The State of Development Journals 2022: Quality, Acceptance Rates, Review Times, and What’s New

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It’s taken me a bit longer to get this together this year, but for the sixth year in a row I have attempted to put together data on development economics journals that is not otherwise publicly available or easy to access (see 201720182019, 2020, 2021 for the previous editions). I once again thank all the journal editors and editorial staff who graciously shared their statistics with me.

Journal Quality

The most well-known metric of journal quality is its impact factor. The standard impact factor is the mean number of citations in the last year of papers published in the journal in the past 2 years, while the 5-year is the mean number of cites in the last year of papers published in the last 5. I compliment these stats with RePec’s journal rankings which take into account article downloads and abstract views in addition to citations.

These metrics are shown below. A few observations. First, it is notable how much both the 2-year and 5-year impact factors have risen over the past 5-6 year, doubling at quite a few journals. This may in part reflect the continued growth of the field (more papers being written to cite published papers), but may also reflect, in part, efforts by some journals to speed up the refereeing and publishing process. Second, recall the impact factors reflect means, and the distribution of citations is heavily skewed. In past years I have scrapped Google Scholar to show distributions of citations, but was not able to get this done this year. But there is considerable overlap in these distributions – last year I noted that a regression of citations on journal dummies had an R-squared of 0.18, so most of the variation is within, rather than across journals. Third, I’ve added Review of Development Economics this year, which is why no information is shown for previous years.

Table 1: 2-year impact ratings

Note: these are the impact factors reported to me by the journals. The IZA Journal of Development and Migration factor seems high to me relative to other metrics for the same journal, and I am currently clarifying whether it is measured the same way.

Table 2: 5-year impact factors

Table 3: RePec rankings

Table 4 then shows two additional metrics, taken from Scimago, which uses information from the Scopus database. The first is the SJR (SCImago Journal Rank), which is a prestige-weighted citation metric – which works like Google PageRank, giving more weight to citations in sources with a relatively high SJR. I’ve included some of the top general journals in economics for comparison. Scimago also provides an H-index for 2021: the number of papers published by a journal  (I think in any year) that were cited at least h times in 2021.

Table 4: Scopus rankings

How many submissions are received, and what are the chances of getting accepted?

Table 5 shows the number of submissions received each year. This year, with the addition of statistics from the Review of Development Economics, the total submissions in the 13 journals tracked exceeds 10,000 papers!!! However, the rapid growth that we had been seeing in submissions appears to have leveled off in most cases. World Development notes that they had over 700 submissions in 2020 for their special issue on COVID, and so there was actually still an increase in regular submissions this year, despite the total submission numbers falling. EDCC introduced a $50 submission fee at the start of 2021 to try to discourage unsuitable submissions and reduce the workload on their editorial staff, and this seems to have succeeded, with the number of submissions falling from 567 to 325. The editor notes that this did not reduce the quality of the top submissions, and that in 2022 they introduced a fee waiver for all EDCC referees who submitted a report on time in the year prior to submission.

Table 5: Submission numbers

Table 6 shows the total number of papers published in each journal. 943 papers were published in 2021, so that’s a lot of development research (even though less than 1 in 10 of the submitted papers). I’ve noted in previous years that some of the journals have been able to flexibly increase the number of articles published as their submission numbers have risen, reducing publication lags as well.

Table 6: Number of Papers Published

The ratio of the number of papers published to those submitted is approximately the acceptance rate. Of course papers are often published in a different year from when they are submitted, and so journals calculate acceptance rates by trying to match up the timing. Table 7 shows the acceptance rates at different journals. They have stabilized at the majority of the journals over the last three years. The largest variance occurs in journals that publish relatively few papers. For example, Economia-Lacea had a change in editorship during the pandemic and reorganization, resulting in publishing only one issue of 6 papers a year in 2020 and 2021, half the number of those in prior years.  

Table 7: Acceptance rates

How long does it take papers to get refereed?

