Making a Contribution to Theory: A Practical Workshop with Prof. Roy Suddaby

Date(s) - 13/02/2018 12:00 pm - 5:00 pm

Newcastle University Business School

Doctoral Students, Early Career Researchers


One of the most challenging issues in publishing research in top management journals is demonstrating that your study makes a “contribution to theory”. It is the most commonly stated reason for rejection by reviewers and editors, and yet it remains a vaguely defined standard based on tacit rather than explicit knowledge. That is, it is a standard that is easier to demonstrate through “hands on” experience than it is to articulate “a priori”. Like US Supreme Court Justice Stewart’s famous statement on obscenity, a contribution to theory is hard to define in advance, but one “knows it when s/he sees it”.

The intent of this workshop is to give junior scholars and PhD students an opportunity to see how reviewers and editors construct their assessment of a contribution to theory. The process used to accomplish this is to give participants a rare “behind the scenes” view of how reviewers, editors and successful authors engage in the debate about what constitutes a contribution to theory.

The key learning objective of this session is to make the somewhat elusive concept of a “contribution to theory” more accessible by working through an actual set of reviews. We hope that, by the end of the session, participants will have a working knowledge of what the concept involves and how it can be articulated both in the manuscript and in the interaction between authors and editors/reviewers.

Detailed Programme

The process involved in this “hands-on” practical event is as follow:

  1. Participants will be given a paper to review three weeks in advance of the session. The paper will be a theory paper previously published in Academy of Management Review. Participants will be asked to read the paper and draft a review and submit their review to the organizers in advance of the session.
  2. Prior to the session, the reviews will be collated and the organizers will aggregate reviewer attention to the following component categories that, cumulatively, construct a contribution to theory:
    a. Motivation
    b. Engagement with literature
    c. Construct clarity
    d. Presentation
    e. Novelty/Contribution

Registration and lunch

Session 1 – This will involve a review of the component elements described in paragraph 2 above. During this session the facilitator will also summarize the results of the assessment described above – i.e. demonstrate the degree to which the submitted reviews attended to the five key components of a theoretical contribution.

Session 2 – This will be an interactive session in which the participants will discuss the demonstrated results to determine if a group consensus can be made on how the paper should be revised in order to clarify its contribution to theory.

Coffee break

Session 3 – The actual reviews will be distributed to the participants to compare the group consensus results with those of the actual reviewers. Participants will also be provided with the author’s response to the reviews.

Session 4 – This session will be devoted to a collective discussion regarding the group’s reaction to the actual reviews and the degree of congruence or dissonance between their own individual reviews and the collective effort.

Session 5 – The session will conclude with a broad based discussion of individual experiences with the review process as well as key issues for ensuring success in the review process including:

  • Best practices in the response letter
  • How to deal with diametrically opposite suggestions from reviewers
  • How to interpret the editor’s instructions

Professor Roy Suddaby is the Winspear Chair of Management and Associate Dean of Research at the Peter B. Gustavson School of Business, University of Victoria, Canada and a Research Professor at Newcastle University Business School, UK. He is also an honorary professor at Copenhagen Business School. Roy is a past editor of the Academy of Management Review and has served on the editorial boards of the Academy of Management Journal, Administrative Science Quarterly, Organization Studies, Journal of Business Venturing, Journal of Management Studies, and the Scandinavian Management Review. He has won best-paper awards from the Academy of Management Journal, Administrative Science Quarterly, and the Administrative Sciences Association of Canada as well as the Greif Research Impact Award from the Academy of Management. Roy was awarded a Distinguished Scholar Award by the Administrative Sciences Association of Canada and Ascendant Scholar by the Western Academy of Management.
His research focuses on organizational change and the intersection between business and society. Current projects include a study of the changing role of the corporation in society.