process, it is forwarded to the Managing Editor for additional review. The Managing Editor鈥檚 role is threefold: (a) to ensure the submission is a good fit within the journal鈥檚 aims and scope; (b) to be the first set of eyes on the submission with regard to academic quality and contribution; and (c) to assign the manuscript an Associate Editor (AE) who is qualified to lead the submission鈥檚 peer review and decision-making process. Most desk rejections happen at this stage of the process.

Step 3: Associate editor review

Once a manuscript has been assigned to an AE, the most critical part of the review process begins. AEs review the manuscript for rigor and relevance, select and invite blind peer reviewers, and manage the entire decision-making process.

Step 4: Peer review

JSBM employs a double-blind peer review process on manuscripts. This means the authors are not made aware of the identities of the individual reviewers reviewing their work; likewise, reviewers are not made aware of the identities of the authors whose work they are reviewing. Typically, each manuscript is reviewed by two independent reviewers. However, in certain circumstances, AEs are able to make decisions based solely on their own assessment and the input of one reviewer, while on other occasions three or even four reviewers are needed. The specific number of reviewers depends largely on contextual factors. Consider the following three examples: (a) manuscripts employing exploratory or more complex methodology may necessitate a third reviewer who focuses mainly on the methodology; (b) if an AE is torn between sending a paper out for full peer review and desk rejecting it, s/he may choose to invite one reviewer to offer an expedited opinion on the manuscript to help inform his/her decision; and (c) sometimes the AE may not be satisfied with aspects of a review received and thus invite an additional reviewer to consider the manuscript.

Step 5: Associate editor decision

JSBM AEs are empowered to make acceptance, revision, and rejection decisions for the manuscripts they are assigned. Out of the over 3,500 manuscript decisions reviewed, it was exceptionally uncommon for manuscripts to be accepted following the first round of review. The vast majority of manuscripts coming back from first-round peer review (~99.9 percent) received either rejections or major revision invitations to revise and resubmit their work for further publication consideration. In the five-year window of analysis, JSBM鈥檚 annual acceptance rate ranged from 8 percent to 14 percent.

In regards to the time line, JSBM aims to have a first decision to the manuscript author(s) within 60聽days of submission to the journal for consideration in regular journal issues. 1 Steps 1鈥3 and 5 happen relatively quickly, with Step 4 consuming the most time. Authors are welcomed to contact the editorial office for an update if their paper seems to be taking longer to review than the targeted time frame. Please note that while the entire editorial team is focused on ensuring the timely review of work submitted to the journal, much like entrepreneurship itself (Neck & Greene, 2011), the process is not always perfectly linear.

Delays can occur, both as isolated incidents (e.g., a reviewer becomes ill and needs an extra week) and due to external factors (e.g., the COVID-19 pandemic causing widespread delays during the second quarter of 2020 when faculty had to abruptly shift to online teaching; Liguori & Winkler, 2020). If a manuscript reaches Step 5 in the system with two reviewers who have polarized reviews and corresponding recommendations, the Associate Editor is charged with balancing perspectives (Chrisman et al., 2017). Sometimes the AE is able to make a decision, but other times s/he may decide the best course of action is to send the paper out to another reviewer to see if more consensus emerges, necessitating more time. All in all, the time from submission to first decision for the majority of manuscripts falls within the 60-day window, and most desk reject decisions are made within two weeks of initial submission.

Common causes of a desk reject decision

A desk rejection is something no scholar ever wants, yet inevitably occasionally receives. While in some instances there are very specific, nuanced reasons a given manuscript is desk rejected, in general the common causes of a desk rejection fell into one of five categories: (a) concerns of originality; (b) weak topical alignment; (c) failure to follow submission guidelines; (d) significant lack of rigor; and (e) prior or concurrent consideration.

