How to publish an unusual paper? Referencing errors, scholarship & credibility

Tells the story of a paper that was desk-rejected by more than a dozen journals

My paper The persistent myth of high expatriate failure rates was first-ranked in the WAIB top-20 on research in global careers. I was therefore interviewed by Saba Colakoglu and Ha Nguyen, who came up with some great questions. This blogpost covers their second question which deals with the follow-up research I did generalising the high expatriate failure myth to flaws in academic referencing.

So, did you do any other work on this or was this a one-off?

Yes, I did. I was really shocked academics could be so sloppy in their referencing and get way with something that students were told not to do. So given that the paper didn’t quite have the impact I had hoped, and academics kept making the same unjustified assertions, I updated my analysis in 2001. I analysed more references, which was now a lot easier with online databases, and generalised it to provide 12 guidelines for good academic referencing. This paper had a very unusual format, presenting these twelve guidelines and illustrating how each of them was violated in the expatriate failure literature, before drawing conclusions about the impact of inaccurate referencing on academia, practice, and the interaction between the two.

As a result, the paper was desk-rejected by more than a dozen journals as “not fitting our mission”, before Denise Rousseau at Journal of Organizational Behavior was courageous enough to give me a chance. I was particularly lucky with one of my reviewers, Nancy Adler. She not only provided the most constructive and encouraging review I have ever read, but also signed her review with an offer to help me polishing my paper. I am forever grateful to Nancy and have kept in touch with her ever since. In 2009 and 2016 we published two papers together on the problematic nature of academic rankings and the phenomenon of predatory open access journals.

Nancy also helped me to better articulate my conclusion about how the violation of good academic referencing might make it difficult for practitioners to trust academic research. Geert Hofstede later summarized my 1995 article with the provocative statement: “Practitioners who work with multinationals may have noticed that multinational HR managers aren't imbeciles. Does anybody really think that MNCs would have continued expatriating managers if they kept getting such dramatic failure rates?” That was an astute observation. If researchers had talked to HR practitioners rather than stay in their ivory towers, they would never have created the myth of high expatriate failure rates.

I have come back to this theme of needing to engage with practicing managers in my article on the myopic focus on the role of cultural distance in entry modes in 2003. Based on a detailed review of 30 publications in the field, I argued that it might well have been conflated with home and host country effects. Academics in this field never even asked managers about their entry mode choices, they just analysed readily available secondary data. It was published in a book series, so again the publication process was relatively easy, but the publication didn’t have the impact I hoped.

So, I revisited this topic as well, this time 13 years later with an article with Markus Pudelko: Do We Need to Distance Ourselves from the Distance Concept? Again, this paper was very hard to get published as editors and reviewers kept wanting to shoehorn us into a standard paper format. And again, I am grateful to the editors who gave us a chance. This time it was Michael-Joerg Oesterle and Joachim Wolf of Management International Review. It became one of the twenty most highly cited papers in the journal on a citations per year basis, so I don't think they regretted their decision.

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