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Papers for the Journal of the ACM must be of high quality and fall within the scope of the journal. There are three main criteria for a paper to be accepted:
Few papers excel in all three, but a substandard level in any is sufficient grounds for rejection. This means that papers that may well be in first-rate journals may not be accepted to JACM. In any case, it is the authors’ job to make it clear why the paper is important and of broad interest. We ask authors to consult a recent issue of JACM for reference.
The Journal of the ACM begins the refereeing process with a "quick review", to check whether the manuscript has a plausible chance of meeting JACM's high standards, even if all the claimed results are correct. JACM tries to cover a broad spectrum of areas, and can only accept 4-5 papers in any given area every year. Thus, we try to focus on the most significant papers in each area, that would be of interest to the broad community, and reject many papers that would be accepted by other journals. This quick review can be conducted by either the editor in chief, or an area editor, and the review may or may not involve referees outside the editorial board. This faster quick review process can benefit the authors by reaching a decision faster than via the traditional refereeing process, and is less taxing on the volunteer reviewers for the journal. If a paper passes the quick review, the Area Editor sends the paper out for refereeing, asking referees both about the correctness and the significance of the result. Based on the reviews, the Area Editor makes a decision about accepting or rejecting the paper, or asking the authors for a revision. Referee names for each submission are kept confidential, authors will have access only the reviews. We aim to complete the first round of review process within 6 months, but some papers that are hard to review can take longer.
If a paper is rejected from JACM but still seems publishable and the referees are agreeable, the authors can ask to have the reviews forwarded to the editor-in-chief of a more appropriate journal.