Quick: what's your first thought when you hear the word scholarly? If you're an academician, you probably think exacting, credible, important. If you're a bedside nurse, you might think boring, irrelevant, out of touch.
These incongruous points of view reflect the Catch-22 of producing a broadly based journal like AJN. If academicians believe a journal is insufficiently scholarly, they won't write for it, recommend it to students, or count publication in it toward tenure or promotion. If clinical nurses think a journal is too scholarly, they won't read it or apply new evidence it presents to their everyday practice.
As a former academician and clinician, I'm weary of such misconceptions about AJN. Scholarly has come to connote a publication that has pages and pages of references, is written in a tedious, passive voice, and uses no color in its design. I've even heard the argument that AJN isn't scholarly because some of its articles are written in the first person.
Science must be accessible if it's to find its way into practice. That nurses aren't incorporating research evidence into nursing practice, as noted by Pravikoff and colleagues in a study published in AJN (“Readiness of U.S. Nurses for Evidence-Based Practice,” September 2005), is due in part to its undervaluation. We're still laboring under the idea that scholarship is only for academics. We would be best served by defining scholarship as an in-depth, careful process of exploring current theory and research with the purpose of either furthering the science or translating its findings into practice or policy. And since scholarship that's not seen and heard is worthless, its publication and dissemination are crucial.
At AJN, we are committed to participating in this process. This month we present our full vision and mission on page 13. Over the past eight years we have adopted high journalistic standards, including
- adhering to the publishing guidelines of the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (www.icmje.org) and the World Association of Medical Editors (www.wame.org).
- using rigorous procedures for double-blind peer review (with all of its limitations and flaws).
- checking the facts in all articles, including news items, opinion pieces, and research reports (much scholarly literature is fraught with error because fact-checking isn't done).
- requiring authors to cite evidence in support of the practices they describe.
- publishing original research evaluated by methodologists and statisticians as well as content experts.
- editing in a way that makes information accessible to a wide range of nurses and other readers. Readable, we've found, need not be an antonym for scholarly.
Of the 33 nursing titles the Institute for Scientific Information evaluates for “impact factor”—an indicator of the impact a publication has on its field—AJN is the only broadly based journal. (The number of titles evaluated will soon double, thanks to the efforts of the International Academy of Nursing Editors and Margaret Comerford Freda, editor of MCN: The American Journal of Maternal/Child Nursing.) Though this long-used metric is still controversial, a journal's impact factor often figures prominently in the merit accorded a paper's publication when tenure and promotion decisions are made.
In addition, AJN is the highest-circulating nursing journal in the world and the nursing journal most frequently cited in the public media. Add to that the fact that our audience is wider than that of any other nursing journal, and it begs the question of why schools of nursing would not include AJN as a top-tier journal for tenure and promotion considerations.
Our ideas of scholarship are outdated. We all need to redefine it—not just clinicians but also academics who may be relying upon “scholarly journals” that don't maintain the rigorous standards that AJN has.