What author instructions won’t tell you
Amanda S. Barusch
With the initiation of the new JGSW mentoring program, the Journal’s role in nurturing gerontological social work is expanding. For more than 30 years, JGSW has served as a forum for researchers and practitioners to share insights that expand our knowledge base. In the coming year, mentors and editors will work more directly with authors to enhance the presentation of their work. For my part, I look forward to the rich dialogues that will result.
To set the stage for this new mentoring role, I would like to share my perspectives on what it takes to write successfully for JGSW:
- Writing ability – Perhaps this should go without saying, but too often we encounter manuscripts that we are unable to publish (or even review) due to problems with writing. Submissions to JGSW should reflect a polished, professional writing style. In my view, everyone writing for professional journals should read Strunk and White’s Elements of Style. It’s as relevant today as it was when it was first written in 1918. Elements is available from Penguin in an illustrated edition. At a minimum, I ask that authors read all submissions aloud (either to yourself or to a loved one) before sending them in to JGSW.
- A contribution – Another self-evident, but often neglected aspect is the manuscript’s unique contribution to the knowledge base of the profession. The importance of the manuscript’s contribution must be clear throughout, particularly in the abstract, introduction and discussion sections. (Please note: the simple fact that the aging population of the U.S. is growing does not automatically confer importance on everything written about older adults.) We expect manuscripts to provide a thorough review of relevant empirical and theoretical literature that closes with reference the unique contribution of the work.
- Relevance to both researchers and practitioners. JGSW is read by social work practitioners, as well as researchers. Your manuscript should speak to both audiences. This seems to pose a particular challenge to those who are submitting quantitative research. While statistical significance is important, substantive significance is probably more important. Statistical significance may tell you that what you observe is real; substantive significance enables you to describe the implications of your findings in concrete terms. The challenge is to offer the detailed methodological and analytic material necessary for the researchers who will evaluate and perhaps replicate your findings, even as you send a clear message to the practitioners who will seek to apply them.
- Methodological rigor – We expect that manuscripts submitted to the journal will reflect the best our field has to offer by way of methodological rigor. But no research is perfect, and the work reported in JGSW is no exception. We ask our authors to describe methodological decisions made in the course of their study, and to explain the rationale behind these decisions. Research, like any human endeavor, sometimes demands compromises. We expect authors to be open about those compromises and their implications. For this reason we expect all research manuscripts to include a section on methodological limitations. In addition, I would advise qualitative researchers to read two articles published in 2007 by Nancy Schoenberg, Associate Editor for The Gerontologist. Both provide helpful guidance on how to present qualitative studies. They are listed below.
- Bias and Self-Disclosure – Sometimes I look at a discussion and think the author(s) didn’t even need to do the research! They just said what they wanted to say before they went out to muck around with data collection and analysis. The research was just filler, an excuse for passing along the beliefs they started out with. We all have beliefs that filter our perceptions in ways that can bias our interpretation of data. That’s why we ask JGSW authors to provide at least minimal self-disclosure. At a minimum, we expect authors of published work to disclose their institutional affiliations and the funding source of their research. This way, potential financial conflicts are kept in the open. Beyond that, it is helpful when authors present the beliefs they brought to the research, either in the form of hypotheses or in a description of the researcher as data-collection instrument. When I see that these beliefs were not supported by the research my faith in the integrity of the study is enhanced. At any rate, discussion of research findings should be clearly grounded in the results of the study at hand.
JGSW authors are a special breed. I applaud you! Writing for publication is a daunting process, and our authors face the dual challenge of conducting state-of-the-art work and communicating it clearly to practitioners and policy-makers. I am delighted that so many are up to this challenge and our editorial team is determined to help you along the way.
Schoenberg, N.E. & McAuley, W.J. (2007). Promoting Qualitative Research. The Gerontologist, 47(5), 576-577.
Schoenberg, N.E., Shenk, D., & Kart, C.S. (2007). Food for thought: Nourising the publication of qualitative research. Journal of Applied Gerontology, 26(4), 4-16.
Strunk, W. & White, E.B. M. Kalman (illustrator). (2005). Elements of Style Illustrated. New York: Penguin.
(Citation: Barusch, A.S. (2010). Writing for JGSW: What author instructions won’t tell you. Journal of Gerontological Social Work, 53, 197-199.