by Sarah Stanske
Note: In the notes below, the author paraphrases her discussion with Professor Folta.
Since the release of the first issue in 2007, the Strategic Entrepreneurship Journal has evolved into an internationally renowned journal that, “values contributions which lead to improved practice of managing organizations as they deal with the entrepreneurial process involving imagination, insight, invention, and innovation and the inevitable changes and transformations that result and benefit society” (https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/journal/1932443x). With contributions from top-scholars, such as Jay Barney, Mary Tripsas, and Mike Wright, the sister journal of the SMJ is no longer an insider tip, but a well-established outlet for strategy scholars and beyond. Its placement in the Financial Times Top 50 business journals attests to its success. For this blog-post, I want to peek behind the scenes and understand what it takes to get published in this journal. Thus, while we normally see only the end-products in the form of well-crafted articles, I wondered about the key points deemed to be as important by editors working for this outlet. Consequently, I talked to professor Timothy B Folta from the University of Connecticut, who is not only a highly published author himself, but also an Associate Editor for the SEJ. In the course of our interview, Tim reflects on his role as Associate Editor, the SEJ mission, and provides some useful dos and don’ts for publishing in this outlet.
Knowing the SEJ Mission – What topics are of interest for the SEJ?
The journal fills an important niche. Certainly, entrepreneurship is part of that niche, but since its initiation we have additionally focused on innovation and intrapreneurship, which complements the focus of its sister journals (i.e., Strategic Management Journal and Global Strategy Journal) quite well. When coming up with the idea of the journal, the Founding Editors recognized that entrepreneurship, innovation, and intrapreneurship increasingly played a role in strategic management theories and empirics. For example, research on dynamic capabilities and the idea of entrepreneurial capabilities tells us that this topic is also an important part of big firms as they also need to innovate. Also, the idea of two-sided markets, platforms, and ecosystems have an entrepreneurial element and are eligible topics for the SEJ. Another potential area might be work on government policy regarding entrepreneurship and innovation. While there are other niche journals focusing on entrepreneurship, we believe our added emphasis on innovation and intrapreneurship sets us apart. The Founding Editors felt that there is plenty of room for a high-quality journal, especially with SMS backing.
Aspects of particular importance for submitting to the SEJ
There should be a clear tie to the topic of entrepreneurship and innovation. In fact, the greatest difference to other journals, let’s say SMJ, is mostly the clear emphasis on entrepreneurship and organization. And again, think broadly when it comes to the terms entrepreneurship and innovation. The focus is not only on small firms; it is entrepreneurship in organizations. There are opportunities to talk about policies, but this exists in SMJ as well. Lots of countries and states are currently emphasizing entrepreneurship so it would also appropriate to have a policy piece.
The SEJ review process
The SEJ has a double-blind review system. Although there is no formal policy regarding the number of rounds through which a paper has to go until acceptance, the average is probably three. Occasionally, a paper needs only two rounds to be accepted, but there might be also pieces that went through four rounds. But, ideally, if a rejection occurs, it will be in the second round or before. Of course, there are always exceptions.
After you submit something to the SEJ, the manuscript is with the editor for about two weeks. During that time the editor has to decide what to do with the paper: either sending it out for review or desk rejecting it. If it is reviewed, it will take on average 45 days to inform authors about the outcome of the decision. To advance further, authors might get the request to majorly revise the paper. Hereby, the SEJ has a very generous policy as it grants authors up to one year to do so. You can also shoot an email to your editor if you need more time, generally editors grant an extension. But this is an editor by editor decision.
Structuring your SEJ article
When writing an article for the SEJ, it is super important to fill a gap. This gap has to be very obvious in the introduction section. Oftentimes the editors see something such as ‘much work has been done in this area…’. This is ok, but not compelling. Instead, you as an author, have to say: (1) this is my research question, (2) it is addressed by others, (3) but not completely/ there have been the following problems with past studies covering this topic and here are the problems, and (4) here is how we are trying to overcome these problems. Authors must also convey why their research question should be addressed. If nothing has been done in this direction before, it might not be of interest after all. Why is it so important to close this gap?
When deciding whether the paper should be rejected or proceed to the next round, an editor will always reflect whether the paper can be fixed. Think about it in the following way: in order to get published, the paper needs to reach a certain threshold. The review process will help authors to reach this bar. It is then the editor’s responsibility the see whether the author’s paper can eventually reach this threshold in the course of the review process. Even if it might be below the bar in the beginning, the paper can come to the next round, if the editor believes that the weaknesses, pointed out by the reviewers, can be fixed in a reasonable way. But if there are, for example, issues with the data, the hurdles might be too big to overcome, giving the editor no other choice than to reject this paper at this point.
Although there is no definite template how to structure an article for the SEJ, it might be helpful to look at some articles in the outlet to get a general perception of what is expected.
The introduction. Although there is a lot of latitude regarding the main body of the paper, there tends to be a certain standard. Obviously, there will be an introduction. As mentioned before, you need to highlight a clear gap, an associated research question and explain why this is an important topic to study. Convince the editor about the usefulness of your study.
