International relevance


Journal of Advanced Nursing (JAN) claims to be an international journal. But what does this actually mean? What allows a journal to claim or gain ‘international’ status, and what implications does that have for the approach and content of such journals?

JAN was established in 1976 in the United Kingdom (UK), published by Blackwell – a British publisher. The founding editor was James P. Smith, the first of JAN's three Editors-in Chief to date, all of them British. The majority of papers published in JAN in its early years were under British authorship. There were only occasional non-UK papers and these came mainly from a small circle of other European countries and with some contributions from North America. But from the outset, even without ‘international’ in its title, JAN obviously was envisaged as an ‘international’ journal. In his opening Editorial (1976, 1, 1, p. 1) James P. Smith stated that the aim of this new journal was ‘to become an international medium for the publication of scholarly nursing papers’.

Decade by decade, the proportion of non-UK papers published in JAN has been rising ever since. This trend, and an ever-increasing diversity in the breadth of international authorship, has gathered particular pace in recent years. Non-UK papers now account for about 70% of all the papers we publish in JAN. Over the last full year for which we have statistics (2004), 168 of the 247 papers published (i.e. 68%) came from countries outside the UK. Furthermore, an increasing number of JAN papers are co-authored from more than one country, reflecting the growing trend of international collaboration in nursing and midwifery research.

Subscribers and readers of JAN are an even more diverse international group than our authors. There must be few if any countries in the world now where JAN is entirely unknown. Indeed, since the introduction of its on-line version, the newest issue of JAN can be read simultaneously right around the globe although, of course, delivery of the paper version is still dependent on the speed – or not! – of ‘snail mail’ to different parts of the world.

There are other ways too in which JAN has become increasingly ‘international’ over time. We now have much more diverse international representation on our International Editorial Board, and the composition of the Board has been restructured recently to achieve more balanced regional representation than ever before. Our Editorial Team also has become a more international group, currently with Editors from Australia, Brazil, Canada and the USA as well as three of the four UK countries. And, of our 700-strong Panel of Reviewers, over 50% of its members are from countries other than the UK and they are drawn from every region of the world.

This international profile that JAN has built up over the years was given due recognition in a report published last year of an evaluation of ‘the extent of an international perspective’ in nursing journals (Dougherty et al. 2004, p. 173). JAN was one of 42 journals reviewed, these comprising the so-called ‘high-ranking’ nursing journals listed in the ISI Social Science Citation Index at the time of the study. All articles published in these 42 journals during the year 2000 were retrieved (n = 2581) and examined. Based on definitions generated by the researchers, 28.9% of the articles were judged to have ‘international content’. In the case of JAN, and despite being one of the high-volume journals, nearly half of its papers (161/342) achieved this classification (47.1%). However, the purpose of Dougherty et al.'s study was not simply to produce a league table. Their enquiry was aimed at better understanding the characteristics of ‘international publication in nursing’ in view of growing consensus ‘that the development of international nursing requires a global focus and international collaboration’ (p. 174).

Knowledge development is, by definition, a global pursuit. International dissemination and research collaboration are markers of success and maturity in any 21st century discipline. When I took over as Editor-in-Chief of JAN at the beginning of 2003, one of the explicit challenges I set for JAN authors was to place more emphasis on the global importance and relevance of the new knowledge being presented in their papers (2003, 41, 1, pp. 1–3). This does mean that every JAN paper must (or can) have some kind of ‘output’ with potential for uptake all around the world. It is well recognized that there are important cultural differences in nursing and health care, especially between Eastern and Western societies, and there are also significant contextual differences by virtue of variations in healthcare systems, local practices and the demography of local populations. However, every paper published in JAN– for the very reason that it is an international journal – must be meaningful for our journal's international readership. Journals may exist to serve the needs of authors, but they will not survive without also meeting the needs of their readers. And so, at least in my mind, we need to look beyond the concept of ‘international content’ and pay more attention to ‘international relevance’ when considering the role of an international journal.

‘International content’ was the focus of Dougherty et al.'s (2004) study and, in that exercise, this was judged – necessarily using uncomplicated inclusion criteria – on the basis of author nationality and/or words such as ‘international’, ‘cross-cultural’ or ‘global’ in the titles of papers. Their findings will provide helpful information, as they suggest, in guiding authors towards selecting an ‘international journal’ in which to publish (p. 179). But their study will not necessarily encourage authors to present their papers (i.e. their new contribution to knowledge) in ways that are as widely meaningful as possible to an international journal's international readership.

There remains, as Dougherty et al. point out, a need for ‘scholarly discussion of the value and effects of international publication’ (p. 174). I intend to ponder this question more fully, and then contribute to this important discussion by writing at more length. In the meantime I have set out some guidance for JAN authors about ways in which papers can be made more meaningful for JAN's diverse international readership by making more explicit the international relevance of their topic and their contribution to knowledge. This guidance can be found on JAN's website alongside other Author Guidelines, and it will be refined as and when our own ideas become clearer, hopefully with the benefit of input and feedback from our authors and readers.