Before I get started, I would like to extend a warm welcome to Kinsella Valies, who will be coediting this column with me from this issue. Kinsella has recently taken over for Rich Bailey as JALT’s Peer Support Group (PSG) Coordinator. Rich stepped up to help in a very busy time. I am grateful for his contributions and wish him the best of luck going forward. I am also really looking forward to working with Kinsella, who I know has many keen insights and advice to offer our readership. Since its inception nearly eight years ago, PSG volunteers have been producing this column with the aim of supporting writers of all levels who are looking to improve their academic writing skills and getting published: “That is the mission of this column: to assist you in becoming a better researcher and writer, and in the process help you to progress in your career professionally” (Beaufait et al., 2015, p. 44). Kinsella and I will do our best to keep this mission going.
Exploring the APA Series
To help you get more out of the APA 7th Edition manual (2020), I began an occasional series last year to highlight specific aspects that are especially useful to building academic writing and research skills. This book is so much more than a simple guide for formatting references. In fact, it can be likened to a veritable academic writing text (Talandis Jr., 2022). The key advantage of using APA 7th to guide your professional writing is its authoritative status. It is not just any writing manual; it’s THE standard that many journals adhere to, including all of the publications within JALT. Simply put, following APA at all stages of your academic projects will improve your chances of success. In this column, I will focus on Chapter 3, which is about Journal Article Reporting Standards, or JARS for short. After introducing JARS and highlighting some key benefits, I will briefly summarize the chapter to give those of you who have not read it a taste of what is available.
What is JARS and Why Should I Care?
Chapter 3 begins with a definition of JARS and provides a list of key benefits to potential users. In short, JARS represents a specialized set of guidelines that enable authors, editors, and reviewers to know what information must be included at a minimum in academic journal articles. The basic premise is that “comprehensive, uniform reporting standards make it easier to compare research, to understand the implications of individual studies, and to allow techniques of meta-analysis to proceed more efficiently” (American Psychological Association, 2020, p. 71). Because JARS contains copious amounts of detailed information, this chapter is itself an introduction to the full body of work, which can be accessed online at apastyle.apa.org/jars. This website allows users to promptly view revisions and expansions as they are developed. It also contains a comprehensive glossary of research-oriented terminology.
No matter where you stand in the world of academia, adopting JARS has its benefits. First, as a researcher, following JARS in your articles will help your readers fully comprehend your work and draw valid conclusions from it. As a reviewer or editor, you will improve your ability to evaluate submissions properly for their scientific value. As a policy decision maker, consulting JARS can help you understand how research is conducted and what key results imply. Overall, educators and students are encouraged to use JARS for conducting higher quality research (American Psychological Association, 2021).
Common Elements to All Forms of Research
The chapter first covers those elements that are common to all types of research articles, be they quantitative, qualitative, or mixed methods—the abstract and introduction. Regardless of the approach, abstracts need to be accurate, nonevaluative, coherent, readable, and concise. If you are doing any sort of empirical study, the checklist of must-have items described in this chapter will prove invaluable, as will extra commentary devoted to subtle differences between various types of articles. For example, checklists of key features for the following types are provided:
- replication studies
- quantitative or qualitative meta-analysis papers
- literature reviews
- theoretical or methodological articles
For introductions, clear advice is given on how to frame the importance of the problem or puzzle under investigation so that readers’ expectations are set for what the paper will and will not include. Next, guidance is provided on how to present the historical antecedents to your study in ways that highlight the study’s scope, context, and any theoretical or practical implications. Finally, detailed pointers on articulating your research goals vis-à-vis the three main types of research are covered.
