ASWNet Guide to Writing (Journals)

Writing, editing, formatting and presentation styles of journals vary. This ASWNet Guide covers journals and related publications that we host. However, the advice in this guide is useful for preparing manuscripts in general, including those not targeted for ASWNet related publications. This guide is part of a larger guide that covers most writing and publishing done by academics, practitioners and students in the social, human, community or development disciplines.


Manuscripts should be no more than 5000 words including references.


It should be not more than 15 words in length. The theme of the title should fit the journal policy. Ensure that your main key words are included in your title. The geographical location and country of study should usually be included.


An abstract is a summary of the main elements of your research, report, paper, article or manuscript. It should be a shortened but succinct version. Should be about 200 words or between 175 – 225 words. It is written in the past tense.  Ensure that all key words are included in the abstract. It should be one standard paragraph with an opening sentence, abstract body and closing sentence. The body should include the purpose or aim and gap addressed, the methodology used, summary of all results or findings or main ideas presented, conclusions reached and implications or recommendations. An abstract summarises everything about your research, report, paper, article or manuscript and a reader must understand all your research is about from the abstract. Do not use headings unless specifically asked to do so. Do not cite in the abstract. Limit scientific terms, professional jargon and statistics.

Your abstract is presented as a cover page with the following details: Title, Author/s names in full, Affiliation of Authors (Academic title [if you have it], Unit or Department, Institution or Community, Village or Community or Town or City, Country, Email address), Abstract and Key terms. Phone number and physical address are usually not required.

For journals under ASWNet, you can also submit an abstract in an African Indigenous language and as a video. See details below.


ASWNet accepts and actively encourages abstracts written in indigenous African languages. We do this to ensure that social problems, concepts or key words, theories, methodologies, findings and conclusions are communicated in local languages, thereby increasing readership. The process is in itself part of decolonisation and indigenisation of research, social work, development and education.  After your paper has been accepted and is ready for proofreading, the editor will invite you to translate your English language into a local indigenous language. You will translate the title, author affiliations, abstract, key words. You will indicate the name of the translator/s if you did not translate it yourself. The editor may also request you to include a translation of ‘social work’, ‘development’ and any others. Your two abstracts will then be published on the first or second page of the accepted article.


Videos are an important way to communicate research and can be used easily on social media. We now accept a video abstract or video summary of your research. It should be less than 5 minutes long. If you present using slides, use only 5 slides titled as follows:

Slide 1 The title and details of author or authors

Slide 2 The gap the authors addressed

Slide 3 How the research was planned and completed, including African ubuntu ethics

Slide 4 The main results

Slide 5 Conclusions and implications

Do not put a lot of information on the slides, use large font, images and graphics. The audio and visuals, including your face must be all very clear.

If you submit a video abstract, you still need to include an written abstract in the paper article.

Key Terms

Put between 5 and 8 key terms. Ensure that each key term appears in the abstract, introduction and that your main key terms appear in the title. Arrange your terms in alphabetical order. Include the country or main geographical location for the research or report as a key term. Separate each term by a comma. Do not capitalise words. Do not capitalise the first letter unless it is a noun. Abbreviations must be written in full followed by ( ).

Author/s details

Include SURNAME in capital letters to distinguish it from first names followed by First names (it is ok to include clan name, praise name or respect name); Qualifications or Title; Unit or Department, Institution or Community, Village or Community or Town or City, Country; Contact email. Unless otherwise indicated, the first author shall be the corresponding author. Phone number and physical address are usually not required.

It is important to also include details that will help the editors and readers know you, and how you relate to the topic being discussed. For example, if you are writing about disability, and you have a disability, at times it helps to include this.


An introduction is a welcome. That is, you are welcoming people to your research article or report. It should be one standard paragraph of between 8 and 15 lines. Ensure that most key words are included in the introduction. Include purpose of research and methodology, briefly. The final sentence must tell the editor or reader what to expect, i.e., how the paper is arranged and what it contains. The introduction closely resembles the abstract but they are different in that the introduction does not tell you everything about the research. An introduction is mainly about conceptualizing the main issue being discussed and showing readers what to expect.


