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  • June 2, 2020

AER: Insights Q&A with Editor Amy Finkelstein

The American Economic Review: Insights is about to mark its first anniversary in publication.

As AER: Insights approaches its first anniversary, its founding editor, Amy Finkelstein, answers some questions about the journal.


What kind of papers are you looking for at AER: Insights?

We're a top-tier general interest economics journal, publishing papers of the same quality and importance as those in the AER. But we focus on those papers with important insights that can be conveyed succinctly. Send us your brilliant short papers, please!


What makes a great short paper?

A great short paper makes one point and makes it clearly, concisely, and effectively. If your paper has lots of moving parts, or you have a striking result but it requires a long discussion to establish or contextualize it, it's probably better to send it elsewhere.


So what exactly is the length limit?

Our length limit is based on the number of words, and we have a word counter linked on our submission page to make it easy to check if you comply. (Really, it is easy!) Manuscripts must be less than or equal to 6,000 words (not counting references) with a maximum of five exhibits; for each exhibit before the maximum five, authors may add up to 200 words toward the word limit. (They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but at AERI we've decided it's worth 200.) Thus a paper with no exhibits must have less than or equal to 7,000 words.


Could you please tell us about the process a little bit from submission to decision?

Papers are submitted online and then distributed by the editor to one of the coeditors or to herself for refereeing and a publication decision. Papers are assigned on the basis of field of expertise of the coeditor. Once assigned, papers are handled by the designated coeditor throughout the decision process, without review by the editor. All refereeing is single blind. Our conflict of interest rules are listed on our webpage.

We desk reject roughly 45% of submissions for a number of different reasons, including expected probability of meeting the standards of the journal, breadth of topic, excessive reliance on online appendices, and interest to the AERI audience.


What are your turnaround times like?

In 2019, of papers sent to review, the median decision time was 45 days, and the 90th percentile was 73 days; only one paper had a decision time longer than 90 days (and it took 91 days).


You have a unique policy of not having "revise and resubmits." Why?

A major—and deliberate—policy difference between ourselves and most economics journals is that we do not do traditional "revise and resubmits." First responses will be either a reject or "conditional accept." In order to conditionally accept a paper, we must have no uncertainty about the feasibility of our requested changes (e.g., can the proof be generalized? Is the empirical result robust to X?). The editor's requests are limited to expositional changes only, and we do not send the revised paper back to referees.

To self-enforce the norm that all requests must be doable in a relatively short time, we ask for revisions back from the authors within eight weeks. And we are able to make decisions quickly based on what they return. Indeed, median time from first response (i.e. conditional accept) to final editorial acceptance has been less than nine weeks.

This policy has the advantage of dramatically reducing the time cost on authors of a revision, and we see that as very valuable. Of course, it has the disadvantage that we sometimes have to reject papers that might well succeed under a more traditional "revise and resubmit" system. As with everything in economics (and life), there are trade-offs.



What advice do you have for authors preparing their first short paper for submission to AERI?

We really value focus, clarity, and conciseness. Pay as much attention to the narrative and argument of your paper when you're writing it as you did to your data analysis or your proof.  One common "mistake" we see is that authors seem to have a hard time breaking the habit of an extended introduction. In a paper that’s going to be only ≈15 pages instead of ≈50, it’s usually not a good idea to spend 5 of them on the introduction!

Another very important point to keep in mind is the (limited) role that online appendices should play in any submission. We publish papers that are self-contained, not teasers for the "coming attractions" in the appendices. We unfortunately have had to reject some excellent papers because the key content couldn't be presented in the main text. One way to think about whether your paper is appropriate for our format (and one heuristic we use on our end) is that we want someone to be able to teach this paper in a PhD economics course without referring to the online appendices.


Does the short paper format favor some subfields in economics more than others?

It doesn't appear that way based on the papers we've published to date. We are publishing both theory and empirical papers. We are covering a wide set of fields, including behavioral economics, business cycles, development, economic growth, finance, incomplete information, industrial organization, labor economics, mechanism design, monetary economics, political economy, public economics, and trade. We also see a healthy mix of researchers at different points in their career getting papers published in AERI.


How thick is the market for short papers?

We see a growing market for short papers. For instance, the Review of Economics and Statistics has introduced a short paper section that follows our length requirements exactly, and we’ve heard from several other journals who are considering it as well.

In addition, the AEJs have a direct drop-down mechanism from AERI—just like they do from the AER—so that, if you want, your submission and the referee reports can be transferred directly to an AEJ for consideration. And other journals like Econometrica have announced that they would like to encourage shorter submissions.


Have there been any unexpected challenges?

 One of the hardest things about being an editor is having to pass on a large number of really terrific papers. That's one reason I'm so glad that other journals have created their own Insights-style submissions and that authors can choose to "waterfall" down to the AEJs. Occasionally I get an incredibly gracious email from an author whose paper was rejected but who felt that the comments were very helpful and will really help them improve their paper—that makes my week.


>> Learn more about AER: Insights