Skip to main content

Publishing in English: Academic Journals

An upcoming guide to English-language publication for Japanese scholars


(1-2 sentence overview of this section/academic journals)


Finding a Journal

  • The range of journals
  • Subscription databases versus open-access
  • Getting to know a journal
  • Contacting editors

The Practicalities of Submission

  • Submitting online
  • Journal style
  • The review process
  • Handling peer review
  • Copyright and image permissions

Writing for publication in English: Content and style

  • Content, context, and audience
  • Mechanics: citations, subheadings, special terms
  • Academic writing style in English-language humanities and social sciences


Finding a Journal

The range of journals

Academic publishing in English is a vast and open marketplace. Each of the major commercial subscription databases that archive English-language academic journals today contains several hundreds or thousands of journals in the humanities and social sciences. Numerous other journals appear in digital or print form outside these archives. Many of these journals are interdisciplinary. It is thus impossible to be familiar with all of the journals that might be relevant to one’s own field of study and constitute appropriate places to submit an article for publication. In addition, the great majority of these journals accept submissions from any person with a higher academic degree. Many of them do not represent particular academic societies (gakkai). Those that do represent academic societies do not require that article contributors be members. Therefore, if you hold a graduate degree and have an academic article of appropriate length, format and subject matter, you can submit it for consideration to whichever journal you choose.  

Subscription databases versus open-access

The first question is how to find a journal that will offer the right venue for publication of your work. One preliminary consideration is the availability of the journal to readers. Academic journals published exclusively in paper form now occupy a small fraction of the market. Many university libraries have stopped subscribing to paper journals and rely completely on subscription databases. If a journal is archived in one of these databases, it will be available to faculty and students at many institutions. Database subscriptions are extremely costly, however, which limits the journals that smaller institutions can access and makes subscription by private individuals practically impossible. Meanwhile, a growing number of journals are appearing on the Internet in open-access form, without any fees for subscription or for viewing individual articles. Although open-access journals are still a minority in most humanities and social science fields, some involve full peer review and are well regarded by specialists. Open access gives them the potential to reach wider audiences. The academic publishing market is changing rapidly. There are a growing number of open-access journals that are maintained not by academic institutions or individuals but by publishers and database companies (see Kratoska, “Open Access and Academic Publishing in Asia,” and “Open Access Means Free; What’s Not to Like?”). Many of these have the contributing authors pay a substantial fee to publish. Before you pay to publish, make sure to ascertain the reputation of the journal in the field. 

Getting to know a journal

Digital services such as ThomsonReuters’ Web of Knowledge provide journal rankings according to metrics such as “impact factor,” which is based on the number of times articles in the journal are cited elsewhere. These rankings are widely considered to be important in the sciences, but there is considerable controversy about their value in assessing the importance of humanities and social science publications. If administrators at your institution or others assessing your career performance use measures of this kind, it may be advisable to check the ranking of journals you are considering. But regardless of whether you consider ranking, it is more important first to consider the fit of your research with the character and mission of the journal. If you are starting without any idea of which journal to choose, some of the subscription databases include a “Find a Journal” search function that will apply an algorithm to match your title and abstract to contents of articles already in the database. You can also browse journals by field. These approaches can be useful for a quick overview of your options. They are not a substitute for good suggestions from colleagues in your field, however.

Once you have a candidate journal, it is essential to acquaint yourself with it thoroughly before deciding to submit an article. Find the names of the scholars on the journal’s editorial board and the journal’s mission statement. Look at the tables of contents for several issues and read some recent articles. Ideally, you should choose a journal in which scholars in your field whose names you know have published or are members of the editorial board. 

Contacting editors

As several respondents to our survey reminded us, academic journal editors are busy people. Most are managing teaching responsibilities and pursuing their own research in addition to editing the journal. With the digitization and globalization of scholarship, they must also cope with masses of communication from beyond the traditional community of fellow specialists. Although their email addresses are generally available, you may not get an answer by writing to ask about a possible article submission.

