Creating a Social Justice-Focused Academic Journal Style Guide

Sep 20, 2021Publications

Originally published at Ideas on Fire, September 20, 2021

Editing an academic journal as a faculty member can be enormous fun: you get to champion innovative research, foster the work of new scholars, and shape the future of your field. You also have the opportunity to make a real difference in how scholarly knowledge is created and valued.

As interdisciplinary scholars and professional editors know, writing and publishing decisions are deeply political. They can either reinforce or challenge the power dynamics at work in whose voices are heard, whose desires are privileged, and whose worldviews are made into norms.

At Ideas on Fire, we work with faculty journal editors, presses, and authors who care deeply about their role in decolonizing academic publishing. Here is our advice on how faculty journal editors in particular can use their journal style guide to help build more just worlds.

Understand the role of the style guide

Editorial style is the set of rules, guidelines, preferences, and judgment calls that editors and authors use to ensure maximum clarity and consistency in any given text.

Academic journal style is governed at three main scales:

  • the style manual—(usually) chosen by the journal’s publisher for all of their publications[1]
  • the style guide—created by faculty journal staff for a specific journal
  • the style sheets—created by professional copyeditors for individual articles within the journal[2]

This article focuses on the style guide, a comprehensive document that outlines the stylistic choices that structure the journal as a whole. A journal’s style guide applies to every part of the journal, including the table of contents, each individual article, author bios, audio-visual content and captions, and (sometimes) advertisements.

The journal style guide will list and refer to the particular style manual the publisher has chosen and the style sheets created for individual articles will list and refer to both the style manual and the style guide.

If your journal has an existing style guide, you can review that document and see if revisions seem needed. If your journal doesn’t have a set style guide, now’s your opportunity to create one from scratch. If you have access to professional copyeditors for your journal, they can be enormously helpful in this process.

Tie your style to your journal’s mission and vision

When creating a journal style guide, begin by reviewing the mission statement (who your journal serves and how it does so in the present) and vision statement (where your journal wants to go in the future). Sometimes these are combined into one “scope and aims” statement.

The journal’s mission and vision can help you figure out which style elements you want to focus on as well as provide resources for steering the journal forward.

Whatever style decisions you make should support the journal’s mission and vision.

To get started, take note of the values present in those mission and vision statements—these are the ethical and political commitments undergirding the journal’s existence.

Now consider how you can use style options to embody and spread those values. For instance, if a big part of your journal’s mission is to highlight intersectional feminist scholarship and activism, you can use that to guide your style decisions around terminology, author name formatting, citation practices, and capitalization. Similarly, if your journal’s vision is to transform scholarship through innovative approaches to your field, you can use that to shape how you handle multimedia elements, formatting, and research ethics.

Things to consider

Grammar and writing conventions

Choosing whether to capitalize certain words like Indigenous or Black, to italicize non-English words in running text, and to correctly format the ʻokina in words like Hawai‘i are all political acts.

When making your journal style guide, consider how you’d prefer issues like this to be treated—in relation to your journal’s mission and vision.

Whatever style manual you or your publisher has chosen for your journal will lay out a default for many things, but your style guide can always carve out exceptions to fit your journal’s values. For example, the Chicago Manual of Style (CMOS) prefers to lowercase civil rights movement but your CMOS-formatted journal may choose to capitalize it as Civil Rights Movement. That exception should be included in the style guide.

Similarly, lay out any specific spellings, punctuation, syntax, or other elements that manuscripts should follow. If there is discretion allowed, name that as well. This is common with journals’ preferred gender-neutral, singular pronouns. For instance, GLQ asks authors to use the pronouns they/them when a person’s pronouns are not known and the self-designated pronouns for when they are known. Put this in the style guide and make sure your authors and copyeditors know about it.

Required elements

Also included in your journal style guide should be the sections that each manuscript needs to include and how those should be formatted.

Some of these decisions are more straightforward: Should the bibliography come before or after the endnotes? Must acknowledgement sections list research funders or include conflict of interest statements?

Other required elements speak to important ethical considerations. For instance, the Native American and Indigenous Studies journal requires that all submitted empirical research follow the site-specific research protocols of Native nations, tribes, or bands—in addition to those of university-based Institutional Review Boards (IRBs). The journal’s commitment to Indigenous research methodologies and sovereignty is reflected in its style guide.

If your journal requires something similar (or you want it to), your style guide should lay out how and where this approval should be indicated in the manuscript itself, as well as how authors and copyeditors should format that material.


