Write for a general audience

Writing your article for a high-ranking international journal offers several advantages: more options for getting your work published, more readers and more frequent citations. A good way to determine if your study might be relevant to international researchers is to ask the question: would someone in another country or working on a different subject (or species) care about my research? If the answer is yes (or maybe), then try to write your manuscript for a general audience. Often you determine this during the writing stage.

How to write for an international audience

Thinking broadly about highly detailed and specific research can be tricky for many researchers. And not all studies or papers can be targeted for an international audience since they may not be applicable beyond the immediate parameters of the study. However, many manuscripts can be written for a more general, international audience. For example, while many scientists might be reluctant to admit it, much of our research is invariably conducted as a ‘case study’ that applies to a specific region, species, chemical or disease (except for syntheses including meta-analyses). In my field of research, ecology, this can often mean that the research question is too regional or species-specific. Broadening the scope of your manuscript beyond the specifics of your study will make your research more attractive to high-ranking international journals, which often reject articles that are too specific or too detailed to be of interest to a broad audience.

Once you have determined that you are writing for a general audience, focus on the broader topic that is relevant to your audience. Always keep the general context in mind while presenting your specific study. Imagine that you are explaining your study to someone from another country on the other side of the world in a way that might make it more likely that they will cite your work in their future studies. The best way to write for a general audience is to include general hypotheses and broad applications whenever possible. For example, a study on a specific invasive plant in a particular region could be framed in a more general context of hypotheses regarding invasive plants and their general life history traits. The way in which you frame the research question, present the results of your study, and discuss the significance of your results are all critical for appealing to a broad international audience.

Strategies for sections of the paper

Here are some strategies for writing different sections of your manuscript:

  • Introduction – Try not to introduce your particular situation (e.g., species, region, case study) until late in the introduction after you have first described the background material on the more general topic and research question. If you cannot do this, perhaps your study is regional.
  • Methods – The methods section is obviously harder to generalize so you do need to discuss your specific study in detail.
  • Results – You do not need to include all the specific results. Because a long list of case study results may be tedious and of little interest an international audience, you should move these results to an appendix. You can summarize these results and focus on results of more general interest. For example, as an ecologist I may not be interested in responses of individual species in another country, but I may be interested in general responses of shade-tolerant versus shade-intolerant species.
  • Discussion – Writing the discussion section for an international audience is most important. You can achieve this by focusing on explaining general patterns in relation to a broad, international body of literature that will show that your study is relevant to readers in other regions.

Use inclusionary, not exclusionary language

Finally, I recommend avoiding jargon, especially words unfamiliar to people outside your area (e.g., the word ‘coppice’ is a European word not commonly used in North America). You should also avoid specific site names unless they are relevant, and use abbreviations or acronyms sparingly. Remember, the key is to keep the general audience in mind while writing so that you can focus on the broader context and avoid exclusionary prose that might lose your readers.

In short, writing your manuscript in such a way that it has broad appeal, avoiding jargon and being overly narrow in your focus, so that a general audience can read and comprehend your article, will increase your chance of publishing in an international journal and widely promoting your research.

©Karen Harper, PhD, and Oxford Editing, 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Karen Harper, PhD, and Oxford Editing with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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