Writing for the Journal of Business Research
The information below should help you to write according to the style requirements laid down by the current Editor of the Journal of Business Research. We state the journal's requirements, interpret them, and suggest ways of following them. Please note that we do not edit papers that are to be submitted to the Journal of Business Research.
In November 2007, the Editor of the Journal of Business research imposed a number of special stylistic requirements on manuscripts that are to be submitted for publication in the journal. The ones that pertain to English are as follows (quoted verbatim):
If you have a more recent version of the JBR requirements, in which some of them have been changed or refined, please send it to us.
- Use “i.e.,” only inside parentheses; use “that is” in text outside of parentheses.
- Use “e.g.,” only inside parentheses; use “for example” in text outside parentheses.
- Do not use “exhibit.”
- Use American English.
- Do not use air quotes such as, When going fishing, I "really believe" that I will catch fish.
- Do not use single quote marks such as, When going fishing, 'I really believe' that I will catch fish.
- Do not use psychological markers such as, "In writing this report, the authors believe that ...." "The authors believe is a psychological marker.
- Do not use the following words in sentences except when quoting some one else: it there we our.
- Use present tense as much as possible. Avoid past tense.
Do not write, Jones (2001) reported that....
Do write, Jones (2001) reports that....
- Please go through your entire manuscript carefully to revise as much as possible to get rid of passive voice. Such a critical requirement, this requirement appears twice. Note that the last sentence avoids the following construction, “… this requirement is repeated.”
- Avoid writing, “This results in three conditions.” Add a noun after writing, “This.” For example, “This finding results in three conditions.”
We have been contacted by a number of authors for help in satisfying the above requirements. We have contacted the Editor of JBR for clarification, but attempts at clarification have raised as many questions as they answer. In light of these difficulties, we offer the following advice.
Our interpretation of the JBR requirements
Item 1 and Item 2 are self-explanatory.
Item 3 means that you should not use "exhibit" when "show" will work just as well.
Item 4 states a very general requirement. American English is a large and varied body of language that has a number of facets that need to be considered, as follows:
Please note that although the JBR requirements refer to American English, Canada is part of North America and there are differences between Canadian and US English. The JBR requirements refer to US English.
- US spelling conventions. See the Oxford A-Z of Spelling (OUP 2004), p.146, for the main differences between British and American spelling. You should follow US spelling conventions.
- Differences in vocabulary. Some of the US versions of vocabulary embody particularly poor style. You should avoid these always, as do academics at the top universities in the US.. See the Economist Style Guide for a list of Americanisms to avoid in favour of more correct terminology or better style. Other US versions of vocabulary are neutral with respect to good or bad style. You should use these when writing for JBR. Examples are lift/elevator, pavement/sidewalk, boot/trunk (of a car), autumn/fall, biscuit/cookie, chemist/pharmacist, chips/french fries, caravan/trailer, cinema/movie theater, film/movie, crossroads/intersection, dustbin/garbage can, engine/motor, estate agent/realtor, flat/apartment, luggage/baggage, or tin/can, you should use the US variant when writing for JBR. An internet search for the terms "US British vocabulary" will yield more comprehensive lists.
- Differences in certain expressions. For example, a US citizen will write "The authors considered items 2 through 7", rather than "The authors considered items 2 to 7, inclusive". For a comprehensive guide to differences in expressions between US and other types of English, see The Cambridge Guide to English Usage (CUP 2004). You should use the US versions when writing for JBR.
- Differences between British and US grammar. For example, US citizens have a tendency to use the simple past tense when British people would use the present perfect continuous, as in "I just played tennis" or "I just finished playing tennis", rather than "I've just been playing tennis" and "I've just finished playing tennis", respectively. However, these differences are, for the most part, only evident in everyday conversation and such differences as exist are optional. There is remarkable similarity in the mode of expression among the higher echelons of British and US academics. You do not need to worry about differences in grammar when writing for JBR.
Item 5 and Item 6 seem to be saying that one should not use either single or double quotation marks to emphasise something that you are saying, though this point is not made explicitly.
In addition, you should not use either single or double quotation marks to indicate that words are not being used in their ordinary senses, for example, "There are three main categories of 'xxxx' that an investor can use." If you mean "xxxx", don't use quotation marks. If you don't mean "xxxx" use different words to say what you do mean and don't use quotation marks
Item 7 means that you should not present your own psychological attitudes towards any claim in your writing. There are two cases:
Everything in your paper is assumed to be a statement of what you believe unless you specifically say otherwise, so you don't need to say "I think that" or "I believe that".