In addition to wanting to publish in a high quality outlet, and having a decent chance of publication, authors also care a lot about how efficient the process is. Table 8 provides data on the review process (see the previous years’ posts for historic data). The first column shows the desk rejection rate, which averages 63% on an unweighted basis, and about 73% on a weighted basis – 7,281 of the 10,222 submissions in 2021 were desk rejected. But this still leaves 2,940 papers that editors needed to find referees for.

Column 2 uses the desk rejection rates and acceptance rates to estimate the acceptance rate conditional on you making it past the desk rejection stage. On average, one in three papers that gets sent to referees gets accepted, with this varying from 16% to 64% across journals.

The remaining columns give some numbers on how long it takes to get a first-round decision. John List announced that the new JPE Micro has an interesting policy – if the editor takes longer than 45 days to make a decision, they are fined $500! Such a rule would be very expensive at development journals. The statistics “Unconditional on going to referees” includes all the desk rejections, which typically don’t take that many days. The average conditional on going to referees is in the 3-5 month range. The last two columns then show that at most journals, almost all papers have a decision within 6 months – so in my opinion, you should feel free to send an enquiry if your paper takes longer than that.

Table 8: Time for review

Several notes on these refereeing statistics. First, the editor of the WBRO notes that this journal does not review submissions on a continuous basis, but rather papers are received and collected, and then reviewed and discussed by the editorial board in meetings twice a year. Calls for papers are issued roughly 3 months in advance of the meeting, but if authors submit outside of these windows, decisions will take longer, since they are held to wait for the next meeting. Second, several editors noted that the pandemic had caused both them personally to fall behind on some decision times, as well as having more trouble with some referees, and they hope to improve response times in the next year. Third, what really hurts authors is not whether the paper takes 66 days vs 86 days, but whether there is a long right tail. I did not ask what the maximum time for review was at each journal, but World Development was kind enough to provide this graph showing the distribution – you can see the occasional paper still ends up taking 250 days or more for a decision.

 

Figure 1: Distribution of Time Until First Decision at World Development

Figure 1: Distribution of Time to First Decision

Do/will journals use reports from other journals to speed up decision times?

EDCC reports that they have a “Prior Review Process” (PRP). This allows authors of EDCC submissions the option of including information relating to prior submissions of the paper to “Top 5” journals. But (in my opinion) it is a strange option, since it is restricted to papers that have only been submitted to top-5 journals and no other journals before getting sent to EDCC, which I doubt is the case for many submissions. In our recent post from Tom Vogl about the JDE’s short paper series,  he notes the challenge for an editor in receiving reports from another journal without knowing the identity of the referee or what they privately communicated to the editor. I asked each development journal this year whether they use reports from other journals. Most said they do not (likely for the reasons Tom notes).

Those that do consider these other reports seldom use them. Development Policy Review notes that it is part of a small Development Studies network within Wiley’s stable of journals. The editors report “We’ve received a huge number of transferred papers and accepted about 3 after further peer review. We have referred 5 papers to our referral network. Generally speaking we haven’t found it to be an effective way of getting papers published.”. The Journal of African Economies notes they received 12 submissions with reports from another journal in 2021, out of 523 submissions. WBER notes they are open to considering referee reports from other journals provided the editors and referees have consented to having them released, and there have been a couple of papers submitted using them in the past few years.

Are other journals considering short papers?

Tom Vogl blogged about the JDE’s new short paper track recently, noting they had received 275 submissions (197 submitted in 2021) with 18 short papers accepted to date. This got me wondering whether other development journals have, or are considering having a short papers track.  Many of the development journals do not have a special category, but note that they think readers and referees appreciate short, well written papers. World Development said they are exploring the issue. Development Engineering does have a category for “Short Communication”, but only one of the 52 submissions in 2021 fell into this category, and it was not accepted.

An update on the JDE’s registered reports

I also asked the JDE for an update on registered reports (RRs). They noted the pandemic had a big impact on the submission fo these, with very few received between June 2020 and June 2021. In 2021, 23 Stage 1 RRs were submitted, and 0 stage 2 RRs were submitted. To date there have been 25 stage 1 acceptances, and 5 stage 2 acceptances. We all know how long many prospective studies can take, and the pandemic has delayed these further in many cases, so it may be still some time for a lot of those stage 1 trials to have results.

