The Generalist Journal and Its Value for Planning

The Journal of the American Planning Association (JAPA) is what is called a generalist journal, which means it speaks to a broad audience. In my editorial "In Defense of the Generalist Journal: Speaking Beyond Silos," in JAPA (Vol. 86, No. 2) I explore what that means.

Most crucially, articles in generalist journals hold interest beyond a single specialty. In fostering conversations around different topics, such journals help define the field.

As I note in the editorial:

"When [JAPA] started more than eight decades ago, at a time before planning subfields had matured, most other journals were generalist too. In such journals, each article needs to hold some interest for those with expertise in topics and geographies beyond those examined in the paper. ... In a world of scholarly silos they publish articles framed to speak beyond a specialty. At their best such articles grapple with concerns of broad interest in a field and make contributions that can transform the wider domain of knowledge."

When I took over as JAPA's editor in 2019, I had not fully thought through the implications of JAPA being such a journal. However, it shapes every article.

Generalist journals not only cover a range of topics but they do that through a particular lens. More specifically, questions posed in each paper need to interest those in more than one specialty.

Authors can't assume that readers are deeply familiar with theories and concepts from a specific subfield so need to clearly explain their assumptions and contributions.

While practitioner readers may feel JAPA still has an academic style, generalist journals typically avoid excessive jargon. JAPA also values implications for practice which shape article structure and style.

I conclude with a number of dilemmas I face as editor of a generalist journal:

"... I find myself mediating different expectations. What does it mean to speak beyond a specialty in terms of article content and tone? What is the definition of having broad interest? Which topics constitute planning research and which are outside its boundaries? Reviewers and readers, particularly those on the Editorial Board or established in the planning professoriate, often have strong opinions on these issues but they do not always agree."

I hope JAPA will continue to be an important forum for debating the domain of planning.

The Journal of the American Planning Association is the quarterly journal of record for the planning profession. For full access to the JAPA archive, APA members may purchase a discounted subscription for $48/year, or a digital-only subscription for $36/year.

Top image: Covers of JAPA Vol. 86, No. 2.

Headshot of Ann Forsyth.
About the Author

Ann Forsyth

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.

April 23, 2020

By Ann Forsyth