From little seed to fully-grown tree: a paper development journey

A novice writer providing a "behind the scenes" look at co-authoring for top journals

We read countless papers published in top journals. But I guess none of us were born with know-how of how to publish in those journals. Before I had my first coauthoring experience with Sebastian Reiche and Anne-Wil Harzing, I had absolutely no idea what the process would be like. Thus, in this blogpost, I have provided a short record of my experience of the coauthoring process of our recently published paper. You can read about the paper itself here: Beyond expatriation: How inpatriation supports subsidiary growth and performance.

In order to tell my story, I reviewed all the email exchanges and dozens of rounds of manuscript revisions with Sebastian and Anne-Wil for about two years (from Dec. 2019 to Nov. 2021). There are two reasons why I did this. First, I want to make a full use of my experience and learning from this coauthoring process without forgetting a single piece.

Second, I hoped to externalize the two professionals’ tacit knowledge that I have been able obtain through this precious chance (even though it is only a tiny bit of their whole knowledge stock) and share it with other junior researchers. Whenever I read very beautifully written papers in good journals, I always wondered how on earth these authors could write these high-quality papers. I hope the detailed description of the phases of our paper development journey are helpful for those who are struggling to find “the secret”.

Sowing a seed (2018-2019)

Of course, the first phase was preparing a manuscript. I drafted a few versions of manuscripts based on the data that I had collected since 2013. As I had a silent passion for the research, the writing up was enjoyable. Looking back, however, the initial manuscript was rather like a research note. Anyway, thanks to the seed, I was able to make a presentation in a research seminar at Middlesex University, from which our coauthoring could start.

The foundations for paper development
(January 2020 - March 2020)

The second phase was to increase the readability of the manuscript and building foundations for the full-scale paper development. Looking back, there were lots of ambiguous expressions and concepts at this stage. The major tasks in this phase included:

  • Clarifying general expression and structure: I got lots of comments such as “What do you mean here?” “This is unclear” “I’m not quite sure what you mean here”. For instance, when I used the expression ‘hidden process’, I was asked whether I meant ‘unknown process’ or ‘not clearly defined process”. My English was simply not good enough at that stage to differentiate these nuances.
  • Clarifying our conceptualization: This involved several key steps.
    • Defining key concepts more clearly: Providing concise definitions of key concepts such as ‘capability building’ and ‘socialization’ was critical for building common ground among co-authors.
    • Choosing the most appropriate label for key concepts: For instance, for the term subsidiary evolution, we talked about which label would be most appropriate e.g. subsidiary maturation, transformation, growth, development, capability upgrading.
    • Consistently using key concepts : In the initial manuscript, the distinction between two key concepts, subsidiary capability building and subsidiary evolution, was quite blurred. So, we discussed many times whether or not to keep them separate.
  • Revising the literature review: Clarify its focus and update with recent literature.
  • Clarifying our contributions: This involved a discussion on how our findings contributed to IHRM research and global strategy research respectively.
  • Ensuring overall consistency: Match the research question, research design, findings and arguments.

Moving towards submission (April 2020 – July 2020)

The third phase was to check the overall flow and details very carefully to prepare a manuscript for submission. We had very intensive interactions among the three of us to enhance expressional clarity, ensure logical consistency, and further clarify the contributions and novelty of our paper. The major points we worked on during this stage include:

  • Enhancing readability: We checked the flow of sentences and paragraphs carefully not to leave any break in our argumentation. Key concepts and coding categories were further refined to clarify the meanings.
  • Additional writing: We needed to expand our managerial implications, limitations, and conclusion section to fit with the target journal. We also added explanations about the interview language in the methods section and another recent discussion on micro-foundations throughout the paper.
  • Methodology writing-up: Finding a couple of exemplar JIBS articles and following their structure of writing up the methods section, we revised the section. We tried to be careful on the explanation of the methods, as qualitative research has different "camps" that can be quite at odds with one another.
  • Clarifying our contributions: We had extensive discussions on how to refine our theoretical contribution, highlighting the novelty of our study, thus making our theoretical positioning clearer.
  • Checking our references: We refined references by replacing old and less appropriate ones with recent and more relevant ones.
  • Discussing a new way of data interpretation: At a late stage of this phase, Anne-Wil suggested to draw on the knowledge conversion process of Nonaka to interpret our cases, which ultimately became the backbone of our paper.

Getting a friendly review (July 2020)

When we were almost ready to submit the paper, we proceeded to the fourth phase and asked Helene Tenzer (see Helene’s post: How to manage multi-lingual teams?) for a friendly review. Both the style - “German directness” - and content - some frequently recurring and tricky issues in qualitative research - of her feedback were incredibly helpful to push our paper forward. We revised our paper addressing her comments:

  • Is your study really longitudinal? Originally, we positioned our study as a “longitudinal case study approach”, but Helene pointed out that reviewers might complain that we did not collect our data longitudinally. Thus, we decided to tone down this claim and use the term “longitudinal perspective” instead.
  • Is your study inductive or abductive? Helene shared her experience with us that when she used the term “inductive” (we used it in our manuscript), she has often been held to the standards of hardcore grounded theory by reviewers and was criticized for the deductive elements in her work. Thus, given that we did have preliminary theories/ideas about the relationship between our constructs, we decided to use the term “abductive”.  
  • Using the dataset to its full potential: In our manuscript, we mainly drew on the interview data from former inpatriates (17 out of our 40 interviews). However, Helene encouraged us to make full use of our dataset including the 18 preliminary interviews and the five additional interviews conducted at HQs for triangulation purposes. Thus, we revised our method part to fully address the whole process of our data collection in detail as well as making our use of secondary data more explicit.
  • Further clarifying causality: Helene pointed out that in theoretical models one needs to “focus on the arrows, not the boxes”. We therefore tried to revise our manuscript to explain the links between long-term function of inpatriation and subsidiary performance more persuasively.  
  • Inserting sample interview questions: Helene encouraged us to provide sample interview questions in the data collection part of our methods section to make our approach more transparent.

