How to write for US journals with non-US data

Summarizes an editorial by Carol Kulik that explains how to position your research for an international reader

We often hear academics complain that US journals are biased against non-US data, making it hard for non-US academics to publish in these journals. Whilst there might well be a grain of truth to this, in this editorial Carol Kulik - a US academic who has been working in Australia since 2002 - argues that there might be another side to this story too.

In this editorial Carol - and I can call her by her first name, not because she is a woman, but because I had the fortune to have her as my colleague at the University of Melbourne for several years - presents her wishlist for authors, reviewers and editors that would make any journal more international.

Position the research for the international reader

Carol argues that every author tends to write for themselves. This is not a problem if the author is similar to the average reader of the journal. However, if they are psychologically or geographically different from the reader, this might create a bit of a problem. Rather than just seeing this as a problem, Carol (Kulik, 2005:163) provides excellent suggestions on the need to make a particular country's context explicit for readers from another country.

I would like to see all authors (non-U.S. and U.S.) explain why their questions are (or should be) of interest outside their country of origin. But even better, I would like to see authors go beyond this and highlight the unique strengths and benefits associated with their particular context. Non-U.S. authors sometimes try to bury the data’s country of origin in the Methods section. If your starting assumption is that there is a bias against non-U.S. research, this may seem to be a sensible strategy. But reviewers hate this—it is the academic version of hiding in a closet and jumping out to yell “boo!” It sets off a string of sense-making questions in the mind of the reviewer (“Why didn’t the author tell me earlier? Is there something problematic about this context?”) that can cause exactly the opposite reviewer reaction than the author intended. It is the author’s responsibility to describe the context to the reviewer and help the reviewer to understand the broad theoretical questions that are being addressed within the context. As a general rule, that means the context should be part of the material covered in the introduction.

Speak the journal’s language

Here Carol explains that each journal has not just its own unique format, but also its own unique style, that might not be immediately visible to the casual reader. She encourages authors to immerse themselves in the journal's conversation before submitting their paper to the journal. In this context, my own blog Why does my paper get a desk-reject time and again? might also be of interest.

Question our conventions

Carol's last item on the wishlist is directed towards the editors and reviewers of US journals. Using two examples from her own research, she explains how research conventions that are taken for granted in the US academic community might not be appropriate in other countries. In particular, she explains that employee data that are routinely collected in US research might run counter to ethical norms in Australia. In this context, my blog on the challenges of international research might also be of interest.