The Journal of the American Planning Association has a special mission as a major scholarly outlet for the American Planning Association. It adheres to scholarly practices that may not be well understood by practicing planners.
In this blog post I outline what JAPA looks for and how articles come to be published in JAPA.
JAPA as a Journal
Types of Articles
JAPA publishes three main kinds of articles: standard research articles, literature review essays, and planning viewpoints which are research-based commentaries or arguments. The journal relies on authors to submit such articles to us.
The only pieces solicited by JAPA are book reviews, edited by the separate Book Review Editor, Dr. Gerardo Sandoval, and shorter letters and commentaries, for example responding to a controversial article.
As editor I answer queries from prospective authors, encourage researchers to submit, and promote JAPA articles through social media (both my own channels and via APA). However, I rely on authors to decide that JAPA is a good fit for their research.
JAPA has several niches in the landscape of journals in urban studies. It is one of the oldest such journals, founded in the 1930s, and it emphasizes implications for planning practice.
Broadly, the journal publishes papers that are potentially influential in advancing knowledge in the planning field and addressing critical issues in planning practice.
The papers must answer questions that fill important gaps in the international research literature in urban and regional planning, making a significant contribution (e.g. methodological, substantive).
Methods, including data collection, are described in detail and sufficient to answer the questions asked. Articles link to conversations happening in the journal. Findings are applicable beyond specific cases. Urban Studies, as part of its Global South Strategy, provides helpful and quite similar criteria for publishing in that journal.
Building the Profession's Evidence Base
For APA, JAPA is important in helping build the evidence-base of the profession. As I noted in an earlier blog: “In a world of information overload, work that has been carefully assessed for its rigor and relevance has an important role to play. JAPA is APA’s contribution to making planning debates more informed.”
This orientation leads JAPA to have several important characteristics. Each abstract has a special section on “Takeaways for Practice” reflecting implications that are also made explicit in the body of the paper. In JAPA, methods in the main part of the paper are written for a broad audience with specifics, such as statistical formulae or detailed coding schemes, placed in a Technical Appendix.
Double-Blind and Refereed
JAPA is a double-blind, refereed journal. This means that articles have all identifying information removed before they are assessed by anonymous reviewers. This is to enhance fairness, allowing new scholars and those without prestige in the field to have a more even playing field. In the past few years about 20 percent of submitted articles have made it into the published version of JAPA.
From Submission to Publication
While this larger picture is important, to actually produce a scholarly journal involves a number of steps. While the process is complicated, JAPA works to make it fairly fast.
1. An author submits a manuscript to an online system operated by the publisher, Taylor & Francis. All work on the manuscript is through this system. Some authors inquire first whether articles fit in the scope of JAPA. If an author requests a pre-submission inquiry, they send an abstract of the proposed manuscript to me as editor. I can provide a quick assessment about fit. Such pre-review is not required, however.
This process aims to balance research quality with practice relevance and readability.
2. The Managing Editor checks that the article conforms to JAPA requirements including length and abstract structure. She also checks for “redundant publication” (too much overlap with work by the same author) or plagiarism (unattributed quotes from other’s work). About one-third of articles are sent back to the author for changes before submission.
3. Those that get through step B are sent to the Editor for initial review. I read every paper in its entirety and decide to reject (the “desk reject”), to ask a senior member of the Editorial Board or an Associate Editor for a second opinion, or send to review. Reasons for rejection include research quality, relevance to planning, and quality of the argument. This is a balance. To maintain a pool of reviewers who volunteer their work it is important to send them articles that have some reasonable quality and fit but it is also important to give authors a chance.
- When I desk reject an author new to JAPA (often emerging scholars, those from related fields, or international scholars), I typically do a “soft reject” where I tell them in a positive way what might make an article that could get through this stage (e.g. more data collection, more depth on a single topic, more planning relevance) or provide advice about other journals that would be more suitable. In some cases it is possible for the author to do additional work and submit again. Again, Urban Studies describes a similar process.
4. If I decide to send to review, I select reviewers. I select those familiar with the topic, the methods, and/or the location. This necessarily means inviting people beyond the Editorial Board and in some cases I invite practitioners. There must be at least 3 reviews to make a decision. Mostly this is fast but for papers on unusual and interdisciplinary topics it can take a couple of weeks to secure the slate of reviewers.
5. Reviewers have one month to read the paper and submit the review. Part of my job is to chase late reviewers; some never submit so I need to find replacements. Reviews are typically 1-2 pages long and deal with big-picture issues such as the research design and contribution to knowledge, as well as more detailed items.
6. Once reviews are back I read them, make a decision, and write a decision letter where I provide advice on interpreting the reviews. Authors also receive all the reviews of their article. Not every journal provides specific editorial advice on interpreting reviews but it has been a hallmark of JAPA for some time. There are four levels of acceptance:
- Rejection: For authors new to JAPA I try to provide advice similar to the desk reject, however in this case they also have reviewer comments.
- Revise and Resubmit (R&Rs): This is a common decision. Here authors have 90 days to make a revision and it is sent to the same reviewers again. Some are straightforward but some require a great deal of work (the “heroic R&R”).
- Conditional Accept: This is rare for the first round of review. Here authors have 30 days to make revisions and they are reviewed only by the Editor. Most people, but certainly not all, make these revisions and get accepted after a bit of back and forth.
- Accept: This is theoretically possible but almost never happens in the first round.
7. For Revise and Resubmits, most people make the revisions and resubmit, and the Editor sends to the same slate of reviewers who have two weeks to review.
8. Once the reviews are back the Editor reads a lot of documents and makes a decision. I read the new paper front to back, compare the new file with the earlier file, read the author’s account of how they responded to the initial reviewers, and then read the old decision, the old reviews, and the new reviews. The decision can be any of the same 4 levels above.
9. If the decision is a second revision this is basically the last chance. It is possible to go through more revisions but the reviewers typically won’t keep volunteering and it generally means the authors really need to rethink their paper.
10. Once I hit “accept” it passes back to the Managing Editor and Taylor & Francis. There is a multi-stage process involving copy editing (by the Managing Editor), responses by authors, layout (T&F), proofreading (by the Managing Editor and authors), and final production for online and print versions.
Top image: JAPA covers.
About the Author
Ann Forsyth is editor of the Journal of the American Planning Association and the Ruth and Frank Stanton Professor of Urban Planning at Harvard University.