Here you provide background to your research and the problem or social issue. Your background should use subheadings to illustrate the following:

  • The Problem or issue, including your research aim, objectives and questions. There is no need to put a short heading or subheading for research aim, objectives and questions, just include them in the problem.
  • The Theories, theoretical framework, research philosophy, conceptual framework or models (how do theories explain this problem. Prioritise African theories, concepts and models). 
  • The Literature (for most manuscripts literature review is not possible, but literature scoping, which is a quick check on what authors have said about the problem). If your whole article is based on literature review, then please read the section about Literature Review below. At the end of the literature, show the gaps in literature (there is no need to study what is already known unless you are reviewing it).
  • Justification, motivations and connection to the research e.g. is it part of a larger research project, do you have any personal or community motivations, do you have personal/ family or community experience (positionality), what is your expertise and that of your team members?


This is a story about the practical aspects of your research, please avoid duplicating what is in textbooks, tell your story. It is a unique story or journey starting with how you identified the problem, what you did to research it and ending with how you disseminated findings to the community that you researched about. First person narrative is allowed, though this should be limited. Should be no more than 3 standard paragraphs. Unlike a research report, in journal manuscripts, subheadings are not recommended for the methodology although about 3 subheadings might improve structure of the methodology section. Ethics should not be superficial – include how you obtained local consent from local, community or traditional leaders. Was your research application reviewed by a university ethics committee or other committee, please name the committee and provide review number if available. The ASWNet has an ethics committee that you could use, indicate in your report if you received ethical advice from them. Tell us how you obtained community feedback on your results, and what the feedback was. More importantly, tell us how you reported the results in ways that are accessible, including language and publications accessible at community level. In Africa, we are interested in the role that the community play in reviewing your work not just peer and editorial review. It is unethical to not make results of our research available to communities concerned or involved. More information about ethics in the African Research Ethics and Malpractice Statement (AREMS) and The San Code of Research Ethics (San Code). If you do not have access to an ethics application, you can use the African Independent Ethics Committee (AIEC). African research methods covering research philosophy, ethics, data collection, data analysis etc are available here: Research Questions and Methods.

Literature review

At times, authors are submitting an article based solely on a review of literature. This is possible. In your methodology, tell us how you did the review, where you got the papers to review, inclusion/exclusion criteria, the list of papers you included etc. The rest of the manuscript will be similar to a field research paper/report.

Here are some types of literature reviews:

  1. Scoping literature review: this is what most writers provide in their articles. It is not comprehensive but based on literature available to the writer at the time. This can also include literature already cited in books. It starts with a research question/s, followed by gathering available literature, reading the literature and picking themes, writing key themes and making conclusions then reporting (the methodology followed, the literature reviewed, key themes, conclusions and implications).
  2. Systematic literature review: this is more comprehensive and it involves collecting all literature that is available at a particular place, library or database about a particular topic covering a defined period. It has a specific research question/s. In this type of review, you do not include literature cited by others, you need to get hold of the articles you are reviewing and read them yourself. The process starts with a research question/s, followed by gathering available literature in a systematic manner (specific year, library or database), reading all the literature and picking themes, writing key themes and making conclusions then reporting (the methodology followed, number of articles found and included, key themes, conclusions and implications).
  3. Meta-analysis: a type of systematic literature review that use statistical methods (quantitative) to analyse findings of different researches. For example, you could review the different rates of HIV infection provided in 300 journal articles. When you put these rates together, you could generate statistical data including means, mode, variations, quartiles etc. You could do a lot of things with that data and make conclusions.
  4. Meta-synthesis – a type of systematic literature review that uses narrative analysis (qualitative) to integrate data from multiple researches. For example, you could collect 30 articles that describe stigma in HIV/AIDS and derive common themes.
  5. Review of reviews – this is a systematic review of existing reviews. For this to happen, you need to know the reviews that have been done. Can be quantitative and qualitative in orientation, or mixed.