Literature review. Many of the pieces also have a literature review. When writing this section, make sure to include only literature which touches upon your research question. It is a common mistake to be too broad in this section. Sometimes papers are empirical which necessitates the introduction of hypotheses. Others are more exploratory in nature, which do not necessitate a lengthy literature review. Thus, papers might vary in their length and depth concerning this section.
Data section. By page 11 or 12 you introduce the data with which you want to answer your research question. The SEJ particularly encourages authors to describe their data in detail to ensure a high level of transparency. Authors should always keep the following in mind: If somebody wanted to get my data and replicate what I am doing right now, what information would they need? With a lot of manuscripts it is impossible to figure out what the authors are doing with the data. We don’t want to have any ambiguity when it comes to the measurements. Provide also a clear description of the dependent and independent variables. For the SEJ it is increasingly important to provide more than just correlation tables and regression analysis. Also tell a story with your descriptives. What descriptive statistics might be interesting? Editors want to gain an understanding of the underlying data and will be more confident if the manuscript fulfils the criteria of transparency. You might also think about including two or three descriptive tables going beyond the median, mean, and correlation. Tell the story of the data. We see a greater use of appendices to do so. This is an effective tool to reduce the size of the paper and increase the reading flow without compromising on the rigour of the paper.
Conclusion. The final part of the paper should include a thoughtful conclusion. This is not necessarily a summary of the findings, but includes also implications for policy and practice. Also, tell something about the limitations of this study. Especially younger scholars do not provide sufficient insights regarding their study’s limitations. They might think that they do not want to bring up specific issues, but in fact, a more thorough section on limitations benefits the paper as it becomes more credible.
Tim’s ‘hot topics’ for the SEJ
An extra-ordinarily hot topic is the concept of accelerators or incubators. For example, authors could think about conducting random experiments with any entrepreneurial program to assess their effectiveness. We see all these projects all over the world and we presume that they work, and they most probably do, but everybody offers different models and approaches. Some types might be more effective than others in some specific industry contexts or for some specific culture. So there are all sorts of fascinating questions, not only about ‘do they work’ but also ‘how well do they work.’
Another interesting area is policy. For example, what governmental policies are appropriate for entrepreneurship to spur it even further. We observe that different States have different policies, so one could look into that. Also, the U.S. is in the middle of passing a stimulus to spur entrepreneurship and to help entrepreneurs. What policies are hereby most effective? Such questions are even more important today [during the crisis due to the coronavirus] than six or even three months ago. And certainly, the European Union is doing the same.
Finally, there are more and more sophisticated research methods which help us to answer those questions. In general, entrepreneurship is a little behind the curve with regard to research methods. For example, the SMJ is really emphasizing endogeneity and this will happen also very likely for the SEJ. And here is the crux to it: There has been much done in the area of entrepreneurship, but most of it had probably not been done using good controls for endogeneity. So why not revisit some of the old questions with the new methods that we have today? So we might see a bit of a resurgence of some fundamental questions. There are all kinds of young scholars that are trained in ways that more senior scholars never have. Just to give you an example: Somebody studied M&As and he was able to get location data for people. We don’t know who the people were. He accumulated all the companies making M&As and using the location data he could figure out who was working in the acquiring firm and who worked in the target firm. And he could also figure out whether any employee working for the acquiring firm went to the target firm before the acquisition take place. This is an example of stuff that is possible now which was not available before. The amount of data that we have today will help us to answer some very important questions. And if you can build a capability with regard to that as a young scholar, you can impress people.
Tim’s most important tip for publishing in the SEJ
You have to have something that sets your paper apart, be it extraordinary data or an interesting empirical cast. This must become evident in your contribution. Think about ‘what am I adding?’ And you have to drive this point home to the reader: This is what you are doing and this is what is better than what other people had done for the following reasons.
Tim’s view on what not to do when submitting to the SEJ
Most likely if the introduction is not compelling. This is a fatal flaw. Maybe also another one: if data/ analysis lack in clarity. There are occasions when the editor looks into the introduction and thinks ‘this is not what I would have done in the introduction,’ but if there are enough compelling components in the back of the paper, then an editor might say, ‘hey we are going to give you another chance. But you have to work on the front end.’ So the frame might not be fatal flaw, but it really helps to set the stage for how you intend to make a difference. But in general, you need to have something in your paper that helps to add clarity on the question. So, if you want to have a real precise answer concerning the question with the fatal flaw: if you do not have a research question. If an editor reads the introduction and does not know what the research question is, then it is bad.
What Tim wants the world to know about the SEJ
The SEJ has a very good editorial board, top scholars from around the world. The SEJ is also in the Financial Times Top 50 for journals, which for a lot of schools, especially in Europe, would help tenure cases. The SEJ has accomplished many things in the past decade. There is a very high submission rate, which the editorial board wants to push further. The SEJ is also currently reviewing many papers, but there is still a low acceptance rate, signifying a very high quality of the published papers. Being affiliated with the SMS is very valuable and will also help us in the future.