Guide on “Writing in African Studies Journals” (2015 edition)

Quick overview about writing in African Studies Journals with main requirements, tips on writing and selecting the right journal. This guide puts together some information of two African Studies Journals Round Tables that had been organized at the Sixth European Conference on African Studies (ECAS 6) in Paris (8-10 July 2015). The first edition of this blog post was published in 2011 and revised in 2013 in the aftermath of ECAS 4 in Uppsala and ECAS 5 in Lisbon (see credits below). The video of the 2013 panel is available on YouTube.

HandyFotoCollageJournalCoverIMG_20150702_120343Main points of requirements

  • originality = based on original data, fieldwork or offering at least a new view on a country (ask the “so what”-question)
  • clear structure = making one argument
  • significance = relevance of the contribution, engage with broader debates
  • (a research article should be around 8.000 words sticking to the author guidelines of the respective journal)
  • do not send in a chapter of a thesis, an article is a “stand-alone piece” (Lindsay Whitfield, African Affairs)
  • pick the journal first => to know your audience and the “house styles”  (e.g. if a long introduction is required or not)
  • expect revisions & embrace criticism (this is just normal)

How to write an exciting article

  • make people want to read your article = tell something interesting
  • gap filling is not enough, it should be an original contribution with empiric data  and a fresh way of using the data
  • give readers a nice journey, make it readable in style and structure; transitions between chapters should be smooth, guide the reader through
  • a literature review is not enough, wait until your work is done
  • avoid too much of disciplinary jargon, other people must can understand it as well
  • one article should present only one idea/argument (not two or three)
  • cite only literature which is used and is necessary for the argument (not too much)
  • not too much quotes, even if they are exiting, and any quote has to be interpreted
  • the exiting argument should not be presented at the end of the article
  • choose titles carefully (see the LSE blogpost by Patrick Dunleavy)
  • get someone else (e.g. supervisor) to read it before submitting it

How to choose the right journal

  • consider the covered region
  • consider the covered disciplines
  • consider the general focus
  • consider to publish in a disciplinary journal, not an African Studies journal
  • consider the turnover time between submission and publishing
  • have a look at the journals website, its mission statement and to some of the already published articles to get a feeling of the targeted audiences, the style, the way arguments are made and the profile
  • consider to publish in a journal in which articles appeared, that are cited by you
  • some journals are more open to younger scholars than others (e.g. Afrika Focus, Politique Africaine, ROAPE) and the acceptance rate is different (e.g. JAH 30 % or JMAS 15 % )

Some examples (with links to their guidelines for authors)

  • African Affairs: focus on contemporary Africa, political events; social sciences; case studies have to have wide implications; no special issues; attached to ASA UK
  • Africa (IAI): all regions and disciplines covered; articles need a broad “ethnographic approach”, with experience on the ground, must affect people; have a new strand publishing articles from ‘African local intellectuals’; articles can be submitted in French and Portuguese as well but will be published in English
  • Africa Spectrum: Open Access; focus on social sciences, but all disciplines are covered; all English policy
  • Afrique Contemporaine: focus on contemporary African dynamics; pushing frontiers of the disciplines; work with the author to make the work interdisciplinary; push authors to use maps, photographs.
  • Afrika Focus: Open Access; multidisciplinary; special issues; promote young African scholars; have also reports; publish in English and French; all submitted content (e.g. photos) should be available for open access.
  • The Journal of African History: eminent on all periods of history, oldest, try to have a balance between younger and more established scholars
  • Cahiers d’etudes africaines: focus on anthropology and history (founded by G. Balandier 1960), have special issues.
  • Critical African Studies: no regional or disciplinary boundaries; keen on critical debate, theoretical & empirical innovations, esp. coming from Africa-based scholars; some flexibility on article length beyond usual limits; driven by special issues; want to push new debates
  • Journal of Modern African Studies:  bias to politics but focus on longer term perspectives (not current affairs); papers should contribute to the understanding of modern Africa and be of interest in five years still; papers should be understandable by non-specialists
  • Journal of Southern African Studies: focus on long-term impact; boundaries of “Southern Africa” are flexible; 4 issues with 11-15 articles (big); less keen on economics; each paper is discussed with the advisory board; sponsors conferences; work with authors very much (could this become a good paper?)
  • Nordic Journal of African Studies: Open Access, purely online; focus on language; will have a new editorial board soon
  • Politique Africaine: focus on the contemporary Africa and sociopolitical studies from below; mainly in French but also in English (papers can be submitted in other languages as well); has always a special issues (dossier); calls for papers on these special issues are announced on the website regularly; they like “book debates” (three reviews plus answer by the book author).
  • Review of African Political Economy (ROAPE): interdisciplinary, focus on radical perspectives/materialist analysis/struggles from below (against inequality, oppression, …)
  • African Studies Review: US-based, closely related to ASA US; interdisciplinary
  • Beside the journals mentioned above exist a lot of more journals on African Studies world wide:
    see the list of African Studies Journals at ilissAfrica.