Concerns of originality

Originality is one of the most essential elements JSBM looks for in a manuscript, so JSBM鈥檚 editorial office screens all submissions for originality during administrative review. Technology, while not perfect, enables the journal to authenticate the originality of work in a semiautomated way. When authors鈥 current work builds on prior work, there inevitably will be some elements of overlap; however, JSBM has adopted a standardized similarity score cut-off point, as well as objective criteria for assessing the originality of scholarly work. These criteria enable the editorial office to quickly determine if an exception is warranted or if an administrative desk rejection is necessary. Exceptions are common for specific, objective reasons, including: (a) review papers are more likely to have elements of similarity, thus often necessitating additional consideration; (b) attributed direct quotes are sometimes inadvertently flagged due to a missing quotation mark; and (c) specific scale items used in a paper are flagged due to their similarity to the scale development paper from which they were retrieved. One area of growing concern is when prior versions of the manuscript, which are heavily similar to the submitted version, are disseminated or indexed elsewhere (e.g., conference proceedings, a university or personal website, or repository). Authors should take care to protect the originality of the work they plan to submit for peer-reviewed journal consideration.

Weak topical alignment

JSBM鈥檚 aims and scope are relatively broad and intentionally inclusive. In addition, the journal aims to publish work that informs practice as much as it contributes to theory. On occasion scholars submit work that is completely outside of the journal鈥檚 aims and scope (e.g., financial models for asset depreciation in Texas) or, more often, are only tangentially related (e.g., innovations in consumer behavior). Simply using SMEs as the sample population is not sufficient to justify fit or to warrant peer review and publication consideration. JSBM鈥檚 aims and scope are published clearly on the journal鈥檚 website, so scholars can always review them and e-mail the editorial team to ask for input before making a formal submission. Manuscripts not topically well suited for inclusion in the journal are typically desk rejected by the managing and/or associate editors during their review of the submission.

Failure to follow submission guidelines

Authors should take care to ensure they follow the journal鈥檚 guidelines regarding formatting and submission of work. A failure to follow the guidelines makes the work of the editorial office, the editors, and the peer reviewers more difficult. While an incorrectly formatted reference list is not likely to warrant a desk rejection, excessively long manuscripts or manuscripts submitted in a way that would result in the journal鈥檚 inability to maintain blindness in the peer review process are commonly desk rejected by the journal鈥檚 editorial office during Step 1.

Significant lack of rigor

Theoretical and methodological rigor are critical elements of a successful JSBM publication, and the bar for both continues to rise across all of the leading journals in entrepreneurship. Palmer et al. (2009) is a great resource regarding theoretical rigor, and there is a plethora of recent work on methodological rigor (e.g., Aguinis et al., 2019; Maula & Stam, 2019), some of which are also discussed later in this article.

Prior or concurrent consideration

JSBM is only able to consider each manuscript one time, so work that has been previously submitted and rejected is not eligible for resubmission. Related, the journal also requires that manuscripts submitted not be under concurrent consideration elsewhere. Both of these criteria are common to most academic entrepreneurship journals, and a violation of these criteria commonly results in a desk reject decision.

Best practices for manuscript submission and publication success

There is much scholarship discussing the process by which authors develop, design, analyze, and publish entrepreneurship-related research (see Chrisman et al., 2017; Fayolle & Wright, 2014; Salvato & Aldrich, 2012; Weaver et al., in press). The goal here is not to recreate the wheel but rather to utilize our analysis of over 3,500 editor decisions: (a) to provide unique insights and strategies to authors that will enable them to sidestep publication landmines; and (b) to synthesize and draw attention to existing best practice entrepreneurship scholarship that can set up authors for success when submitting entrepreneurship research. Thus, following are five best practice recommendations for manuscript submission and publication success.

Avoid the avoidable desk rejections

While JSBM averages a 40 percent desk rejection rate, many of these are preventable. Originality can be protected by taking greater care during the writing process when citing the work of others or your own prior work, as well as by being strategic about which and how much of your work you allow to be included or indexed elsewhere prior to publication. Topical alignment can be articulated clearly in the letter to the editor, drawing reference to specific aspects of the journal鈥檚 aims and scope, if not obvious. The submission guidelines, which are clearly described and well specified, are available on the journal鈥檚 website. Given the sheer number of submissions JSBM receives, prior consideration and/or concurrent consideration eliminates future consideration of a manuscript, so exercise care to avoid a desk rejection that could cost a given manuscript publication consideration.

