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Two years ago a colleague and I conducted a full-text analysis-based systematic literature review regarding a specific topic in information systems. We’ve done it in the time span of three months. After that, we wrote a paper and submitted it to an information systems conference. Unfortunately, it was rejected. The blind review was comprehensive and we get really good advice for improving the paper. However, sequentially, at two other conferences, the blind reviews were positive, but due to the high competitiveness (<30% acceptance rate) the paper has also been rejected. We’ve included the responses from the reviewers into a new version of the paper.

Now, two years later, the literature review is out of date. A large set of relevant papers (>50) have been published since we conducted the review. However, we do not have enough time resources to update our full-text analysis. We have collected the new papers in our own literature review database. But to read each paper and to do a full-text coding is impossible, due to other projects that take place at our chair.

Now, I’m thinking about putting the review results into the wastebin, because I do not see any opportunity to get my results published. Needless to say, that this is very unsatisfying to me. I think, a justification that the literature review has been done in 2015 in the paper, will not be accepted by future reviewers.

So my question is:

Are there strategies to update the results of a full-text analysis without conducting a completely new analysis? For example, is there some kind of methodology which combines full-text analysis of older sources with a delta analysis or something else? Are there methods the reduce the time efforts?

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    I took the liberty to reduce your question to the first one as multiple questions per question are not a good fit for this format. You can ask your second question separately. Your third question is nothing we can answer here and you have to decide this for yourselves. – Wrzlprmft Sep 15 '17 at 18:52
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    It strikes me that your negative assessment might, unfortunately, be correct. If the literature review wasn't published while current, and you can't devote the time/resources to do a thorough update, it's hard to imagine that whatever time-saving techniques you find that let you produce a less-than-thorough update will result in a publishable paper. (Unless the rejections were due to inappropriate choice of venue, which it doesn't sound like they were, or you're willing to lower the standard of publishing venue you submit to.) – Dennis Sep 15 '17 at 18:56
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I was taught very early in my doctoral studies that "every article has a home". Not necessarily the home you initially target, but any genuine scholarly article can eventually get published somewhere. Most of the time, when you have trouble publishing something, it is because you are shooting for a publication target with relatively high standards, but the high-standard targets don't accept what you are trying to publish. So, the simple solution is to lower your standards. The not-so-simple question, then, is how low you are willing to lower your expected publication standard. Here are some various thoughts:

  • First and foremost, I recommend to just publish your old article as soon as possible before it gets older rather than hoping to get it updated. Yes, ideally, that would be the best thing to do scholastically, but practically, when I've been in the situation you've described, I've ended up with work 10 years old and never published.

  • No matter what you decide to do, I recommend that you immediately publish what you have on SSRN as a working paper. (It takes about one hour if it's your first time.) I try to publish all my work-in-progress in semi-complete state on SSRN. That way, people can easily find it on the Web and benefit from the knowledge while I decide or finalize whatever happens to the article. If eventually nothing happens to the article, at the very least it counts as a non-peer-reviewed publication. However, some of my SSRN working papers have been very well cited, which encouraged me to eventually put in the work to finalize and get them published in regular journals.

  • I'm not sure why you are only targeting conferences. In information sytems, journals are terminal publications and conferences don't usually count very highly in most hiring, promotion and tenure review committees. (Incidentally, I am an information systems professor.) I know that it is recommended to first publish in a conference before publishing in a journal, but actually, I think what is really useful is to submit to a conference (whether accepted or rejected). The reviewer comments you've already received in your rejection are probably far better than the comments you would get if you presented live, so you have the necessary feedback to improve the article for journal publication. For several reasons, I would target a journal immediately rather than a conference, which leads to my next point.

  • In information systems (and I suspect the same for many other disciplines), conferences are often not ideal targets for literature reviews. One primary reason is that conferences have low page limits, whereas literature reviews usually need longer-than-average page limits. It is harder to do a thorough review in the space allotted. So, literature reviews often get rejected quickly. (I speak from personal experience, both as a review author and as a rejecting reviewer.) What is more, conferences don't offer "revise and resubmit". Their tight deadlines mean that if the initial submission could be improved on, they would normally be rejected, not for lack of potential, but for lack of time in the conference schedule. All of this to say: just because you got rejected from multiple conferences doesn't necessarily mean that your review article is that bad. You might do better at a good quality journal.