How the selection process works

  • After a paper is submitted to a journal, the editor will do an initial check: does the paper fits to the journal, to the basic standards (length, …) and has it the potential to become a good paper?
  • Then it is sent to two plus x reviewers (can be from the board or external). They send in comments.
  • The editor makes a synthesis and send it to the author with a clear advice. A process of revision starts and at the end the article is published. Take the time to revise, the quality is much more important than the speed of publication.
  • Note: 99% of the articles have to be revised according to the comments made by the reviewers.
  • Stay loyal to the review process, do not switch to a different journal without telling the journal editors of the first attempt.

Open Access & Self-archiving

  • Most of the journals are offering an Open Access model, some like Africa Spectrum and Afrika Focus are Open Access without an author’s fee, others like JSAS offer the possibility to make articles Open Access paying an author’s fee once.
  • Most of the publishers allow the authors to make the article or a simpler text-version available on institutional repositories after a delay (e.g. African Affairs: 24 months after first online publication in the journal). See the  SHERPA/RoMEO list to find out, what the individual journal publishers conditions are.
  • Unfortunately there are Open Access Journals that are better to be avoided.

Guides by Journals & Publishers

  • The journal “African Affairs” provides very useful general guidelines with many aspects important to any journal article.
  • Taylor & Francis provides many “Tips for publishing your research“, also with chapters on “Understanding journal metrics: the impact factor” and “Open Access”.
  • AuthorAID (based at INASP) supports especially developing country researchers in publishing their work with resources, events, e-learning tools etc.
  • Guide for African Authors” by Emerald

Writing Workshops, Scholarships & Prizes

  • Afrika Focus, JAH, JSAS, Politique Africaine all offer workshops e.g. in Ghana, Kenya, Zambia, South Africa, but also in Germany, France, …
  • JSAS offers an annual Terence Ranger prize for emergent scholars who have written their first article in JSAS. Africa Spectrum has a Young African Scholar Award. Politique Africaine has a new initiative to support 20 PhD students for three years with winter schools. ROAPE e.g. has a fund for African scholars based in Africa, offers writings workshops and internships for two PhD students to attend the editorial working group. Has an annual Ruth First Prize for the best article by an African-based author published in ROAPE.
  • Often writing workshops are offered at the conferences of African Studies Associations, e.g. a “Early Career Scholars Writing Workshop” at ASAUK or a workshop “How to write, review and publish a scientific paper” at ECAS 2013 in Lisbon. Some are announced at Africa Desk.


  • African Studies Journals Round Tables “Promoting Young Scholars” & “Promoting Interdisciplinary Approach” at the 6th European Conference on African Studies on the 8th of July 2015 in Paris.
  • Writing in African Studies Journals: what, how, and where?” at the 5th European Conference on African Studies on the 29th of June 2013 in Lisbon chaired and introduced by David Pratten, Oxford University. The video of this panel now is available on YouTube.
  • “Writing in African Studies Journals: what, how, and where?” at the 4th European Conference on African Studies on the 16th of June 2011 in Uppsala chaired by Andreas Mehler, GIGA Hamburg. The general introduction came from Sara Rich Dorman, African Affairs.
  • My thanks go to all the panelists and convenors.