Reporting Standards for Different Types of Research
The remainder of the chapter is devoted to covering reporting standards for different kinds of research, namely quantitative (JARS-Quant), qualitative (JARS-Qual), and mixed approaches (JARS-Mixed). Each type has its own section, where basic reporting expectations are summarized comprehensively in a lengthy and detailed table. These tables are organized by the main sections of a paper, such as the title page, abstract, introduction, method, results, and discussion. Information is presented that pertains to each research type. For example, the Method section of Table 3.1 (JARS-Quant) on page 77 covers topics such as participant characteristics, sampling procedures, describing sample sizes, determining quality of measurements and instrumentation, conditions and design, data diagnostics, and analytic strategy, to name a few. As befitting this type of research, the language is quite dense and technical, so if you are just getting started in this area, do consult the online glossary!
The reporting standards for qualitative research (JARS-Qual) are summarized in Table 3.2 (p. 95). Given the flexibility of many qualitative research designs, it is noted that all of the information listed in this table and on the website may not be applicable to all types of studies. However, this is an excellent place to start to make sure you are not leaving anything important out of your paper. Table 1 contains an excerpt from Table 3.2 to give you an idea of the scope and level of detail provided. Note the special commentary intended for reviewers.
Excerpt from Table 3.2 (JARS-Qual): Data Collection or Identification Procedures
State the form of data collected (e.g., interviews, questionnaires, media, observation).
Describe the origins or evolution of the data-collection protocol.
Describe any alterations of data-collection strategy in response to the evolving findings or the study rationale.
Describe the data-selection or data-collection process (e.g., were others present when data were collected, number of times data were collected, duration of collection, context).
Convey the extensiveness of engagement (e.g., depth of engagement, time intensiveness of data collection).
For interview and written studies, indicate the mean and range of the time duration in the data-collection process (e.g., interviews were held for 75 to 110 min, with an average interview time of 90 min).
Describe the management or use of reflexivity in the data-collection process, as it illuminates the study.
Describe questions asked in data collection: content of central questions, form of questions (e.g., open vs. closed).
Guidance for Reviewers
Researchers may use terms for data collection that are coherent within their research approach and process, such as “data identification,” “data collection,” or “data selection.” Descriptions should be provided, however, in accessible terms in relation to the readership.
It may not be useful for researchers to reproduce all of the questions they asked in an interview, especially in the case of unstructured or semistructured interviews as questions are adapted to the content of each interview.
Note: This excerpt can be found on p. 97.
The final section of Chapter 3 is devoted to reporting standards for mixed methods research (JARS-Mixed). Table 3.3 (p. 106) features less detail than the other two research types and instead focuses mainly on issues that arise when mixing quantitative and qualitative approaches. The basic assumption in combining the two is that it can lead to deeper insights than either one on its own. A mixed approach can also allow authors to publish multiple papers from a single study by producing papers of each type from one set of data.
Some Recommendations and Final Thoughts
If you are considering a research project, be sure to read the JARS chapter in the APA manual or at least check out the website (apastyle.apa.org/jars). Going over these guidelines will help you create and plan your study. If you are currently working on a paper for publication, make sure you consult JARS before you submit the manuscript. Doing so will help you catch anything you have missed and better your chances of acceptance. Many papers are rejected because they are missing key elements, so do your best to avoid this fate. Speaking of rejection, since we have all been there, the best we can do is learn from those experiences. JARS can help with that. For example, you could cross-check the reviewer comments you received on a failed paper with the relevant JARS checklist and see if they match up. Identifying and addressing weaknesses in your writing and research design is a great way to improve. Finally, if you are tasked with reviewing or editing a paper, familiarizing yourself with JARS will enable you to give more precise feedback and make better decisions.
American Psychological Association. (2020). Publication manual of the American Psychological Association (7th ed.). https://doi.org/10.1037/0000165-000
American Psychological Association (2021, November). Journal article reporting standards (JARS). APA Style. https://apastyle.apa.org/jars
Beaufait, P., Daly, C., Edwards, L., Moore, C., & Ockert, D. (2015). Introduction to the writers’ workshop! The Language Teacher, 39(3). 43–45. https://doi.org/10.37546/JALTTLT39.3
Talandis Jr., J. (2022). Exploring APA: Strategies to improve your writing. The Language Teacher, 46(4). 44–47. https://doi.org/10.37546/JALTTLT46.4