This paper provides a simplified engineering J estimation method for semi-elliptical surface cracked plates in tension, based on the reference stress approach. Note that the essential element of the reference stress approach is the plastic limit load in the definition of the reference stress. However, for surface cracks, the definition of the limit load is ambiguous ("local" or "global" limit load), and thus the most relevant limit load (and thus reference stress) for the J estimation should be determined. In the present work, such limit load solution is found by comparing reference stress based J results with those from extensive 3-D finite element (FE) analyses. Based on the present FE results, the global limit load solution proposed by Goodall for surface cracked plates in combined bending and tension was modified. in the case of tension loading only, to account for a weak dependence on w/c and was defined as the reference normalizing load. Validation of the proposed equation against FE J results based on actual experimental tensile data of a 304 stainless steel shows excellent agreements not only for the J values at the deepest point but also for those at an arbitrary point along the crack front, including at the surface point. Thus the present results provide a good engineering tool for elastic-plastic fracture analyses of surface cracked plates in tension.
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