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What makes for a strong Voluntary Sector Review paper? Eight points to consider

This blog post was originally published on the Policy Press blog on 18 August 2017.


Rob Macmillan, Nick Acheson and Bernard Harris, editors of the international Voluntary Sector Review journal, present 8 tips for submitting a strong paper. 

Rob Macmillan, Nick Acheson and Bernard Harris

As editors of Voluntary Sector Review (VSR), we attract a wide range of international article submissions, covering the whole range of topics around voluntary and community action, non-profit organisations and civil society. We often reflect on what makes for a strong paper.

Full-length research articles in VSR, normally no longer than 8,000 words in length, may focus on empirical findings, methodological issues, scholarly or theoretical inquiry, and applied analysis of relevance to practitioners and decision makers. We welcome submissions from all parts of the globe, and encourage all of our authors to highlight the international implications of their work.

We know that the whole process of submitting a paper can be daunting and onerous for authors – something you’ve been working on for a while has finally been given over for an external judgement of its potential value. Preparing a good paper for submission is an art rather than a science, and through our experience as editors and authors we have drawn together a list of eight helpful points to consider before you submit your paper.

1. What is the paper about and why is it important?

Be very clear on what the paper is about, starting with a clear statement of the issue that it addresses, together with an explanation of why the issue is of interest to and important for readers of the journal. You need to provide good reasons for readers to read on and subsequently remember your article.

2. Critical understanding of the literature

Embed the issue the paper addresses in the relevant literature, with a critical understanding of the most important and influential previous articles and books in this area.

3. Intellectual, theoretical, policy or practice context

Make sure you set out clearly the intellectual, theoretical, policy or practice context that informs the article.

4. Methods

Where you are reporting empirical findings, make sure the research design, data collection methods and analysis techniques used are described in sufficient detail for readers to be able to understand how the study might be replicated, and on what basis the conclusions are being drawn. Where prior literature provides the basis for the article (in addition to or instead of empirical findings), explain how it was sourced, selected and reviewed.

5. Key findings

Set out the key findings relevant to the issue addressed in the article in a systematic way, relating them to earlier work covered in the literature review. Authors often try to say too much here, overloading their submission with empirical findings such that the point of the article is obscured in empirical detail.

6. Contribution to knowledge

Identify the extent and ways in which the findings and discussion contribute to new empirical knowledge about the issue or better theoretical understanding of the topic. There is a balance to be struck here: be confident in the conclusions you draw, but don’t overstate the case.

7. Implications for future research, policy or practice

Draw out the implications of the study for future research, policy or practice – in the country which is the primary focus of the article, but also more broadly where appropriate.

8. Argument, structure, and signposting

Finally, check to see whether there is a clear, well-signposted, structure and thread of argument running through the paper, so that readers can quickly gain a secure sense of the paper’s development from introduction to conclusion.

On receipt of a submission, we will always make an initial editorial judgement before we send a paper out for review, and we may ask you to revise the paper before doing so. We encourage reviewers to provide constructive feedback to authors in order to help improve papers, and we will provide guidance on how to proceed if the decision is one of ‘revise and resubmit’. The peer review process can be exacting but it is rigorous and invariably leads to better quality papers.

We would encourage you to get in touch if you have an idea for a paper but are not sure of its suitability. We’ll always aim to provide helpful guidance, though, of course, we cannot provide any guarantees of publication.

If you would like to submit a paper you can find the Journal’s aims and scope, and instructions for authors on the Voluntary Sector Review website. You will also find further information about submitting Policy and Practice articles, along with details of the relevant editors for these sections.


More about Voluntary Sector Review

To submit an article consult our instructions for authors.

For news about all the latest issues and free articles sign up for our e-newsletter and follow the journal on Twitter @VSRjournal

Ask your librarian to subscribe or sign up for a free institutional trial.

New Researchers Sessions – Call for Papers deadline extended to 31st May

2017 Voluntary Sector and Volunteering Research Conference – New Researchers Sessions

The New Researchers Sessions run alongside the annual Voluntary Sector and Volunteering Research Conference, which this year is taking place in Nottingham on 7th and 8th September.

The Call for Papers for the New Researchers Sessions is now open.