You might want to express some attitude towards a body of evidence that you have been presenting. For example, you might say "On the basis of this evidence, we surmise/conjecture/hypothesize/conclude that....." The JBR requirements say that you should not express yourself in this way. Instead, write "The evidence suggests that", "On the basis of this evidence, the following conjecture/hypothesis suggests itself", or "The evidence warrants the conclusion that".
Item 8 covers three separate issues:
Item 9 is not so easy to interpret. The statements "Use present tense as much as possible. Avoid past tense." make a general claim. Yet the example that is provided does not provide sufficient information. It tells us to use the present tense, rather than the past tense, when reporting the findings of other researchers. However, this tells us what to do in only one case, but there are many other cases in which the past tense is normally used. In some of these cases, rewriting in the present tense would make the text read very awkwardly.
- The use of the first-person pronouns "we" and "our".
It is likely that by prohibiting the use of "we" and "our", the Editor of JBR wishes the text to focus on the research, rather than drawing attention to the people who did the research. If this interpretation is correct, then it will be of no use simply to substitute "the authors" or "the researchers" for "we", because the focus will still be on the people who did the research rather than on the research itself. Thus, more radical rewriting is necessary. So, for example, instead of saying "We used a variety of methods to measure marketing input and output", write "The use of a variety of methods enabled the measurement of marketing input and output."
- The use of the third-person pronoun "it" (and, presumably, "its").
It is likely that by prohibiting the use of "it", the Editor of JBR wishes to avoid unclarity that can be generated by using "it" and "its" to refer back to something previously mentioned in the text. Here is an example of how it can be difficult to determine the intended referent of "it" or "its": All the surveyed banks have internal control departments that report on a quarterly basis to the board of directors and whose members are not allowed to be on the SSB. However, 83% of the banks combine the internal control and internal audit functions. Seventy-five percent of the respondents consider that its functions are to ensure compliance with rules and regulations, including Sharia, as required by the AAOIFI.
Here, the reader will have great difficulty in determining exactly what the author intends "its" to refer to. In order to ease the burden on the reader, specify the referent of "its" by writing "Seventy-five of the respondents consider that the xxxx's functions are to ensure compliance," where for "xxxx" you substitute the intended referent of "its".
Another use of "it" that it is possible that the Editor of JBR wishes to prohibit is when "it" is used to mark the status of a state of affairs or an action, as in "it is possible/likely that", "it is commonly thought that", "it is easy/difficult to do X", or "it is evident that".
Instead of writing "It is possible/likely that X will occur", write "The occurrence of X is possible/likely" or "That X will occur is possible/likely". WARNING: suppose your sentence is "It is likely that whales can afford to gamble in casinos". Under no circumstances should you write "Whales likely can gamble in casinos"; instead, write "That whales can gamble in casinos is likely".
Instead of writing "It is commonly thought that X is the case", write "That X is the case is commonly thought" or "Most/many people think that X is the case".
Instead of "It is easy/difficult to do X", write "Doing X is easy/difficult". Note that when rewriting using this construction, you will find that on occasions, the resultant sentence is very convoluted and difficult to read, because "is easy/difficult" will come right at the end.
Instead of "It is evident that X", write "That X is the case is evident" or "Clearly, X".
- The use of "there".
It is not clear why "there" is prohibited. Perhaps the Editor of JBR meant "their" (and presumably "they"), given that the other two prohibited items are pronouns. Assuming that the Editor did mean "their", the same reasoning applies as to the use of "it" and "its"; "their" (and presumably "they") should be avoided because using "their" can result in the reader having difficulty in determining the intended referent.
On the other hand, if the Editor really does mean "there", there are two cases:
(i) "There" is used to make an existential commitment, as in "Broadly speaking, there are two schools of thought regarding first-mover advantages." If using "there" is prohibited, write "Broadly speaking, two schools of thought exist regarding first-mover advantages."
(ii) "There" is used to mark (a) a physical location or abstract entity, the name of which has already been stated in the text, or (b) a location within the text (e.g. within a table).
