The answer to that depends on nature of the journal. Author should certainly do their research to make sure not only that the topic fits a journal's editorial philosophy, but also that they understand its quality variables.
However, if you examine the desired qualities described by a number of editors, you quickly find that there are surprising commonalities – most of them want something "new" and "fresh", while editors of research journals are looking for rigorous methodology; and, whilst making sure that you are within your chosen journal's editorial scope is important, knowing the plus factors preferred by many editors will certainly help you land in the review pile and then sail through it.
Articles usually follow a fairly particular template, with the following features:
The desire for something original, which looks at things with a fresh perspective and raises questions not previously asked. The originality can be in the content or different research method or fresh disciplinary lens. If you are aiming at a well established journal, it helps to make the originality of your submission stand out. There's also a general expectation that papers should make a contribution towards knowledge, open up the debate, and reveal opportunities for further research.
It's fairly obvious that rigour in research comes high up the wish list for an editor of academic journals:
The research should also be based in a theoretical background with a discussion of relevant literature, and all works cited should be correctly and thoroughly referenced. Most editors are quite open about the research approach: there is certainly no bias towards quantitative research and in fact some editors particularly welcome a qualitative perspective. This is not only the case with topics where the study of behaviour is important, such as leadership or change management, but also those disciplines where qualitative approaches have been less common, such as strategic management or accountancy.
It can be taken as read that the research behind the article should be sound and presented as such, but how much detail is needed? There is no hard and fast rule and it's important to check with the individual journal as to whether a section of methodology is required. However, there seems to be a fairly general view that authors provide enough information to back up their case, but not so much that it overwhelms. The "point" here is not the research itself, but its implications, particularly for practice.
Relevance to Practice
Much of the above is probably common to most academic journals; relevance to practice. Thus, many editors explicitly stress the importance of stating the implications of the research for practice: how can managers use the work in their day-to-day lives? Research should not be discussed for its own sake, but for the difference it can make. Some journals require a specific section, or an executive summary, so the busy manager can flip through and take what is immediately relevant; all require the link with the workplace to be made explicit.
Some articles are actually rooted in practice, for example providing a particular analysis of some business-related activity; others provide a rich description of a particular situation as a case study. Some journals encourage practitioners to submit their research, perhaps teamed up with academic and hence providing complementary perspectives. If you are a practitioner working on your own, it's worth contacting the editor to check what level of research detail and literature review is expected.
To possess an international outlook is particularly important for all its journals, so if your study is located in one country, consider its broader implications so that an international audience will want to read it.
One way of doing this is by comparative studies, looking at different practices across different countries. Editors are genuinely looking to be comprehensive in their coverage, so if you notice that a journal has few contributions from your part of the world, then you may be sure that the editor will want to hear from you, providing you also fit in with the stipulations mentioned above. It may be, too, that you will be able to provide a different perspective.
Clarity of Argument & Style
There is a certain type of academic writing which is not noted for its clarity; however, clarity and readability are just what many editors want.
There are two aspects to clarity & readability:
Editors look for a good, clear structure and an argument that is logically presented. Having to write an abstract may help you at this moment.
If you follow the suggested headings, you will have a structure for your pager:
You should have a clear purpose statement, and the conclusion should wrap up the argument and not include new material, apart from the significance of the research and further avenues to explore. It is also important that the argument should flow smoothly within the sections: paragraphs should follow on logically with no breaks in sense, or sudden, unexplained jumps.
Many editors talk about "well written” articles – which mean more than just grammatically correct. "Tortuous prose" is unfortunately a feature of many academic disciplines, but the ability to convey complex ideas simply and in such a way as can be understood outside a small circle is a very important quality. If your first language is not English, you may be reading this with a sinking heart. Don't worry, we are talking about the ideal and many editors are strongly committed to working with people who may not be able to express themselves perfectly, providing they have good ideas. If you are in this position, it's a good idea to drop a line to the editor of the journal you are targeting to find out whether they are prepared to help.
Editors always welcome good research, but they are also looking for other sorts of papers, such as case studies, conceptual pieces and papers useful for teaching.
Case studies are welcomed because they provide rich description and in-depth analysis, and are of great interest to practitioners. For journals with a strong research orientation, the case needs to be situated within a literature review and / or some sort of theoretical framework (this may be less the case for a more practitioner oriented journal); evaluation and critical reflection is also useful. A case study does not need just to focus on best practice; it can sometimes be valuable to dwell on what went wrong and why. Mistakes, after all, can be learnt from.
More and more, editors are looking at the needs of students and are keen to provide good teaching material. For this, they welcome cases with strong research methodology and plenty of insights, as well as questions with detailed answers.
These are pieces which are based on research, but which are not empirical. They should be more than mere summaries of existing knowledge of a topic, but rather they should move the knowledge base on to a higher level, for example putting forward a new framework.
Just as some journals are more practitioners based, so others have a distinct slant towards the theoretical, as opposed to empirical. However, not all "Conceptual" pieces need to have a literature review, whilst not all literature reviews need to put forward new frameworks. Some editors like "Blue Skies Thinking".
At the other end of the spectrum is the review article, which provides a concise survey of a particular field and can be particularly valuable.
In general, editors are looking for something that answers the "so what?" question, has 'clarity of argument', rigour of research design (if appropriate), relevance to practice, international appeal, and a genuine contribution to knowledge.
This is, however, only general guidance: you should always take into account the subject matter and general philosophy of the journal concerned. An approach to the editor, with a brief outline of the proposed article, is always worthwhile. Most editors are often all too pleased to help.