As an inclusive, broad-based journal that serves the entire Academy of Management across all of its divisions and interest groups, the Academy of Management Review (AMR) accepts papers that make important contributions to management theory using the full range of theory-development tools, including formal theory techniques. Following Adner et al. (2009), this policy statement uses a broad definition of the terms “formal theory,” “formal model,” and “formal methods” that includes not only closed-form analytical models, but also formal logic, simulations, and other forms of computational or mathematical modeling, as well as the full variety of hybrid techniques that combine these methods.
The criteria for evaluating the publication of formal theory papers are exactly the same as the criteria for evaluating all papers submitted to AMR: Do these papers make an important contribution to management theory (either by significantly extending current theory or developing new theory), and are they accessible to a broad scholarly management audience? No other attributes of a paper can substitute for making a theoretical contribution that is widely accessible to management scholars.
The application of these two criteria (contribution to management theory and broad accessibility) has a variety of implications for those seeking to publish formal theory papers in AMR. For example, with regard to contribution to management theory:
- Papers that simply formalize existing theories will generally not make a sufficient contribution to management theory to warrant publication. In this sense, while the transparency and precision that are created by more analytical approaches to theory building are important virtues, they will typically not be sufficient—by themselves—to justify publication in AMR.
- Papers whose primary purpose is to contribute to formal theory techniques, per se, will typically not be publishable in AMR. Such papers are certainly worthy of consideration elsewhere, but are unlikely to make significant contributions to management theory.
- Papers that briefly explore many theoretical implications of a particular formal model are less likely to contribute to management theory than papers that deeply explore a few central implications of that model. These papers need to focus on how insights derived from a formal model change current thinking in management theory, not on the number of propositions that can be derived from these models.
With respect to accessibility to a broad scholarly management audience, the goal in writing these papers is that those who read them will be able to understand the models (e.g., they are described coherently), and their implications for management theory. This suggests:
- Propositions derived from formal methods in a paper need to be stated using natural language, not mathematical language.
- Implications of any propositions derived from formal methods for current conversations in management theory need to be clearly discussed. That a proposition can be derived from formal methods is, in and of itself, not proof that this proposition is insightful or potentially influential.
- Calculations, including theorem proofs and (if appropriate) computer code, will typically be included as an appendix in these papers, rather than in their body.
Revised February 2022
Adner R, Polos L, Ryall M, Sorenson O. 2009. The Case for Formal Theory. Academy of Management Review 34(2): 201-208.