Other Development Journal News

Finally, I asked the journals if they had any other major news or changes to report. Several had strengthened or diversified their editorial boards, which you can see by looking at the different journal websites. Here are some other bits and pieces of interest:

·       Pilots to help developing country scholars. The Journal of Development Economics notes that, in partnership with the Global Poverty Research Lab at Northwestern, they are piloting a procedure where authors from Low and Middle Income Countries whose papers are desk rejected may request to be matched with a scholar who will provide detailed feedback on their paper. This does not affect the JDE decision, but the hope is that it will help build quality and diversity in the field over the longer term. Development Engineering tried its own co-mentorship program in 2020 for low and middle income country scholars. However, only a few authors reached out about the program, and those authors that the journal approached about the program after submitting their papers were not interested and opted for a desk rejection instead. The program has been effectively discontinued as a result.

·       New sister journals: World Development has launched two companion or “sister” journals called World Development Perspectives and World Development Sustainability. I asked the editors of World Development what it means to be companion or sister journals. They replied “we suggest transfers to these two journals when we receive articles that have good quality (but not as good enough for the WD bar) or that do not fit perfectly in the journal scope. World Development receives many more submissions than the other two journals and is much more selective, as you know the desk rejection rate is high. WDS has a more specific focus on sustainability, environment etc, while WDP is broader in terms of focus on different development themes but less selective. In WDP you would find articles that could be less empirically and methodologically strong than the WD expectations or that have a focus on specific case study with results and implications that are less generalizable. Both WDP and WDS are evolving and I am sure they will reach a very high level standard, they are both building an impact factor (WDP will probably have one in 1-2 years from now) and developing a stronger identity.”

·       Lots of interest in the degrowthing debate: Development Policy Review notes “Our breakout success in 2021 was the debate paper between Jason Hickel and Stéphane Hallegatte: Can we live within environmental limits and still reduce poverty? Degrowth or decoupling? which has been downloaded 13,500 times.”

·       A new home for book reviews: the Journal of Development Effectiveness notes they are now accepting in-depth reviews of books that are relevant to assessing development impact.

·       A couple of calls for special issues: Development Engineering is launching two new special issues that will be available for submission through December 21, 2022 – one currently open on innovations in monitoring progress towards the SDGs – looking for innovations that help overcome data gaps and improve monitoring progress towards the SDGs – and a special issue on “learning from failure and null results in global engineering” that will open up soon – a chance to discuss and reflect when things have gone wrong or research has returned null results.

 

Finally, thanks again to all the editors for all the time and effort they devote to improving the quality and visibility of development research. As you can see, they have a lot to deal with!

Authors

David McKenzie

Lead Economist, Development Research Group, World Bank

Join the Conversation

Andrew Simons
May 23, 2022

Thanks for the continuing series on development journals, I enjoy reading them very much. I've always wondered about (perhaps for a future year's focus topic) where all the rejected papers end up? Another way to put this is what is the supply of development papers produced in a year? With approx. 10,000 submissions and 1,000 papers published per year, how many of the 9,000 non-published papers are in each of the following categories: duplicates (same paper was desk rejected or reviewed and rejected at multiple development journals), or publication lag pushes it to the next year(s), or the paper leaves "development" and publishes in an adjacent field (ex: an ag./devt. paper could conceivably publish in an ag-econ journal, dev-econ journal, or even an envt./resource econ. journal), or paper ends up publishing in a lower-ranked development journal than the 13 journals included in your list? Or some other categories I am not thinking of. Anyway, thanks for the continuing series!

May 23, 2022

Thanks Andrew. This is an interesting question, and would require unanonymized data at the individual submission level, ideally over multiple years - rather than the aggregated summary stats that journals provide me with. A starting point would be for one of the journals to do this for submissions (or a random subset of submissions) to them in e.g. 2017, and see how many were published in 2022 (5-years later), and the distribution of where they ended up being published - which would require searching paper by paper in Google Scholar etc. Would be an interesting project for an undergrad to work with a journal or set of journals to do.