Nevertheless, in the case of specialized publications, particularly publications with an Asia or Japan focus, an editor may be able to offer advice before you submit. One of the editors in our survey suggested that Japanese authors should contact her in advance to get suggestions about writing and translation. Some journal editors also make themselves available to meet prospective contributors at academic conferences. Attending a journal workshop or setting up a meeting at an academic conference can provide a good way to become acquainted.  (top)

The Practicalities of Submission

Submitting online

Most journals now accept submission only through an on-line system. Do not send your submission to the editor as an email attachment. On-line submission systems generally ask you to upload a pdf or Word document. Make sure that your document is in a universally readable file format that conforms to the specifications of the journal. You may want to include a cover letter briefly introducing yourself and explaining your reason for submission, but this is not usually required. Most journals do request an abstract.

Journal editors expect that you will not submit the same article to other journals. Since your article may stay with the journal several weeks or months before you know whether it will be accepted or even reviewed, this rule makes it particularly important to choose a journal carefully. It is not uncommon for an article to go to several journals in sequence before the editors of one of them agree to publish it. Even established scholars may have this experience.

Journal style

Every journal has a set of guidelines for article submissions, usually available on the journal’s website. Editors responding to our survey emphasized the importance of following their journal submission guidelines. The main issues are length and citation format. Article lengths in humanities and social science journals generally range from 6000 to 12,000 words. Some journals ask for footnotes or endnotes, while others expect citations in parentheses in the body of the text (social science style citation). A few permit a combination of both. Guidelines will also include information about document format, images, and word length for the abstract if one is required.

The abstract, as one journal editor noted, is a “teaser.” It should quickly establish the importance and interest of the article you are submitting. Editors of journals with large numbers of submissions may circulate just the abstract to board members to assess whether an article is appropriate for review. Your abstract may thus play an important role in getting the article reviewed.

The review process

Two Japanese scholars we spoke to who had published in English described the review process in English-language journals as time consuming. Another said it was quick. Obviously there is variation, as there is in Japan. But one comment we heard from several scholars was that it was rigorous. As a result, the process may seem quite long even after review and resubmission. When publishing in a language other than one’s own, it is best to assume that additional time and effort will be necessary. In addition, some major journals have long backlogs of articles awaiting publication, which may delay publication for a year or more. Editors may indicate to you how long the wait is likely to be, but if possible, it is worth asking others who have published in the journal about their experience.

Editors receiving a new submission usually consult their editorial boards and choose among three possible decisions: reject, revise and resubmit, or send out for external review. If they reject or request you to revise and resubmit, you should receive a letter of explanation (for discussion of common reasons for article rejection, see Kratoska, “Submitting Articles to Academic Journals: Avoiding Common Errors.” Publishing Matters, AAS Newsletter). If they send the article out for external review, you will not hear a response until the journal has received the reviews. A journal that is described as “peer reviewed” generally sends submissions for anonymous review to two scholars who are not on the journal’s editorial board (when the manuscript author’s name is not revealed to the reviewers, this is referred to as “double blind review”). Although these reviewers should be in your field, they may be quite far removed from your precise area of specialization. One of the Japanese scholars who participated in this survey remarked that he was asked by a reviewer to include more references to general historical works in English. Another described the reviewers’ comments as “excessive.” These experiences reflect the fact that the peer review process often compels authors to make substantial revisions for the sake of readers who are broadly in their field but do not share the same expertise.

Handling peer review

Most journal editors put great weight on the external reviews. Generally, the article will not be published without two favorable reviews. Articles are seldom published without some revision. One editor responding to our survey urged prospective authors to be prepared to “embrace the peer review process and engage with the reviewers' comments; understand the expectations of the gatekeepers for English-language publications.” Although the experience can be frustrating, the anonymous external review is where you will get the clearest sense of how effectively your work communicates to Anglophone scholars. External reviewers will often call for a variety of changes to the manuscript. You should address each of their requests in your revisions. If you disagree with any of their comments, you should explain the reasons you disagree in a letter to the editors accompanying your revised manuscript when you resubmit. Although the process itself is quite similar to that for Japanese academic journals, you may find that the difference of academic cultures as well as of language make it quite different in substance. As one respondent to our survey pointed out, writing for the English-language academic audience will likely require you to “establish a wider argument than might be necessary for domestic readers.”

