Wednesday, March 12, 2008

The HBR Gloss

On Monday, I talked about what an "ASQ gloss" on your research might look like. (A gloss is just a way of interpreting or explaining something. It is arguably a bit like political 'spin'—but it is not as infamous. As some of you have noticed, however, there is an intentional pun here on the 'glossy' pages of magazines.) The important thing here is not actually to get everything you discover published in ASQ, but to always be working on an article that aspires in that direction. It sheds a particular light on your ideas to imagine getting through ASQ's review process (and better: actually getting reviews back from ASQ). The same can be said about what I will today call the "HBR gloss".

The Harvard Business Review is a practioner review, not a scientific quarterly. It is to practice, we might say, what the Administrative Science Quarterly is to theory. In addition to demanding that articles "advance understanding", ASQ's notice to its contributors says that "if manuscripts contain no theory, their value is suspect." By contrast, HBR's "Guidelines for Authors" say, "When evaluating an idea, our editors often look for two things first—what they call the 'aha!'—How compelling is the insight?—and the 'so what?'—How much does this idea benefit managers in practice?" ASQ also wants an 'aha!' (new understanding) but it defines 'so what?' a bit differently: How much does this idea benefit researchers in theory?

Both journals publish broadly in fields normally housed at business schools, including organization studies. Publishing in either journal is good both for your career and your department's reputation. Publications in ASQ and HBR normally count about the same in business school rankings, for example, so your present and future department heads will be impressed. More importantly, publications in both journals are likely to be read by people you would like to talk to about your research.

But there is that difference in emphasis between theory and practice. Some library databases, like EBSCO's Business Source Complete, don't group HBR as an "academic journal", for example, in part because it is not peer-reviewed. HBR is really a magazine for managers, though it often reports on research.

There is also an important difference in terms of authorship. ASQ will evaluate your idea in part by how well you write about it. HBR, by contrast, asks you only to submit a proposal, i.e., the core of the idea, and has a very proactive editorial policy, which sometimes means that they will essentially write the article for you. "Nearly all HBR articles undergo extensive editing and rewriting, and HBR typically holds copyright on the finished product. Authors continue to own the underlying ideas in the article."

So when glossing your ideas for HBR, you are not drafting a particular kind of article but writing a particular kind of proposal. While HBR has other "departments", I would suggest carrying out this thought experiment in the direction of a "feature article". What would such an article proposal look like if it were about your research?

As the guidelines point out, the challenge is to answer six questions and write a 500-750 word "narrative outline". The first two questions are the 'aha!' and 'so what?' already mentioned: the novel insight and the practical relevance. HBR then asks you also to specify the sorts of companies that could and could not make use of your ideas (this is a very useful exercise in general). The last three questions offer the challenge of accounting for your specifically academic expertise (other kinds of experts may publish in HBR, but my remarks here are addressed to researchers). You need to describe your research (the sorts of studies you do), your field (including some theory), and the source of your authority (that's essentially an epistemological exercise: why should anyone listen to you?). You need to do this in convincing, easily assessable terms.

Whether or not you ever get published in HBR, having an HBR proposal for each of your major research results (and a copy of HBR's polite rejection thereof) will be of great use to you. So will having an ASQ-aspiring manuscript. There are other journals and other practioner reviews.

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