The aim of the sessions is to give new researchers (i.e. those who are new to research or who are new to the voluntary sector) an opportunity to:

  • present their research
  • get constructive feedback in a supportive (and fun!) environment
  • meet other new researchers and network
  • network with established researchers and practitioners

These events are organised by the Voluntary Studies Sector Network (VSSN), National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO) and Institute for Volunteering Research (IVR).

The deadline for abstract submissions has been extended to 31st May. There is also an opportunity to be considered for the Campbell Adamson Memorial Prize.

For more information, visit the New Researchers Sessions page.

2017 Voluntary Sector and Volunteering Research Conference: Call for Papers

Information is now available about the 2017 Voluntary Sector and Volunteering Research Conference, organised jointly by VSSN, NCVO and the Institute for Volunteering Research (IVR).

The conference will be held in Nottingham on 7th and 8th September.

The call for papers is now open and will close on 2nd May 2016.

You can find out more about the conference, its themes and how to submit a paper from our events page.

Further information will follow shortly about opportunities at the conference specifically for new and early-career researchers.

Voluntary Sector Review: Call for Editor and Practice Editor

The Voluntary Sector Studies Network (VSSN) and Policy Press invite applications for two positions on the Editorial team of Voluntary Sector Review:

  • Editor, from January 2018 to December 2020
  • Practice Editor, from summer 2017 to 2020

Voluntary Sector Review (VSR) is a journal with a growing international profile that publishes high-quality, peer-reviewed, accessible papers on third sector research, policy and practice.

The new journal Editor will join the current team of two Editors: Rob Macmillan (University of Birmingham) and Nick Acheson (Ulster University and Trinity College, University of Dublin).

The new Practice Editor will replace a current Practice Editor, and will focus on editing practice-oriented papers.

Both postholders will work closely with the VSR Editorial Management Board and Policy Press.

Full text of the Call for Editor can be downloaded here.

Full text of the Call for Practice Editor can be downloaded here.

Cast your VSSN vote!

Elections are now open for the following:

  • three places on the Steering Group of VSSN
  • two places on the Editorial Management Board of VSSN’s journal, Voluntary Sector Review

The elections are open between 24th October and 7th November, and all current members of VSSN have a vote.

Members will receive an email with a link to a Survey Monkey page where they can vote. If you are a current VSSN member but do not receive this email please contact

The candidate statements for the Steering Group can be downloaded here.

The candidate statements for the Editorial Management Group can be downloaded here.

The results will be announced at the VSSN Annual General Meeting held as part of the seminar on 22nd November at the University of Birmingham, and posted on the VSSN website.

Call for nominations and volunteers

Would you like to support the work of VSSN? Do you have ideas about you’d like to see VSSN develop?

If so, please consider nominating yourself for a place on either or both of:

  • the VSSN Steering Group
  • the Editorial Management Board of Voluntary Sector Review, the journal produced by VSSN with Policy Press

It is a self-nomination process; you do not need to be nominated by someone else.

Simply complete the VSSN Steering Group nomination form and/or the Voluntary Sector Review Editorial Management Board nomination form and return to the VSSN office by 21st October at the latest.

You must be a paid-up member of VSSN by 24th October in order to nominate yourself.  New members are welcome!

More information about the roles and the election process here. We look forward to receiving your nomination.

Bookings open – Youth social action: What do we know about young people’s participation?

VSSN is holding its next day conference on 22nd November 2016 at the University of Birmingham.

The theme is ‘Youth social action: What do we know about young people’s participation?’ and the five papers being presented explore subjects such as the National Citizenship Service, young feminist online activism, alienation and transition.

Visit our event page for the full programme including abstracts and speaker biographies.

Booking deadline: 8th November

New Issue of Voluntary Sector Review available

The July 2016 issue of Voluntary Sector Review can be found on our journal page including links to abstracts of the articles. 

A print copy of Voluntary Sector Review is a benefit of being a member of VSSN.  You can find details of other benefits and how to join here.

Policy Press are also promoting a free article for July.  This is : “From ‘contractors to the state’ to ‘protectors of public value’? Relations between non-profit housing hybrids and the state in England” by David Mullins and Tricia Jones (Vol 6, No. 3. November 2015)