When you do a literature review, we strongly recommend that you start by searching African libraries and databases, both physical and online. International libraries and databases are attractive and at times easy to locate, but they are not the best because they sideline African literature. Some of the important databases are:

African Journals Online (AJOL)


Connecting Africa

African Studies Abstracts

Africa Development Indicators

ASWNet Database (developing)

Findings or Results

This section shows us the new data that you obtained from the research. Start with a short summary of key results using dot points or a list separated by commas or semi-colons. Then present each result under headings and sub-headings. It is recommended to transform your research questions or objectives into headings. Others want to discuss results here, that is ok, as long as your results can be clearly identified. 


There are a few forms of analysis that can be applied to data. Analysis is a process of getting meaning out of data in order to come up with findings or results.

When to do analysis?

  • During data collection (in-situ primary analysis)
  • On data newly or recently collected (primary analysis)
  • On data that has already been analysed (re-analysis)
  • On existing literature or non-written sources of information (secondary analysis)

How to analyse?

  • Manual or analysis – basic (read or listen, understand or make sense and generate meanings) and advanced (read or listen, understand or make sense, arrange or color code, rearrange, create themes or categories, generate meaning). Reporting is usually narrative (words, sentences, paragraphs and stories), verbal or written.
  • Software, computer aided or electronic analysis – basic (use applications/software like Word Processor and Spreadsheets) and advanced (use applications like NVivo, Strata, SPSS, Tableau, there are more than 500 apps). Applications can create narratives (sentences, paragraphs and stories); graphs, tables, charts, figures, illustrations or word clouds ; and frames (themes, categories or codes).

What to analyse?

  • Content of the data (content analysis)
  • Methods used to collect data (methodological analysis)
  • Process of doing the research (process analysis)

Who does analysis?

  • One or more researcher/s (researcher analysis)
  • One or more participants (participants analysis)
  • Combination of researcher/s and participant/s (co-analysis)

What can you get from data?

  • Relationships – causes, effects, connections or predictions
  • Options, alternative ways of doing work or courses of action
  • Themes running through data, clusters or patterns
  • Groups, frames, cohorts or clusters of data, data that is related
  • Descriptions – you can construct a narrative or story from the data
  • Language – word clouds help you know the words most or least used
  • Diagnosis – what happened can be understood from data
  • Visuals – you can create graphs or charts to visualize data

What are some of the techniques used in data analysis?

  • Thematic analysis is where you allow themes to emerge from the data after reading, listening or engaging with the data adequately.
  • Framework analysis is where you create frames, rules or categories first, then read, listen or engage with data while placing related parts of data in frames.


This section reviews your new data in relation to your background information, theory and literature. Do not add new data when discussing. If you discuss in the findings/results section, you do not need a separate discussion section.


These should be concluding statements to your research objectives or answers to your research questions. It shows new knowledge your research is contributing. Conclusions must not be long because the discussion section provides all the explanations. Dot points are allowed. This is not a conclusion of the research report or article but conclusion of the discussion. It is ok to put conclusions at the end of your discussion.

Recommendations or Implications

Make clear statements (3-5) about what is the usefulness of your results in relation to social work in your country and in Africa, and of course globally. What needs to be done by professionals, policy makers, service users, students, communities etc. What are future research gaps? What methods of research do you recommend in future? Why? Dot points are allowed. You would normally start by saying, Based on our finding that…..Following our conclusion that says…. In this section, it’s about your own voice, speak your mind, provide your expertise here but link to your findings. Contribution of your research or analysis must be clear: new theory, new definition, new model, new framework, new definition, new concept, new solution, new gap, threat or problem discovered, new policy proposed or new educational tool.


A conclusion is a goodbye. This is not the same as conclusions of the discussion. It summarises what the research report/article covered. Make this part between 8 and 12 lines. It is written in past tense. The final sentence must usually provide a ‘final punch’.


At times writers are asked to declare conflict of interest, authorship, ethical approval and funding sources and also to include acknowledgements, a statement indicating the originality of the work and confirmation that the work submitted shall not be submitted to another publication unless rejected or withdrawn. A declaration must also be made to the effect that co-authors took part in the research process, and that their inclusion to the publication has been gained and that they are not ‘ghost’ writers.

