Distinguished Lecture Series: Tobias Schoenherr

Professor Tobias Schoenherr delivered the CARISCA Distinguished Lecture in February 2022, Best Practices for Publishing: Lessons Learned and the International Journal of Operations & Production Management (IJOPM) Perspective. Schoenherr is the Hoagland-Metzler Endowed Professor in Purchasing and Supply Management at the Broad College of Business, Michigan State University. He’s also the editor of the  International Journal of Operations & Production Management.

Mastering the journal submission process

The Center for Applied Research and Innovation in Supply Chain – Africa hosts a distinguished lecture series six times a year to provide faculty and students access to inspiring role models, the latest ideas and approaches in supply chain research, and practical guidance for conducting and publishing research. CARISCA invites top supply chain scholars and leaders to deliver presentations.

February 2022 Lecture: Tobias Schoenherr

In his February 2022 lecture, Schoenherr provided practical tips on successful publishing in journals like IJOPM, sharing insights on successful submissions and addressing common mistakes.

Journal acceptance rates tend to be low, especially for high-impact journals. Best practices for journal submissions significantly improve an author’s chances of getting through the initial desk review and ultimately being accepted for publication.

Schoenherr encouraged attendees to submit to IJOPM, noting that African authors are not well represented in the journal.

Research and publication environments are dynamic

Schoenherr shared best practices and the lessons that he has learned and encouraged attendees to adapt these ideas for their use saying, “The big caveat is that these are best practices for me. They have worked for me. They might not work for you. They might not work in the future because the research environment is dynamic.”

He shared insights on what’s being submitted and common mistakes authors make. Some of these mistakes are easily corrected and knowing what these are will help researchers make better submissions that are more likely to be published.

He reminded participants that papers published today might not be acceptable a year from today.  Because the requirements are always changing, researchers need to pay attention to current trends and do their homework before submitting an article for publication. 

“Requirements are always changing. This has worked for me, but it may not work for you. Hopefully, you can learn to adapt these ideas.”

Publishing is a business, a science and an art

Schoenherr reminded the audience that publishing is a business and that to be successful, submissions need to be a good fit for the journal. He explained that it’s also a science and an art. He discussed the importance of rigorous research and due diligence. Schoenherr gave the example of survey papers submitted without something basic like correlation tables. He reminded the audience that these basics need to be covered. Reviewers might question the work if basic elements are not included. He encouraged transparency, putting it all out there.

“No research is perfect. All research has limitations. You can always criticize a paper because we are trying to simplify reality through how we assess certain underlying dimensions with measurements and constructs, and this puts an abstraction to reality, and that is a limitation. It’s virtually impossible for us to capture all of the complexity to all of the dynamics that are out there.”

Acknowledging the limitations of a study and putting it into perspective provides a transparent analysis for reviewers and, ultimately, the readers and practitioners.

Schoenherr focused on the art of publishing, explaining, “The art comes in convincing reviewers and editors that your work is great and that you are making a true contribution.”

He said, “You need to put yourself in the role of a salesperson.” The introduction is your opportunity to make a great impression. His suggestions:

  • Demonstrate that it’s within the scope of the journal
  • Originality
  • Relevance: What is the true contribution?
  • Rigorous methodology 
  • Writing quality matters
  • Provide a good introduction that clearly explains why the research is important, what is known and what is not, and what the reader will learn

Ensure your submission is a good fit

Schoenherr encouraged the audience to do their homework and review papers from a target journal to see how the papers are structured. For example, is a correlation table typically part of the analysis?

In addition to headings and other formatting, authors should ensure that their work is a good topical fit for the publication. Review a journal’s editorial philosophy to make sure your work is a good fit. Ensure that the target publication solicits papers within your domain. Lack of fit is a common reason for desk rejection, meaning the paper is rejected without being sent out for review.

IJOPM, for example, is not a mathematical journal and doesn’t accept any mathematical modeling papers, but they still receive many submissions of this type, and they are rejected. He also explained that citing papers from a target journal can demonstrate fit, especially if you are addressing an area of further study that has been identified by another author in that journal.

Following a journal’s formatting guidelines is a good practice. Failing to do so might put off a reviewer and can create a bias against your work.