Copyright and image permissions

If you intend to include images in your article that come from other sources, you have to seek publication permission yourself. Publishers in the U.S. and some other countries are stricter about use rights than Japanese publishers tend to be. At the time of submission, however, you can provide low-resolution images temporarily without acquiring use rights. That said, be aware that securing permission can take some time, so it is best to start the process as early as possible, especially regarding publishers that might be difficult to contact. While you should check with the publisher of the journal to confirm, it may be possible to include images for which you do not have explicit permission if you can demonstrate that your attempts to contact the publisher received no response, but you must give adequate notice to the publisher in question that you will take their lack of reply as consent. That period can take months, so, again, start early in securing permission. Copyright questions may arise if you are republishing material from an article or book you have previously published in English. Publishing an English translation of an article of your own that was previously published in Japanese may require that you get permission from the original Japanese publisher. If for some reason, you feel the images you include are not subject to copyright laws (i.e. the publisher no longer exists) it is your responsibility to demonstrate that copyright is not needed.  (top)

Writing for publication in English: Content and style

This section summarizes some of the common writing issues for Japanese and other non-native English writers seeking publication in English-language journals. It is based on the responses to our survey and information from a few other sources, together with my own experience. It is therefore far from authoritative or scientifically irrefutable. However, since Japanese (and other East Asian) writing cultures have historically differed profoundly from English, despite the broad common objectives and understandings of academic writing everywhere, these issues are of vital importance to the Japanese academic author seeking publication in English.

Content, context, and audience

When writing in English or translating and adapting your work for publication in English, it is essential to think of the context. As one Japanese scholar with extensive experience writing and publishing in both Japanese and European languages writes, when submitting work for publication in English she presents her thesis differently, “trying to project the interests and background knowledge of the English-language readership” (読者の予備知識や関心のありかを予想して、問題設定の部分を日本語の場合とは違うように書きました). Depending on the research area, you may want to present the issue of your study in an explicitly comparative way. This is particularly useful if you are writing for an audience outside the field of Japanese studies. If your study is not comparative in nature, it is still valuable to think of the kind of comparisons readers may make. What is the broad theoretical context of your work, and how does your study contribute to that context? These questions are of course not peculiar to academic writing in English, but they take on added importance when you are writing for the broader English readership. Things that may not need to be stated explicitly often need to be included in order to frame your work. One editor responding to our survey also urged that writers make reference to relevant research in English on their subject. This will help Anglophone readers position your work in relation to the field. It may also be necessary to explain particular Japanese concepts or terms. Editors may identify these in the review process, but providing explanation in the initial submission draft will make your research more accessible.  (top)

Mechanics: citations, subheadings, special terms

Before submitting an article to a journal, read the journal’s style guidelines, which will indicate the precise format in which the editors expect article manuscripts to arrive. Most journal guidelines will indicate that they use Chicago Manual of Style or Modern Language Association (MLA) style. These are the basic guides for writing and formatting academic books and articles. They are available in book form, but the common features of each style can also readily be found with a few simple examples on the internet (links here).

Although the basic principles of academic citation in Japanese and English are the same, there are often differences of expectation. Two Japanese scholars we surveyed reported that the English-language journals were more demanding with regard to citation information. It is standard practice in English-language journals and academic books to specify the relevant page numbers in sources cited in footnotes, for example. The precise format of footnotes in English also differs slightly from Japanese. There is wide variation among journals with regard to the amount of information expected in footnotes. Articles in the Journal of Asian Studies use social science citation with few footnotes, although most of the articles are in humanities fields. In contrast, footnotes often fill almost half of the page in articles in the American Historical Review, where contributors are encouraged to make reference to a wide range of relevant secondary literature. Check recent articles in the journal to which you are submitting to get a sense of the journal’s citation practices.

Another mechanical issue about which conventions in English-language publications tend to differ from Japanese publications is the division of articles into sections with subheadings. It is more common in Japanese academic writing than in English to divide an article or chapter into relatively short sections with numbered subheadings. There are no fixed rules about formatting choices like this, but in this respect too, if you make your submission conform in appearance to what you find in recent issues of the journal to which you are submitting, editors and reviewers will be more likely to find it familiar and accessible.

