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Journal Queries

Queries are short inquiries designed to determine whether the editor of a particular journal is interested in your topic and approach. Queries can be helpful to:

  • Gauge interest in a topic
  • Find out about upcoming themed special issues of journals
  • Find out more about a journal's preferred timeline
  • Identify journals and styles prior to engaging in the work of drafting a manuscript
  • Generate feedback on improving your approach to a topic

Not all journals welcome queries; some prefer that you send the complete manuscript instead. Note on your journal profile form the journal’s preferences.

Do you encourage writers to send an initial brief email about the topic or approach?
Yes. This way an author will know up front whether I'm interested in having an article submitted, saving an author from writing an unneeded article.
-- Stan Soocher, journal editor

Do you usually query a journal first rather than submitting a full manuscript?
No, this is not a standard practice for finance journals.
-- Elizabeth Cooperman, author

If making a query is appropriate for your field, then let's get started. If it isn't relevant to your field, skip to stay on track.

Sending a Query

A query must have a good subject line, a few sentences about your topic and its significance to your field, and your contact information. Use a subject line that will capture the reader’s attention, and keep the body of your message short and compelling. By reading these few sentences, an editor should immediately think, "Yes, that’s something I want to know more about." If you're sending many queries, be sure to double check that you haven't inadvertently copied & pasted another journal's information!

See how it’s done with a sample query.

What are the most common errors you see at the query stage?

Poor writing (difficulties communicating what the paper is discussing); more organization of the paper. The author needs to sell the paper in the writing.
-- Elizabeth Cooperman, peer reviewer

Response Times and Next Steps

Editors vary in their response times to queries. Some reply by email within hours; others take days or weeks. If you haven’t heard on an email query within a week, it’s probably safe to check in again to ask if the editor received your message and what the standard response time is.

One of the nice things about queries is that it’s generally accepted practice for you to submit queries on the same topic to multiple journals at once. You can efficiently approach several journals simultaneously and see who expresses interest. You can also tweak your approach to make your topic appeal to different journals – and possibly even end up with two or three different articles! (There’s that streamlining again…)

Eventually, you’ll get a response to your query – yea or nay. For the nays, consider the experience as a research opportunity, teaching you something about what isn’t of interest to that particular journal. In any research project, getting a negative result on your hypothesis is still a successful outcome, right?

For the yeas, it’s time to do some additional analysis of the journals that are still in the running.

Progress with Profiling

After you’ve gotten a positive response to your query from at least one journal, you can do some further analysis to ensure your paper matches the journal’s publishing profile. Look at copies of several recent issues (in paper or electronic format). On your journal profile form, note the following information (Murray, 2005):

  • What topics are covered?
  • How are article titles constructed?
    • Is the main title descriptive or creative?
    • Are subtitles normally used?
    • Are keywords normally contained in the title or subtitle?
  • How are abstracts constructed?
    • Does the abstract start with a statement of the problem or need?
    • Does the abstract include a description of the study and its methodology?
    • Does the abstract provide information on the results or conclusions of the study?
    • How long is the abstract?
  • How are the articles themselves constructed?
    • How is the article divided into sections?
    • How is the argument built?
    • What kind of concluding statements are given?
  • How many tables, graphs, or figures are normally included in an article?

When you have a good sense of what kind of papers the journal publishes and the typical style and format used, you are ready to write your paper (or tweak it, if you have already written it), and to prepare and submit it for publication. We’ll cover those steps in detail in the coming modules.

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