Advice on how to publish in economics journals

Via Development Impact, here is the link (pdf).  I agree with most of the recommendations, which come from editors including Robert Moffitt.

For the pointer I thank Maddy Nicholls.


This is some very good advice. There's especially a lot to be said for focusing on good questions and an area where you can resolve a debate rather than getting too wrapped up in "This method is hot right now." I think young academic try too hard to be "hot" and not hard enough to develop real expertise in an area and bring something to the table.

Keith Brown
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I work with academics whose lives depend on getting published and my observation is that some of the academics actually seek out well-know co-authors and they also fill up their "I want to thank so and so for their comments" so that they can signal that they have been interacting with important people who, in a sense, reviewed it already.

My question is: how important are journals going to be 10 years from now when everything is electronic.

Maybe you should have a star rating system where everything gets published and reviewers and audience get to give out a limited number of stars.

Mostly good advice in the link. Regarding everything going electronic, well, it basically already has, but through the journals. While most still have a paper version, few read those and mostly access the electronic versions. So, going electronic by no means ends the journal hierarchy.

One funny thing in Moffitt's piece is his pushing of the new AEJs, which are clearly being pushed hard by the panjandrums of the AEA, with Moffitt wanting to encourage them as the dumping ground for AER rejects. However, despite his claim that they are somehow the next tier behind the top 5 and above all the field journals, this is a ridiculous joke. A couple of them are doing well and might get there someday, partilcularly the Macroeconomics one. But the JME is certainly still well ahead of it, and probably the JMCB also. The other one doing not too badly is Esther Duflo's Applied one, which is moving up, but still not quite up to the top field journals it competes with. As for the other two, Policy and particularly Micro, they are both doing very poorly, if not outright disasters. One may get lots of brownie points in a department where one of their editors is located, but otherwise they are nearlhy zeroes in terms of getting citations or any serious ranking.

I find it both laughable and offensive when a brand-new journal decrees itself a "leading" journal. Apart from the AEJs, the Journal of the European Economic Assocation is a case in point. They also had the gall to proclaim that the European Economic Review should no longer be considered a good journal, and that people should refrain from submitting there.

Barkley, et al.,

A question from ignorance, what is going on at AEJ Policy and Micro that makes them disasters?

I find it laughable and offensive that an editor for a leading journal in the field said "I was not offended if authors sent a polite note of inquiry after six months" (emphasis mine). How nice of him to not be offended when someone wonders what in the world the bevy of editors and reviewers tasked with reviewing a single paper have been doing for the last half-year.

Why does it take more than six weeks to review a paper?


I agree that it is a scandal that refereeing in econ is so slow. The social norms in physics and some other disciplines are much faster. But, the reality is what it is, and the social norm in econ is that if you send a letter of inquiry prior to six months after submission, you are likely to damage your prospects of acceptance at the average econ journal. Maybe it is wrong, but if you do it, the editors are likely to think that you are an ignorant loser. Sorry, but that is the way it is. Deal with it.


By now the JEEA has estabilshed itself as probably being a top 20, maybe, but definitely not top 10, despite its propaganda, journal. OTOH, you are right that their dismissal of the EER is overdone and a joke. Most rankings show them very near each other, although the JEEA by now might have a slight edge. As it is, the basis of the whole rebellion has turned into a joke: the original complaint by EEA members to Elsevier was over subscription fees for the EER, but the JEEA has not provided much improvement.

I'm interested in how economists seem to rely on opinions of other economists on the quality of an economics journal but do not use market signals to attach weight to a journal.

I am aware that you can track the number of hits on an article and the number of citations, but these seem to be dismissed by some of the persons above as unreliable. Opposite from what you would expect.

But, actually, I am more interested in why the journal has more value than the article (or how it imparts value to the article) in this day and age of aggregators and opinion collector models of e-commerce. I mean, if I go to Amazon, I can see a summary of a book and the comments of persons who read it.

Is there space here for an aggregator econ site that displays the abstract of the article, has a link on getting the article, and has a comment and rating section. I am aware of, but I would think that a search, display and rating product like this would be valuable and would jump over the obstacle of slow reviews or sniping over which is the best journal when the sniping should be over what is the best article.

Curt F:

"Why does it take more than six weeks to review a paper?"

It takes a day or two to review a paper but about 6+ weeks for a good referee to get around to reviewing it. "Good referees" are those who are doing research in the area of your paper. And by "get around" I mean that it takes that long for the paper to rise to the top of the stack of the to do list. Good referees are teaching their classes, writing their own papers, writing grant proposals, doing university service and oftentimes have one or more papers to review in front of yours.

What authors need to remember is that the folks who agree to review your paper are the ones supplying public goods for very little reward. The folks we ought to be fussing about, the ones who indirectly cause significant delays, are those who refuse to undertake reviews.

That said, some referees agree to review a paper in 6 weeks and then never do it. It would be great if they could be outed somehow!

