‘internationalising’ a journal article

Thankyou for your paper… blah blah blah revisions… blah blah... You need to make sure that your paper speaks to an international audience.

It’s not uncommon to get this kind of reviewer feedback on a journal article, particularly in the social sciences and humanities. And it can be that, if you’re relatively new to publishing, you don’t quite know what is meant by this. How can a paper, written about research carried out in a particular context, be made to be of interest to people elsewhere? If they aren’t interested in the topic in its local context, well… help!

If you’ve been in this situation, and have been asked to internationalise a paper, then it means that the reviewers have not found the local sufficiently persuasive. And they probably looked at three key parts of your paper:

(1) How the paper is framed in the abstract and introduction

The introduction needs to locate the particular study in a setting broader than its local context. The broader setting speaks to a concern, debate, issue, question or an interest that is shared across the field. The local is then used to explore/say something about the wider, international concern, debate, issue, question or interest.

(2) How the paper discusses the implications of the research and concludes

The discussion and conclusion need to bring the results, arising from the very particular and situated study, back to the broader international issue, debate, concern or question that was raised at the start.

(3) The connections with other studies, in other words, what other studies are referred to – the literatures relevant to the study.

The literatures used in the paper need to build on and speak to research that has been conducted in other locations, as well as to the particular. The international literatures are often first used as evidence of the widespread nature of the concern, debate, issue, question or an interest, and then to build the case for the particular methodological and/or theoretical approach taken. These texts are taken up again in the discussion and conclusion.

An example wouldn’t go astray here. Let me show you how this works.  I’ve chosen an example that is quite short and straightforward, and also available. Now I do need to say that I’m not discussing the content of this paper – I’m sure we could have all kinds of debates about what is said and argued in it. I’m not doing that here. I’m simply looking to see how a local study has been internationalised.


an internationalised journal article arrives….

I’m looking at the paper:

Quantity and/or Quality? The Importance of Publishing Many Papers 

Ulf Sandstrom and Peter van den Besselaar, published this in PLOS ONE  –  an open access publication – in 2016.

What the text says What the text is doing to internationalise

Do highly productive researchers have significantly higher probability to produce top cited papers? Or do high productive researchers mainly produce a sea of irrelevant papers in other words do we find a diminishing marginal result from productivity? The answer on these questions is important, as it may help to answer the question of whether the increased competition and increased use of indicators for research evaluation and accountability focus has perverse effects or not. We use a Swedish author disambiguated dataset consisting of 48.000 researchers and their WoS-publications during the period of 2008±2011 with citations until 2014 to investigate the relation between productivity and production of highly cited papers. As the analysis shows, quantity does make a difference.


The first three sentences create the international warrant for the paper. The two rhetorical questions work to name an issue about which little is known – a link between publication quantity and quality, where citations are used as a proxy for quality. The third sentence says why this issue matters – it anticipates the So What answer to be given in the paper. The fourth sentence outlines the local case which will produce an answer to the questions. The final sentence provides the result of the study. Readers can thus anticipate that the conclusion to the paper will bring this result to bear on the policy and practices of audit that were raised in sentence three.

The literatures section of the paper is short and part of an extended introduction. The literatures section draws on a range of studies to make the case that there is a debate about the connections between prolific publication and citation.

What the text says – taken from the Introduction and literatures What the text is doing to internationalise
 If one agrees that in science it is all about top (cited) publications, the question comes up what an efficient publication strategy would look like. Is publishing a lot the best way or does that generally lead to normal science , (Kuhn, 7) with only low impact papers? The total number of citations received may still be large, but no top papers may have been produced. This was already the core of Butler’s critique on the Australian funding system [8 ] and is also the underlying idea of emerging movements in favour of `slow science’ like e.g. in the Netherlands; there the `science in transition’ movement [9 ] was able to convince the big academic institutions to remove productivity as a criterion from the guidelines for the national research assessment (SEP). The underlying idea is that quality and not quantity should dominate and that with all the emphasis on numbers of publications, the system has become corrupted, see the discussion in The Leiden Manifesto (Hicks et al. [10 ]), and the Metric Tide report (Wilsdon et al. [11 ]). While the authors are located in Sweden and the Netherlands, they refer here to a seminal US theorist – Thomas Kuhn – in sentence one. They then refer to national contexts – Australia and the international slow science movement in the Netherlands, among other places. Readers are able to connect the Netherland reference and citation to their own knowledge of the field. Then comes the Leiden Manifesto which emanated from an international conference in Belgium, and a UK review – these are the international evidence of the quantity versus quality debate.