Key takeaways from the lecture

  • Do your homework to ensure your paper is a good fit for the target journal.
  • Sell your work! Ensure that you have clearly stated the relevance and contribution of your research. Tie your research to recent events that point to the need for your research.
  • Tie your research to prior work. Explain the limitations of prior research and show how your work addresses these gaps.
  • Follow journal formatting guidelines when available.
  • The field is always changing and what is acceptable today may not be acceptable in the future.
  • Make your writing as clear as possible. Don’t make reviewers guess what you mean. Proofread your paper several times. You may want to hire a copy editor especially if English is not your first language. If the writing is poor, a reviewer may draw a conclusion that the research is also poor.
  • Review literature with a purpose; demonstrate your understanding and then explain the relevance of the papers in your own words.
  • Thoroughly investigate the theories you use. A common mistake is using a theory superficially without a full understanding of its intricacies and how it informs your research.
  • Be consistent. For example, make sure your data is internally consistent. 
  • Use a plagiarism checker to check your work. It’s easy to plagiarize yourself. Errors can also happen when multiple contributors are editing a paper. 
  • Be transparent with your data. Include summary tables and frameworks that you use to distill the data.
  • Be sure to answer your research question(s) and explain how they extend prior studies.
  • Explain and interpret your findings and offer direction for future research.
  • Provide managerial insights that are specific in terms of audience and circumstances. Push yourself to present new insights. Don’t just state the obvious.
  • Be positive about the review even when the feedback is critical. 
  • Respond to comments well and fully. Be thorough in your response document. It may be twice as long as the paper itself. It’s your duty to educate the reviewer.
  • Examine the types of methods used in the literature to identify methods that might be a good match for your research and opportunities for underrepresented methods.
  • Become a reviewer to get an insider’s perspective on the research publication process.

The pluses and minuses of various research methods

Schoenherr gave a detailed look at methods and the pluses and minuses of each. He talked about the limitations of case studies and that the burden is really on authors to find something new and novel. Publishers appreciate novel research surveys conducted on a solid base of theory, where the variables capture the essence of the theory, Schoenherr explained. Submissions of survey research that appear to retrofit theory to the survey, or that overemphasize performance impact, do not tend to be as successful. 

Schoenherr said that multi-method research is always sought after, “as long as it does not provide the impression that a weak study is combined with another weak study.” 

Secondary data analysis was another method that Schoenherr discussed. He explained that highly relevant analysis, using panel data, advanced econometrics, or new data sets is desirable, whereas secondary data analysis without the backing of theory or datasets would less likely be accepted for publication. 

Furthering his discussion of research methods, Schoenherr noted, “Lab, field or vignette studies are underrepresented in IJOPM,” indicating an opportunity for this type of research submission. 

On the other hand, he cautioned not to submit for publication “stylized experiments with limited relevance for practice dialogue.” 

Similarly, systematic reviews and citation analyses have not been published recently by IJOPM, so a submission that focuses on developing a new framework or an innovative research theme could see a viable route to publication. However, Schoenherr warned against submitting reviews and citation analyses that are merely descriptive. 

Schoenherr stated that conceptual work is encouraged, “but a standard has not clearly emerged of what a unique contribution is. Often, theory-building empirical research with a similar focus will more likely lead to publication, unless the authors try to aim at developing new OM or SCM theory.” 

Finally, Schoenherr encouraged submissions applying other methodologies such as “ethnography, action research/design science, discourse analysis, simulation, etc.” as these are currently under-represented in IJOPM.

Become a reviewer

The presentation concluded with a 30-minute question and answer session. One of the questions was about how to become a reviewer. 

Being a reviewer, he explained, “Is not only doing a service to the discipline, but more importantly, you also see what other papers are submitted, how they are doing it, whether these papers are well received.” 

He further explained that when a decision is made on a paper, all review comments are sent to all reviewers and then you can benchmark your comments against others. Reviewers can learn a tremendous amount through the review process.

Schoenherr encouraged attendees to submit papers to IJOPM. 

“I really encourage you to submit to the journal because we do want research from African Scholars investigating African dynamics. It’s too seldom that we see research within these contexts.”

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