It's interesting that your answer is so different than Barkley's. The norms in other disciplines, like the hard sciences I am more familiar with, are very different than economics. And yet those fields' reviewers are also busy folks who have to teaching, write grants and reports of their own, and perform various service activities.

Six weeks may be pushing it but two months, still three-fold shorter than is apparently the norm in economics, is in my experience a perfectly normal time to ping a journal editor in the hard sciences.

Also, I don't see why anyone (in any field) would get offended if authors sent them friendly notes, no matter when it was. It doesn't seem very professional.

I didn't mean to imply that those in other disciplines aren't busy too!

I should ask my colleagues in other disciplines, but do you tend to get 3-4 referee requests all at once? I just cleared 6 papers off my desk. I read each of them at about the time the reports were due simply because I was refereeing other papers during the first 6 weeks. And now I look back at my semester and realize I didn't make progress on my own research.

How in the world do they do get it done in Physics?

Additionnal comments to John Whitehead's :

Along with John's points, it should be noticed that some reviews can take more than a day or two. Innovative papers can take some time to review. Sometimes you have to get through a literature you don't really know. On other occasions you have to carefully get throught the demonstrations. In both cases that involves some literature reading which have to be found. And it takes time ....... freely provided time.

Luckily for me I only get silly empirical papers to referee!

If you need to study a literature with which you are not familiar in order to referee a paper, you should probably not accept that refereeing job. A paper should obviously be reviewed by experts in the field, not people who are new to it. On the other hand, if you are familiar with the relevant literature you can usually quickly judge whether a paper contributes something or not.

@Baphomet : That's not true. First you only get abstracts to judge whether you are competent on the subject. Second, many papers build with different fileds. It is now common to see an economic paper dealing with psychology, physics or ecology. You certainly don't have to be an expert to review such papers but clearly, if you don't know that literature you would have to get through some cited work. This is why editors usually grant you free access to their knowledge database when you review a paper for them. And when you assert that "you can usually quickly judge" I think that is editor's job not referee's. No matter many editors send papers that they should have discarded quickly :)

I've suggested this idea before, but to no avail (I'm not surprised). Manuscripts could be reviewed by the editors to see if they are worthy in terms of interest and competency to be viewed under their banner. This would not be a total acceptance but would mark something that could be put on a resume. This could easily be done within a month. Articles that pass this stage are put out for public comment - anonymous or otherwise. After a 2 month period, the editors review all the comments (attaching whatever weights they desire) and make a decision whether to say the paper stops there, is accepted for the "print" (final) edition, or ask the authors to make revisions and have it considered or subsequently accepted for the final edition. Final acceptance would carry more weight in terms of one's career.

This avoids many of the eccentricities of the referee process, and speeds things up. The "only" downside is that it circumvents the hierarchical structure of academia where editors sit atop a pyramid, followed by established academics at prestigious schools. In other words, it is rent protection that stands in the way of this change.

There are some new journals trying this "open comment" sort of process, with some already doing so in other disciplines. However, I would note that most journals desk reject papers, that is, do not send them out for review at all, which gives a fast turnaround for others, and certainly maintains considerable authority for the editor (or editors). At QJE it is reputed that the desk reject rate is over 90%, and it is at least 50% at many journals.

I'm interested in some of the comments that imply that the editors favor certain schools, etc. or that editors come from certain establishments, and the association of that claim with selection bias.

If you wanted to empirically test some of this, it might be an interesting project to use Social Network Analysis algorithms and classifications to see if there are social network effects, how long they last when there are editorial staff changes, whether an editor favors students of his advisor, cohorts, those who cite him, etc.

This is all very doable.

You could probably get an NSF grant, or if you referred to it as a economic terrorist network, a DARPA grant.

Barkley et al.,

A question from ignorance, what is going on at AEJ Policy and Micro that makes them disasters?

Sorry for the double (and now triple) comment.

The AEJ Journals are only in their third volumes. With the publication lags in economics, isn't it very premature to evaluate them?


Yes, it takes several years to really evaluate the impact of a journal, which is why it is silly for someone like Moffitt to declare that they are all ahead of the top field journals. This is just a propagandistic joke. The AEA is desperate to get them up there and is pushing very hard to do it. Will not succeed.

I am not an editor now, but last year 700 manuscripts went across my desk. I did not see a single citation to either AEJ Policy or AEJ Micro, not one. That is the state of the pipeline, confirmed by talking with other editors, and not a good sign about future citations in those journals. As said, Macro is doing well, and Applied not too badly.

I do not have a definite answer on the two laggards. I note that the first issue of Policy had a lot of papers that cited the editor. This is not generally a good sign. For Micro, it may be a matter of competition, with Theoretical Economics, picked up by the Econometric Society, seeming to be the one that has really moved up.

BTW, I meant to say that it was "authors" who benefit from getting quick turnarounds from desk rejects (and most realize this), not "others."

This shows which they last very much lengthier and thus saving you income which could otherwise are actually utilized to purchase new ones.wew

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