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How to write a thesis (1.1) logic behind approving a paper in a journal

Have you ever wondered why your paper is approved or rejected by the journal? This article summarized “Why top journals accept your paper” by Detmar W. Straub, published in MIS Quaterly in 2009. The original article can be found at the following link. Let’s look at the reasons why the Top Journal approves the paper through his experience and thoughts. For the full text of the thesis writing basics, please see the following link.

■ The importance and difficulty of journal publication

Publishing a paper in a top-notch journal is an important goal for career advancement, but getting approval for publication is very difficult. Like many laws of nature, publication of papers also follows the power law. In other words, the top few percent of researchers publish dozens of papers, and the amount of papers published by the majority of researchers is sparse. These are also found in the field of IS (Athey and Plotnicki 2000; Dennis et al. 2006).

A graph representing the law of power, in which the top few percent make up the majority of the total.
Power law

Many point out that the reason why paper publishing follows the power law is that many papers are high-quality, but there are limitations in the space of the journal to publish all papers in top journals. To solve this problem, Information System Research expanded the page to publish more papers, and MS Quarterly published more frequently. He also argues that spatial constraints are not a big reason as electronic journals evolve.

The bigger problem is that most researchers do not understand the logic of top journals that review and approve papers. The author says the reasons for approving papers published in the top journals are as follows:

■ Key elements for thesis approval

1. Blue Ocean Strategy
The contribution that comes from a novel idea is important. Since both the reviewer and the reader are members of the knowledge community, a new paper should be able to give them intellectual stimulation. This requires a new perspective on old problems. Before writing a thesis, ask yourself, “What’s new here? What is the attraction point?”. Of course, not all papers are groundbreaking, but one reason they are approved in the top journals is to raise interesting research questions.

2. Nontrivial research queation
In order for a research question not to be trivial, it must not have been studied sufficiently before. According to Tomas Kuhn (1970), “normal science” is an incremental addition (i.e., it is important to replicate and expand the work of others), but the top journals do not prefer research questions that are not so different from research questions in the past. Therefore, it is important to look at research questions that have not been well investigated before.

3. Popular Topics
Ironically, the top journals will be open to new ideas, but will reject ideas that are too radical or that are too far from the experiences of reviewers. The good news is that almost all new ideas can easily connect with topics that are popular in academia. In IS, for example, trust in online vendors has been a popular topic in recent years. The topic of bringing the ideas of existing offline-related papers online is a new area favored by journals.

4. Theory
A theory is King. The evaluation of theoretical contributions is the point at which most reviewers tell whether or not they are persuaded by the paper. Papers that deal with the application of any theory are attractive to practitioners and at the same time score well for the reviewer of journals. Of course, the mere application of old theories is not an innovation. However, he believes that starting from previous studies, developing theories, or applying them to popular topics or blue oceans is an invincible combination of journal approval.

■ Additional Elements

What’s being introduced now is what needs to be improved or what shouldn’t be done when submitting a thesis paper to a a journal.

5. Follow an understandable format.
For example, readers expect quantitative and empirical research to follow the following structure:
1) Introduction / Motivation / Research Questions
2) Literature Review / Model / Hypothesis Development
3) Method
4) Data Analysis
5) Conclusions/Implications

6. Include key literatures sufficiently.
Make sure that you have cited key literature and have not omitted frequently cited or related papers.

7. Make sure it’s neat (grammatical errors, typos, appearance, etc.).
Be careful not to disturb the reader’s enjoyment of reading due to mistakes such as typos and grammatical errors.

8. Use the new method effectively.
The authors, who have introduced new methods to the study of old problems in the field, add value in terms of methodology and fresh insights. For example, Sidorova et al. (2008) created a new category of research by conducting latent semantic analysis (LSA), which had never been applied in the field of IS before.

9. It does not contradict the major stream significantly.
The author believes that there is a fundamental conservatism in science and scientific endeavor, and that this is the basis for “normal science”. In many cases, forward-thinking researchers create a real ideological revolution and draw support for their blue ocean. However, when publishing papers against established research streams, it is recommended that the author’s contribution be positioned as a new perspective/gap, rather than a fundamental challenge to existing thinking.

10. In the case of quantitative, positivist studies, sample should be large enough
If the reviewer determines that the sample size is not large enough, you should collect new data or persuade the reviewer that the sample size is sufficient. The reason why papers are often rejected is that statistics are not sound.


  • Why top journals accept your paper – Detmar W. Straub
  • Athey, S., and Plotnicki, J. 2000. “An Evaluation of Research Productivity in Academic IT,” Communications of the AIS (3:7), pp. 1-20.
  • Dennis, A. R., Valacich, J. S., Fuller, M. A., and Schneider, C. 2006. “Research Standards for Promotion and Tenure in Information Systems,” MIS Quarterly (30:1), pp. 1-12
  • Kuhn, T.S.I 970. The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (2nd ed.), Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press.
  • Sidorova, A., Evangelopoulos, N., Valacich, J. S., and Ramakirshnan, T. 2008. “Uncovering the Intellectual Core of the Information Systems Discipline,” MS Quarterly (32:3), pp. 467-48

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