Final check and preparation for submission
(August 2020 – September 2020)

In the fifth phase, we engaged in a final check of the manuscript, going through it with a fine-tooth comb and a sharp pencil (as the Germans say) and wrote a submission letter (see also: Why do I need to write a letter to the editor? [8/8]). Then, we submitted our paper to JIBS on 13 September 2020. Before doing so, we did the following:

  • Style check: With a careful check of the JIBS style guide, we adjusted font and font size and line spacing and ensured the length of the paper was appropriate.
  • Reviewer selection: We suggested an area editor and three reviewers by verifying the reviewers’ publication records and discussing whether their research themes and methodological approaches were close enough to ours.

First-round R&R (December 2020 - March 2021)

On Christmas eve of 2020, we received a decision from JIBS inviting us to revise and resubmit (R&R) the manuscript. Thus, in the sixth phase, we revised the paper addressing the 35 comments from our editor and reviewers and wrote a 33-page response letter.

Sebastian provided impressive guidance to me by saying: “crafting a response to reviewer letter is both art and science, and I have been learning this for years from senior scholars (the most important one is a co-author of our paper [Anne-Wil]). My experience is that if a letter shows diligence (which signals respect for the reviewers’ time and effort) and goes the extra mile it will be much harder for the review team to reject a revised paper, all other things equal.”

Major revisions included the following points.

  • Changing our theoretical position: We changed our theoretical positioning from developing new theory on inpatriates’ knowledge transfer to extending organizational knowledge creation theory (Nonaka, 1994) to the MNC context. Thus, to fully integrate the theory with our findings, we revised the theoretical background, the methods section, and the discussion section.
  • Additional data: We were able to collect additional annual sales data for the period of 2000-2014 from our sample subsidiaries to better trace the subsidiaries’ performance over time and triangulate the findings that emerged from our interviews.
  • Generalizability: As our research context involved two Korean subsidiaries of Japanese MNCs, we were asked to explain whether and to what extent we could generalize our findings. Thus, we clarified that Japanese MNCs are a representative example of traditional leading companies in the global market. Like European and American MNCs, they had a dominant position in many industries and markets, but their conventional wisdom and approaches have been questioned in the new era of global competition. Therefore, along with other strategic changes, they had to revise their global staffing approaches, including increased adoption of inpatriation practices, to adapt themselves to a changing competitive environment.

We were lucky enough to get a conditional acceptance after submitting our revised manuscript, with a final acceptance by the Editor in Chief in November 2021. Sebastian and Anne-Wil told me this is quite rare, with two or three rounds of revisions being far more common. I believe that the long maturation period of this study and the very intensive collaboration between three equally committed co-authors helped us to achieve this goal. Of course, we were also lucky in terms of the reviewers and editor. Although critical, their comments were very constructive, and they saw the contribution of our paper.

Proof stage and promoting the paper (December 2021)

After getting the final acceptance, only the proof stage and paper promotion were waiting for us. The proof stage was what I had expected as a final step for publication, but the paper promotion phase was another culture shock to me. In Japan researchers are too humble to self-promote their new publications, thus I really had not thought about this. However, thinking about it a bit more I thought it makes sense. When a newly grown tree unveils, nobody in the forest would notice if we cannot get their attention by yelling “Look! Here is a new tree!”.

We did the following in this phase:

  • Proof stage: When we received a proof of the paper in JIBS format, we read the entire paper very carefully to spot any typos or inaccurate expressions. Fortunately, we found none. Most importantly we checked Tables and Figures carefully to ensure they appeared precisely as we had intended. As there were a few problems we asked for changes to the formatting.
  • Promoting the paper: We were asked to provide some text for the JIBS social media channels (Twitter and Facebook) by the JIBS managing editor, Anne Hoekman. We also circulated news about the paper through LinkedIn and Twitter ourselves. Finally, we wrote a blogpost about the paper for Anne-Wil’s blog (see: Beyond expatriation: How inpatriation supports subsidiary growth and performance).

Celebrating the outcome

The paper was published online on 12 January 2022. Unfortunately, Omicron was sweeping Japan with soaring numbers of new infections every day, which prevented any collective celebration. However, I was extremely happy to get celebratory messages and heartful gifts such as my favorite Barolo, a basket of flowers, and luxury beef (Matsuzaka-gyu) for Sukiyaki, from my colleagues and friends (thank you so much!!!). Looking forward to having a belated toast with my co-authors in Europe and my colleagues in Japan face-to-face soon!

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