Finally, the writer using Japanese sources in an English-language publication needs to consider the appropriate way to handle transliteration and translation of proper nouns, titles, and key terms to English. The first aspect of this is strictly mechanical: what is the proper Romanization of a Japanese name, title or term? Most academic publications in English outside Japan today use the modified Hepburn system (link). This form of Romanization is not universal in Japan. One way to check the correct Romanization of a name or book title is to search for it in the U.S. Library of Congress on-line catalogue. The Library of Congress uses modified Hepburn Romanization and its records are considered authoritative by academic institutions. For subtler questions of style concerning the representation of Japanese terms in English-language writing, the journal Monumenta Nipponica provides a valuable style guide (link).

Transliteration and translation also relates to a broader issue of audience. Journals of Japanese or Asian studies handle Romanization of Japanese differently from other journals, since the editors can anticipate that some readers will be familiar with Japanese. They are likely to encourage that you indicate the original Japanese for key terms, and their editors will likely be familiar with the correct Romanization. This will not be the case with journals in other fields. Yet in either case, in making translation and transliteration choices, an author should consider what would be most useful to the audience. For example, some journals may ask you to translate the titles of books and articles in your footnotes into English. If, however, you provide only the English translation without a Romanized transliteration of the original title, it will be impossible for a reader to trace the original publication. It is therefore more useful to provide both the Romanized Japanese and the English translation. The same can be said of proper nouns: the names of institutions, for example, that may appear in the body of your article. Non-Japanese specialist readers will need English translations in order to understand these names, but some readers may benefit from seeing the Romanized Japanese as well. Some journals in Asian studies may also publish kanji for key terms, which can contribute to transnational dialogue among East Asian countries. Writers and translators must make these subtle choices of translation and transliteration on the basis of both the journal standards and their own intuition of what would be most useful to their prospective audience.  

Academic writing style in English-language humanities and social sciences

Styles of academic exposition vary among fields, among journals, and among individuals. Nor is there one “correct” way to present an argument. Nevertheless, almost all of our respondents made reference to the issue of national differences in exposition. There can be little doubt that some distinct national habits exist. National differences in expository style represent a topic of study and critical consideration themselves (for a study with examples of writers and journals in Hong Kong, see John Flowerdew, “Attitudes of Journal Editors to Non-Native Speaker Contributions”). Since the aim of this website is to help scholars seeking to publish their work in English, the complex cultural issues behind these differences will not be considered. Instead, the focus will be simply on some suggestions derived from the survey, from conversations with other scholars, and from personal experience.

One can think of the spectrum of non-fiction prose expository styles in Japanese as extending from the academic study (gakujutsu ronbun) at one end to the personal essay (zuihitsu) at the other. The typical article in an English-language journal in the humanities and some social sciences tends to fall somewhere in between these two. Perhaps this is why it is often called an “academic essay.” The term “essay” here differs somewhat from the Japanese essei エッセイ and denotes a style quite distinct from the classic Japanese zuihitsu.

Judging from our survey responses and conversations with scholars, it seems that the style of the Japanese gakujutsu ronbun often appears too narrow and restricted to English-language readers and editors. The basic structure is a familiar one: statement of objective, brief statement of thesis, review of literature, presentation of data, and conclusion, often returning to the thesis statement to establish that it has been proven. A U.S. graduate student who worked at a writing desk at the University of Tokyo helping faculty and fellow graduate students in social science fields with their academic writing writes “I think that the ‘scientific style papers’ are so common because they are easy to structure and adhere to a common formula.” This formula is a universal one, but in English-language scholarship its use tends to be confined to the natural sciences and the “hard” end of the social sciences. Excessive adherence to the scientific model for writing may alienate editors and readers of mainstream humanities and social science journals.

At the other end of the spectrum, senior Japanese scholars in the humanities may prefer to write in a style more approaching the zuihitsu end of the spectrum, which is subjective, flows freely from one theme to the next, and does not seek to prove a single thesis. Although this style of writing is sometimes appreciated in English too for its literary value, academic editors and reviewers are likely to see submissions in this style as lacking a strong thesis or argument and insufficiently documented.

The fact that the Japanese language allows writers to omit the grammatical subject of a sentence in many cases influences these stylistic differences. English requires the writer to specify subject, predicate and object. The result is both that there is less room for ambiguity and that the position of the author tends to be stated more explicitly. In short, one might say that when publishing in English, gakujutsu ronbun writers are likely to be asked to reflect and expand on the implications of their data in a manner that might feel more subjective than they are accustomed to; while zuihitsu-style writers will be asked to demonstrate more scientific structure and rigor.