Your journal style guide should also list any specific terminology that manuscripts should use or not use. This ensures consistency across each article in the journal as well as hails the specific reader communities that your journal is for.

For instance, does your journal prefer Latinx or another option (LatineLatinaLatina/oLatina/Latino, etc.)? Should authors and copyeditors use identity-first language (disabled peopleautistic people, neurodivergent people) or people-first language (people with disabilitiespeople with autism, people who are neurodivergent)? Is the default term for your journal queer and transLGBTLGBTQ+, or is it up to individual author preference? And—most importantly—why are those your journal’s choices?

You don’t need to (and can’t) identify every single term that an author might use. Instead, focus on the ones that are particularly relevant to your journal’s fields, readers, and values. Figuring out how your journal will approach these terms is a chance for you to further your journal’s mission and vision, building the kind of scholarly and social world you want to inhabit. It is also an opportunity to educate others about the political and ethical weight of these terms and the material effects they have on real humans.

There are also less political language preferences to include in your style guide, such as what you want manuscripts to be called in running text—should authors write “In this article, I argue” or “In this essay, I argue”?


As the Cite Black Women movement and numerous others have demonstrated, who and how we cite the work of others is deeply political, revealing whose labor and lives we value. As a faculty journal editor, you get to decide how your journal’s authors will cite and engage with scholarly literature. Your leadership on this issue shapes the field of scholarly communication and, as such, it deserves your deep consideration.

Style manuals play a big role here. For instance, American Psychological Association (APA) style for reference lists calls for full surnames but only initials for given names (Hartman, S. instead of Hartman, Saidiya). As many naming cultures gender given names more than surnames, this citation style can obscure the gender breakdown of bibliographies, making it more difficult to address structural inequalities in publishing.

Your style guide can also lay out how authors should engage with those they cite. For example, are authors allowed to include long lists of parenthetical citations without actually addressing those scholars’ ideas? Or should they emphasize quality over quantity, taking the time to introduce and engage the work of those who appear in their bibliography? Drawing on their editorial work with the journal Feminist AnthropologyChristen A. Smith, Dána-Ain Davis, and Sameena Mulla point out that to form true community, authors need to engage deeply with the ideas of marginalized scholars, not just name drop in a tokenistic fashion. (Citational politics are also an important consideration in book indexing as they are crucial in crediting and disseminating the work of marginalized scholars, including playing a role in tenure review.)

Do you encourage authors to consider the identities of those they cite and do everything they can to signal-boost marginalized scholars and fields? Faculty journal editors can help with this by including explicit direction in their journal style guide. Visual Anthropology Review’s style guide is an excellent example of how to let authors know about these choices and explain why they matter.

Without active interventions like this, scholars who hold gender, racial, settler, and class privilege will most likely continue to be over-cited.

Work with social justice-minded copyeditors

Once you’ve created an awesome style guide that embodies the politics and ethics you want, you need help actually implementing it for your journal. That’s where professional copyeditors come in.

Finding professional copyeditors who truly understand and share your journal’s values is vital. They are the folks applying your style guide to individual articles as well as explaining to authors (through queries and edits) the style decisions for this journal and—most importantly—why they matter.

As a faculty journal editor, you may be able to source and hire your journal’s copyeditors directly, in which case you can make values-fit a core component of your search. But even if someone else hires the copyeditors (for instance, if your scholarly association or publisher takes care of this), you can still make clear to those who do the hiring that the copyeditors need to understand the politics and ethics that are embodied in the journal style guide.

A journal style guide is a crucial place where faculty journal editors can help shape scholarly research and communication. Working closely with social justice-minded copyeditors to implement that style guide ensures that the journal’s politics and ethics are present in every element of the journal—from the formatting and naming conventions to the citations and research practices. Taking the time to create and implement a social justice-oriented journal style guide can help you leave a strong legacy for your work at the journal and help us all build a more just academy and world.


[1] Style manuals are comprehensive reference works written and published by large professional organizations; they are applied across entire industries and institutions. Most publishers choose a specific style manual (or two) to be used across all of their books, journals, internal documents, and other publications. Some of the most common style manuals used in academic publishing include the Chicago Manual of Style (CMOS), the Modern Language Association Handbook (MLA), the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (APA), the American Medical Association Manual of Style (AMA), and the Bluebook (for legal citations).

[2] Style sheets are short, manuscript-specific documents created by a professional copyeditor to track spellings and editorial decisions for that individual text. Typesetters and proofreaders later refer to the manuscript’s style sheet as well. Style sheets include author preferences as well as the larger-scale style manuals and style guides that govern a given manuscript.

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