A further paragraph in the paper expands the dimensions of the debate through the use of more international literatures.

The conclusion connects back to the international context set at the start.

What the text says What the text is doing to internationalise

As the above results show, there is not only a strong correlation between productivity (number of papers) and impact (number of citations), that also holds for the production of high impact papers: the more papers, the more high impact papers. More specifically, for most fields there are constant or increasing marginal returns. In that sense, increased productivity of the research system is not a perverse effect of output oriented evaluation systems, but a positive development. It strongly increases the occurrence of breakthroughs and important inventions [16 ], as would be expected from a theoretical perspective on scientific creativity [13 ]. Also, we find that other recent work points in the same direction [18 ; 20 ]. The lively discussion [e.g. [9 ;10 ] that there is a risk of confusing quality with quantity therefore lacks empirical support. As we deployed a series of methods, with results all pointing in the same direction, the findings are not an artefact of the selected method.


The increasing popular policy that allows researchers to hand in only their five or so best publications seems in the light of these results counterproductive, as it disadvantages the most productive and best researchers. The analysis also gives an indication of the output levels that one may strive at when selecting researchers for grants or jobs. To produce high impact papers, certain output levels seem to be required of course at the same time dependent on which field is under study.

Future work in this research line will cover various extensions: Firstly, we plan to extend the analysis to some other countries, which of course requires large-scale disambiguation of author names. Secondly, we will in a next version control for number of co-authors, and for gender [30 ]. The former relates to the discussion about team size and excellence, the latter to the ongoing debate on gender bias and gendered differences in productivity. Thirdly, the aim is to concentrate on principle investigators, and remove the incidental co-authors with low numbers of publications, as they may seem to be high impact authors at the lower side of the performance distribution. This all should lead to a better insight in the relation between productivity and impact in the science system.


The first paragraph of the conclusion refers back to, and cites, the international literatures that were used at the start. It is not mandatory to do this of course, but it is an interesting example of how researchers make their results speak to the existing literatures.














The second paragraph addresses the So What question. The results are set against current audit systems and an argument made that the audit systems may work against particular productive researchers. Results are also brought to bear on promotions with some suggestion for practice.




The researchers then go on to discuss the Now What question. They address what might be seen as limitations of their study – they say that they themselves want to move out of the local and extend the reach of their analysis to make it more international. They also signal additional ways in which they will analyse the data to make it even more internationally relevant by including a focus on gender. They also intend to remove incidental co-authors to tighten up what they can say about highly productive researchers-writers.

So you can see that the authors have worked consistently through the abstract, introduction, literatures and conclusion to establish that, even though they have looked at data from one country only, what they have to say has wider implications – in fact, their study has international traction.

So, bearing this example in mind, it is worth asking yourself, if you get feedback that you need to internationalise your paper, these questions:

  • What bigger international concern, debate, issue, question or an interest does my paper speak to?
  • What international literatures can I draw on to make the connections with international debates and research?
  • What international literatures does my analysis speak to?
  • How might my results inform the wider international conversation in the field?

And of course, don’t forget that not everything has to be written for an international audience. Local research also has to be read locally. And a local paper written for a local audience is highly likely to be quite different in its abstract, introduction, literatures and conclusion than one written for international readers.


This post was written in answer to a question. I answer questions. DM or email me if you have a question that would also be of general interest to readers.


Image Credit: Matt Hintsa, Flickr Commons.

About pat thomson

Pat Thomson is Professor of Education in the School of Education, The University of Nottingham, UK
This entry was posted in conclusion, internationalising, introduction, journal article, literature review, now what, so what and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to ‘internationalising’ a journal article

  1. David Zyngier says:

    Pat so much for this brilliant piece. I have forwarded it to all my Phd students to ensure their writing has an international focus. Thank you.


  2. Katarzyna Molek-Kozakowska says:

    Very useful advice indeed! Sadly, change the word “Swedish” into “Polish” and, despite all textual efforts you make to indicate the international relevance of the study, editors will still treat it as local knowledge only…


  3. Lisa says:

    Thank you , thank you ,thank you! A reviewer recommended this to me…and it has been very helpful.


  4. Pingback: General research and writing resources and guides – #riozones

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