Don鈥檛 underestimate the importance of the letter to the editor

The letter to the editor is your chance to put your best foot forward, make a good first impression, and convey critical information about your manuscript. Too often letters are generic, reading something like:

Dear Editor:

Please accept my manuscript for publication consideration in your journal. We have formatted it following the journal鈥檚 submission guidelines and have no conflicts of interest to declare. We believe it is a good fit for the journal and have worked hard to produce a quality contribution.

Sincerely,

The Authors

While there is nothing technically wrong with this letter to the editor, it does nothing to grab attention, stimulate interest, or connect the manuscript to the journal鈥檚 aims and scope (or to an ongoing dialogue taking place in the journal). It does not address the novelty of the manuscript or how the manuscript informs practice. Successful cover letters are like elevator pitches鈥攖hey grab attention, articulate the manuscript鈥檚 value proposition to the field, and convey other useful information helpful to the editor (e.g., explanation of conflicts of interest, justification of keyword choice if nonobvious, suggestion of reviewers particularly suited or ill-suited to review the work).

If you suggest potential reviewers, please note that the editors look at those critically, so avoid current or former coauthors, colleagues, and friends. Instead, offer suggestions for impartial individuals with deep experience publishing in the area of your manuscript and articulate why these individuals are well suited to serve as reviewers. Ultimately, the assigned AE will choose the reviewers, and there is no guarantee they will use any of the suggestions provided, but these suggestions will prompt the editor to think about reviewers who may be especially qualified to review the manuscript.

Get the introduction right

Grant and Pollock (2011) lay out three critical questions commonly answered by effective introductions: (a) who cares (what is the topic or specific research question and why does it matter?); (b) what is known and unknown, and so what (what does the current literature say, what is missing or unresolved, and why does it need to be resolved or explored further?); and (c) what is to be learned (how does your study meaningfully advance our collective understanding?). In addition to considering these questions, Lange and Pfarrer鈥檚 (2017) article outlining the core building blocks of a successful Academy of Management Review paper is helpful to consider, as it not only includes the introduction but also paints a broader roadmap for the overall structure of a quality paper. In consulting with the JSBM editorial team on the topic of introduction, too often the editors found authors settled for their first draft introduction鈥攍ightly revised鈥攔ather than taking time to be tactical and strategic with their introduction, which likely requires multiple revisions and drafts (perhaps as many as 10, as suggested by Grant & Pollock, 2011).

Conform to best practices for research design, data collection, and analysis

JSBM accepts, on average, roughly 10 percent of the manuscripts it receives for publication consideration, so work that does not conform to contemporary research design, data collection, and analysis best practices is very commonly declined publication. Fortunately, a plethora of recent methodological review 旺财体育 in entrepreneurship鈥攁nd management more broadly鈥攅xist, providing a baseline for authors, reviewers, and editors alike to build on. In looking over reviews completed by JSBM鈥檚 2019 Top 100 Reviewers, three 旺财体育 in particular emerged as commonly referenced among their submitted reviews:

  1. Maula and Stam (2019): These authors offer best practice recommendations to strengthen rigor in quantitative entrepreneurship research. JSBM authors should pay special attention to the recommendations they put forward in their Table 1.

  2. Aguinis et al. (2019): These authors both complement and build on the work of Maula and Stam (2019), offering more detailed best practices for data collection and preparation. Whereas Maula and Stam鈥檚 work focused on quantitative research, Aguinis et al. (2019) include recommendations for both quantitative and qualitative data sets. In short, JSBM authors should pay attention to the checklists for both data collection and preparation recommendations in the work of Aguinis and colleagues.

  3. Bernerth and Aguinis (2016): These authors offer concrete recommendations 鈥渢o improve the transparency appropriateness of practices regarding control variable usage鈥 (p. 229). While their work is not focused specifically on entrepreneurship, JSBM authors regularly submit work on personality and individual differences and team dynamics, making their recommendations highly relevant. In short, the decision-making tree in Figure 2 of this work is a great guide for JSBM authors, reviewers, and editors in many instances.

