When I need career advice, I turn to the newsletter of the Committee on the Status of Women in the Economics Profession.  How should your research strategy change after tenure?  Bob Hall has a great article in a recent newsletter and I mentioned it in a previous post.

Next up: What is the AER looking for when it publishes paper? Who better than recent Editor Robert Moffitt to tell us in the Spring 2011 issue (yet to be uploaded on the CSWEP website).

Here are some key points Moffitt makes:

1. You always need to think carefully about the journal you submit to, and you need to research the kinds of papers that have been published there; whether the journal seems to be open to your type of work; who the editor is and what his or her orientation is; and who the associate editors are, because they are likely to be referees for your paper. 

2. Now let me say a few things about the all-important question of what editors look for (aside from, to repeat,strong content). I will list three characteristics: (1) the importance of the question and of the main results; (2) the clarity, organization, and length of the paper; and (3) its degree of novelty in either method or data. 3. Editors always read the introduction to a paper first to see what the paper is about and to make a judgment about the importance of the question and how interesting the findings are….. One of the implications of this fact is that you should work very hard on your introduction. The introduction is absolutely key to a paper’s success. You have to grab the attention of the editor and the referees. You have to be a good “salesman” for your work. It has to be well-written, succinct, and to the point (as an editor, I have always disliked long, windy introductions that explain in exhausting detail the background literature, what the paper does, etc.—I just want a simple summary). You should expect to write and rewrite your introduction repeatedly. Many papers get sent back to the authors without refereeing right at this stage—the question does not seem that important for the journal they edit.

4. Novelty in method or data is particularly important at the top journals, where novelty is given more weight than at lower-ranked ones. Nevertheless, it gets positive weight at all journals. If a paper has this kind of contribution, it needs to be emphasized in the introduction and should be one of the selling points of the paper.

5. I should also say a word about citations. As an editor, I was always annoyed if a paper was coming out of a fairly large literature yet the citation list was minimal. That made me think that the author was playing games and citing only people the author thought would be friendly to the paper. You should never play games like that, because the editor will often notice that some important papers aren’t cited and will immediately send the paper to one of the authors of such papers to referee.

6. Most papers are rejected, even those authored by the top economists in the profession..One rule I have is, (almost) never, never complain about a decision. Most rejections are made not just on the basis of the factual objections of the referees, but by their “feeling” about the paper as well as the editor’s.