An example of usage (a) is "Spain has 2075 companies listed on the Spanish stock market. The sample is taken from there." In this case, as in many other cases, the referent of "there" will not be easy to determine. In this case, does "there" refer to the stock market or Spain? If "there" refers to the stock market, the sample will be taken only from the companies that are listed on the stock market. If "there" refers to Spain, it might well be that the sample was taken from companies that are not listed on the stock market as well as those that are listed.To avoid ambiguity, you need to rewrite to specify the precise referent of "there".
An example of usage (b) is "Table 1 shows the composition of the board of directors of listed companies in Hong Kong. In there, we can see the percentage of companies in which the CEO is also Chairman of the Board". In this case, "In there" is simply bad style. You should rewrite to avoid bad style, by saying something like "Table 1 shows the composition of the board of directors of listed companies in Hong Kong. From the data presented in the table, we can derive the percentage of companies in which the CEO is also Chairman of the Board."
The Editor of JBR told us that we should write in the present tense wherever possible and use the past tense where necessary. However, he did not specify in which cases using the past tense is necessary. Further, we have found that with a certain amount of ingenuity, it is possible to write an entire paper in in the present tense.
We have no definitive solution as to when you should use the present tense and avoid the past when writng for JBR. We can only recommend that you follow generally accepted guidelines for tense usage when writing empirical studies, as follows:
Item 10 means that in every case in which you have used the passive voice, you should rewrite using the active voice. There are two possible ways of doing this. Which of the two you should use in any particular case will depend on the context.
- Use the present tense when reporting the findings of other researchers. (Note that this is not a blanket rule. In general, using the present tense is better when the findings you are reporting still have value, whereas using the past tense is better when the findings you are reporting are no longer valid and have merely historical value. However, when writing for JBR, use the present.)
- Use the present tense when you are talking about what your results show, for example, "These results suggest/indicate/show that....."
- Use the present tense to state general facts that have been established by research, or state those of your results that can be generalised, for example, "Compulsive buyers tend to incur extreme levels of debt" or "Corporate governance tends to improve when the posts of CEO and Chairman of the Board are held by different people".
- Use the present tense to refer to the content of figures and tables.
- Use the past tense to state results that cannot be generalised, for example, "In our sample of Luton factory workers, 76% preferred to take a flask of coffee to work rather than use the automatic vending machines."
- Use the past tense when describing what you *did* when conducting your research and what methods you used. Some authors think that using the present tense draws the reader into the research because it guides the reader through as if he were doing the research with you at the time of reading. However, whereas this is fine for a mathematical proof, because going through a proof is a present experience every time you do it, it is entirely inappropriate for reporting what you did in an empirical study, for two reasons: (i) If you use the present tense for reporting past events, you are simply stating something false, because it is not true that you are doing now what you did then, and (ii) every report of what you did while conducting an empirical study necessarily involves a selection of events; you don't report everything that you did, just the points that you think are relevant for the report.
- Use the present perfect tense when reporting observations that have been repeated or continued from the past to the present, for example, "These drugs have been found to induce fatigue, so they should not be taken while working with machinery."
- Use the past perfect tense when you are in past tense mode and wish to express an antecedent action, for example, "In contrast to men, most of the women said that they had seldom thought of setting a time limit before they went out shopping."
(i) In a case where your original text says "X was done", identify whatever did X and make it the subject of the sentence. For example, suppose your original text says "Online recruitment and screening tools are more likely to be used when employers are actively involved in searching." The text that is in the passive is "are more likely to be used" and the things that are used are online recruitment and screening tools. You need to identify who or what used the tools. In this case, it is the employers. So, you can now rewrite as "Employers are more likely to use online recruitment and screening tools when they are actively involved in searching".
(ii) In a case where your original text says "X was done", it might be possible to rewrite using X as the subject of the sentence. For example, suppose your original text says "The data was taken from the descriptions of job openings on the online job board at www.monster.com". One way of rewriting this is to use "The data" as the subject and write "The data came from the descriptions of job openings on the online job board at www.monster.com."
You will find that in some cases, rewriting in the active voice will result in the loss of important nuances of meaning that are conveyed by using the passive voice. This cannot be helped without rewriting at much greater length.
Item 11 is directed at unclear usage of the pronoun "this". Often, authors begin sentences using "This" to refer back to something that they have expressed in the previous sentence. However, it is often not clear what the referent of "This" is, so you should specify what the referent is by saying "This xxxx".