In addition to the aforementioned scholarship, JSBM itself has published some excellent methodological review work. One example is Rideout and Gray (2013), who review and critique the entrepreneurship education literature, offering best practice recommendations and calling for a need for increased rigor. Another recent example is Narayanan et al. (in press), who review 25聽years of scholarship on entrepreneurial cognition, synthesizing best practices to help elevate the credibility, transparency, and usefulness of scholarly output on the topic. Research into methodological best practices for entrepreneurship scholars remains an area of continued interest for scholarly inquiry at the journal.

Create practical value

For many years JSBM has been a leader in asking scholars to address the 鈥渟o what鈥 question in their research. Some authors address this in the introduction, others in the discussion, and others in the conclusion. Some go so far as to add a 鈥淧ractical Implications鈥 section (which is a great idea). Regardless of where it is included, most successful (i.e., accepted) JSBM submissions address the practical value of their scholarship. One of JSBM鈥檚 2019 Top 100 Reviewers noted this in one review:

As it stands your conclusions/implications are ok, but I would love to see them really flushed out in such a way as they can help better inform practice. Fisher (2020) goes so far as to opine why he believes all business school faculty should write practitioner-focused 旺财体育. While I鈥檓 not suggesting this become a practitioner-focused article, I think looking over Fisher鈥檚 perspective may help you think a bit differently about how you articulate the translation of your work and how it can better help inform practice.

The demand for more and better translation of research is well documented and has garnered the attention of academic organizations, including both the International Council for Small Business (ICSB) and the United States Association for Small Business and Entrepreneurship (USASBE). In 2020 ICSB launched a new journal, the Journal of the International Council for Small Business, which has a primary goal to publish translatable scholarship. Similarly, in launching their journal Entrepreneurship Education and Pedagogy in 2018, USASBE explicitly noted translation as one of the journal鈥檚 two requisite qualities (Liguori et al., 2018).

Conclusion

In closing, we echo and build upon the recommendations of Chrisman et al. (2017), who note that engagement in the scholarly community greatly helps improve an author鈥檚 chance of publication success. As an official journal of the International Council for Small Business, engagement in JSBM鈥檚 scholarly community includes not only reviewing for the journal but also presenting at the annual ICSB World Congress and participating in topical professional development programs. Taking part in any or all of these activities comes with unique benefits to scholars looking to publish their work.

Reviewing for JSBM provides a front-row seat to the most recent research submitted in the field and the opportunity to exercise thought leadership by helping to shape and inform scholarship as it nears publication. It is also a great opportunity to build social capital and name recognition among important gatekeepers (Carr & Voordeckers, 2015; Sharma & Kellermanns, 2009). Presenting at an ICSB World Congress allows you to get your work in front of a global audience of not only researchers and educators but also entrepreneurs and policy makers, all of whom can collectively help you further develop and refine your work. ICSB also hosts a meet the editors session at the congress, and JSBM sponsors a handful of the ICSB research award categories. Last, participating in topical professional development programs allows you to hone your craft, expand your network of colleagues and potential collaborators, find new mentors, and further build rapport and good will with reviewers, gatekeepers, and thought leaders. ICSB offers a variety of opportunities in this regard, especially relating to humane entrepreneurship, social entrepreneurship, and SMEs.

We hope you found this editorial insightful and that it helps to set authors on a path to success when submitting work to entrepreneurship journals and, in particular, to JSBM. We will be publishing additional best practice editorials throughout the remainder of 2021, so please be on the lookout for additional work from the JSBM editorial community.

Acknowledgments

We thank JSBM Associate Editors Josh Bendickson, Susana Santos, and Raj Mahto for their insights and feedback.

Notes

1 JSBM special issues run on different, predefined time lines, so authors submitting to special issues should reference the time line in that specific issue鈥檚 call for papers.

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