Citing and References List

Key issues

  1. Prioritise African literature, definitions, ethics and theories in your background, literature review, methodology and discussion. We recommend that at least 75% of your sources be African sources.
  2. We understand there is a lot of oral literature (orature) for African social work, please cite and reference it.
  3. Follow our referencing guide word for word, comma for comma, colons, dots, full stops, italics etc. 
  4. References should be less than one page in length or not more than 20 references or authors. 
  5. We expect more than ¾ of these to be peer reviewed sources not more than 20 years old but government reports, research reports and books are also useful.
  6. Unnecessary citations must be avoided and only works of value to your paper must be cited. 
  7. No numbering or bulleting of your sources. 
  8. Put all reference details for same author/authors in a single line. 
  9. Only book titles and journal names (including volume and issue numbers) should be italicised. 
  10. For online references, use: Available at: www…. (Accessed: 28 January 2020).
  11. Put year of publication in brackets/parenthesis.
  12. Remove all highlights and hyperlinks (especially for internet references).
  13. Do not include the words ‘volume’, ‘issue’ or ‘number’ when referencing journal articles. See examples below.

Examples of reference list entries


Mugumbate J., and Nyanguru A., (2013). Exploring African philosophy: The value of ubuntu in social work. African Journal of Social Work, 3(1), 82-100.


Samkange S. and Samkange T. M., (1980). Hunhuism or Ubuntuism: A Zimbabwean indigenous political philosophy. Harare: Graham Publishing. 

Edited book

Mupedziswa R., Rankopo M. and Mwansa L., (2019). Ubuntu as a Pan-African Philosophical Framework for Social Work in Africa. Social Work Practice in Africa Indigenous and Innovative Approaches. Eds J. M.  Twikirize and H. Spitzer. Kampala: Fountain.


Make sure you write the name of the organisation in full, then show the abbreviation.

Council of Social Workers (CSW), 2012. Social workers code of ethics. Statutory Instrument 146 of 2012. Zimbabwe.


Simba J.,  (2014). Social work in east Africa. Document. Makerere University, Uganda.


Mahoso T., (2013). Ngozi. Sunday Mail Newspaper, 14-20 July 201,3 p. D2. Zimbabwe.

Cameroon Tribune, (2020). UN Human Rights Commission Report: Government Decries Subjective Position. Cameroon Tribune., 15 October 2020, p. 1. Cameroon.


At times you read an article from the internet and use it in your writing. To make it easy for that article to be located, you could provide the link to the website page that contains the article. There are two ways of achieving this as shown below. You could copy the full link and add it to your reference in the list of references or create a hyperlink. In most cases, it is important to indicate the date you accessed the content as well.

African Union (AU), (2018). The African Union, in its effort to ensure the decolonization of the Chagos Archipelago, takes part in the oral hearing before the International Court of Justice. Retrieved on 12 December 2019 from

African Union (AU), (2018). The African Union, in its effort to ensure the decolonization of the Chagos Archipelago, takes part in the oral hearing before the International Court of Justice. Retrieved on 12 December 2019.

Government policy or document

South African Government, (1996). White Paper on Welfare. Government Gazette Number 16943.

How to cite a proverb, song, forklore

Shona people. ‘Mwana asingachemi anofira mumbereko’ (A baby who does not cry does not get the mother’s attention). Proverb. Zimbabwe. (Please note that no year is required because this is a timeless resource).

How to cite a popular saying

Mandela M. N., (2003). ‘Ubuntu is peace’. South Africa. (You can add a year if you know it, otherwise it is ok to not put a name or to write Date unknown).

How to cite your personal experience or experience of someone you know

Massi D., (2011). ‘Growing up in Maputo’. Personal experience. Mozambique.(You can add a year if you know it, otherwise it is ok to not put a name or to write Date unknown).

How to cite an artist (musician, sculptor, actor etc)

Achebe A. C., (1958). Things fall apart. London, Penguin.

Keita S., (1995). Africa. Song from Folon album. Mango, Mali.