  • Unfortunately, a high-quality journal would probably not accept an outdated review. However, some lower-quality journals might do so. So, depending on what your institution accepts, submit to lower-quality journals until the article gets accepted. I don't know if they would appreciate the "endorsement", but I've found Inderscience to be a good publisher of this kind of journal: legitimate peer-reviewed journals with respectable integrity and just one or two rounds of feasible revisions, but not too demanding and so high acceptance rates for legitimate scholarly work. You can find a journal from that publisher on almost any field in STEM, business or economics. Most of their journals are not highly ranked, though. (One caveat, though: stay away from new journals: only publish this kind of work in established journals, or else you risk publishing in a journal that won't survive.)

  • One of the other answers suggested finding a co-author like a doctoral student or post-doc to help you update the review, but this isn't always practical, and they don't always do the work you want. I've tried such things in the past myself, and it never quite worked out as I had hoped. So I've learnt that I need to take full responsibility for the publication of my own articles. Unless you yourself are paying someone just to do that kind of work, delegation of research rarely works. So, I recommend not wasting your time with that hope, unless you have the budget to hire an assistant just to do that, which I suspect from your original post that you don't.

  • Thank you for this great answer, I think your answer fits pretty well to my context. This kind of thought I haven't had about a possible journal publication before. – martin Sep 18 '17 at 6:09
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    I disagree with the premise that every article has a home. Sometimes, things are rejected for a good reason, and by the time you find something willing to take it, you should think of the Groucho Marx line "I wouldn't want to belong to a club that would have me a as a member." Most things I've submitted have been published, but sometimes I've pulled the plug. A literature review that's been rejected that often probably should die -- because most likely the reason to reject it is that other literature reviews already cover the space! – Fred Douglis Sep 18 '17 at 20:29
  • @FredDouglis: From my answer: "any genuine scholarly article can eventually get published somewhere" and "how low you are willing to lower your expected publication standard". Your "pull the plug example" doesn't contradict this principle; it rather says that you would rather let your work die than publish at a low-standard (albeit legitimate) peer-reviewed journal. That is a personal choice. On the contrary, there is a strong argument for publishing all legitimate research, even of lower quality: this combats "publication bias", an important topic in systematic lit reviews. – Tripartio Sep 19 '17 at 4:32
  • Sure, it CAN get published. Send it to the place that took the paper with thousands of repetitions of "take me off your f..king mailing list" ... I'm saying some work, you may realize, does not in fact deserve to be published. Not every article necessarily has a home. – Fred Douglis Sep 19 '17 at 11:47
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    Of course I agree with you that pseudo-scholarly garbage shouldn't be published. Although the quote that I heard is "every article has a home", my answer (and replies to your comments) explicitly say "every genuine scholarly article"; that's the context. – Tripartio Sep 19 '17 at 14:42
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I recommend that you find another co-author who is willing and able to spend the time that you cannot. An good candidate may be a supervisee (PhD student, postdoc) who needs to get more familiar with the topic anyway. A fresh view may also help to address possible problems with the paper.

  • Good idea, I hadn't considered this in my pessimism. This seems like a great project for a grad student looking for a publication, assuming one with relevant expertise is known to OP. – Dennis Sep 15 '17 at 19:07
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    Good idea in theory, but in practice, it is very hard to delegate research to someone else, except if you hire them as a research assistant. I have more comments on this in my answer. – Tripartio Sep 17 '17 at 18:59
  • @Tripartio: I know that this differs from country to country, but where I am from, most PhD students and postdocs are hired as research assistants. Of course you would still need to supervise them, but that’s usually considerably less work and something you need to do anyway. – Wrzlprmft Sep 17 '17 at 19:09
  • @Wrzlprmft, sorry I wasn't fully detailed in my comment here, but I did reference my answer for more details. There I explain that what matters is if you are the one who hired the PhD students or postdocs. That might not be the case with the OP (but I might be mistaken). If OP doesn't have a budget to pay the research assistants, then this might not work. – Tripartio Sep 17 '17 at 19:17
  • @Tripartio: what matters is if you are the one who hired the PhD students or postdocs – Sure, that’s why I wrote supervisee and not just PhD student or postdoc. – Wrzlprmft Sep 17 '17 at 19:39

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