Our survey respondents noted that English-language journals tend to stress effective argumentation more strongly than presentation of data. The main argument of the article should be presented as persuasively as possible in the introduction. Some of the data that might be presented in a Japanese academic study may be abbreviated. It is also important to clarify the theoretical implications of the article, answering the question “why is this important?” These are not features unique to the English-language academic context, of course, but they may be stressed more in English-language publications. Giving particular attention to them will help overcome some of the difficulties of cross-cultural communication.

Japanese scholars we spoke with also observed the importance of polishing one’s prose style and word choice generally for English-language publications. This may reflect the “essay” character of the English academic essay. Although it is not the core of the academic enterprise, effective rhetoric is valued. One should be careful also not to repeat sentences or clauses. Some degree of repetition may be acceptable in a Japanese gakujutsu ronbun (for example, in the conclusion), but it is rarely accepted in English academic writing.

Paul Kratoska of National University of Singapore Press has provided us with a ten-point list of issues that Japanese scholars should watch for in writing for English-language publication (link). Paul drew our attention to the issue of kishō tenketsu in Japanese writing. A number of writers on intercultural communication (not specifically in the academic context) have noted that this traditional formula, which many Japanese learn in grade school composition class, poses an impediment to effective expository writing in English because it tends to obscure the thesis (see links). Although this style of exposition may not be the general practice in academic theses (gakujutsu ronbun), one of our Japanese respondents noted that he did have a habit of putting his thesis statements at the end of paragraphs and of allowing the thesis to emerge gradually from discussion of the data. These habits produce a style that may appear long-winded and too indirect to the English-language academic reader.  (top)


Translation is not a mechanical process. No matter how sophisticated computer translation programs become, communicating the subtleties of scholarly argument still requires the skills and the art of an experienced translator. The job is especially challenging with two languages as different from one another as Japanese and English. Whether you do the translation yourself, work in collaboration with a colleague or student, or entrust the entire job to a professional, translating your article will involve interpreting your ideas and finding ways to represent them anew in the profoundly different logic of the English language.

Because of the predominance of English around the world, English readers may have lower tolerance than Japanese readers for unnaturally literal “translation-ese.” It is therefore important to render your ideas in natural-sounding English. This dictates either that your translator must be a native English speaker with specialized knowledge in your field or that you have a native English speaker check your translation line by line with extreme care.

The spelling and grammar check functions in Word are useful for identifying minor problems in your manuscript. You or your translator should run them on the completed draft. Sometimes the grammar check will identify illogical sentences. Minor errors can be easily fixed at the editorial stage, but errors in sentence structure can make a manuscript difficult to read and sometimes fatally weaken the thesis. Grammar check programs will highlight problems, but they do not check for accuracy of word choice and cannot make structural corrections. Fundamental problems still require the translator’s judgment.

If you intend to hire a professional translator, you should be sure that the translator has some experience with material in or related to your field. The Society of Writers, Editors and Translators (SWET), based in Tokyo, provides guidelines for translators and for writers seeking to hire translators (link to SWET handbook). Here are some further links to organizations of translators:  (top)


Publishing in English will make your work more widely known and allow you to participate in an international scholarly conversation. The desire for increased scholarly exchange with Japanese and other non-native scholars is shared by many Anglophone academics and recognized by journal editors. Of 25 journal editors who responded to our questionnaire, 40% said they were “very interested” in receiving submissions from Japanese scholars and another 28% said they were “interested.” As many fields have become increasingly global in character and the distribution of the journals themselves has become borderless, there are benefits for both sides in seeing the publication in English of a larger part of Japan’s vast annual scholarly output.

Despite differences of style in different countries, there are common languages of discourse in every field. Presenting your work successfully in English will require an additional effort, but at its foundation it requires only that you consider an expanded audience that is unfamiliar with Japanese conventions of scholarly writing. Bridging the linguistic and cultural gap will bind your work more closely to that of non-Japanese peers and enhance the fund of knowledge in your field.  (top)

(Jordan Sand, Georgetown University)


North American Coordinating Council on Japanese Library Resources
Copyright 2017
Contact the Webmaster