Publishing: Journals, agree on manuscript format

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An 'incorrectly' formatted manuscript submission risks immediate bounceback by the authors' chosen journal, irrespective of the value of its content. In my view, it would save time and frustration if the scientific community could agree on a uniform style for all journals.

There is no inherent advantage in customized formatting of references, for example, whether cited as F. R. Smith, P. Y. Young and G. T. Jones J. Interest. Sci. 2016, 85, 67006782, or as Smith, FR, Young, PY, Jones, GT (2016) J. Interest. Sci. 85: 67006782, or using other arbitrary variants in style and positioning of initials, year of publication and page span.

Research papers in the natural sciences are typically presented under the headings Abstract, Introduction, Methodology, Results, Discussion, Conclusions. Some journals do not use Abstract or Introduction headings; some put the Methodology section after the rest. No journal so far puts the title at the end of the paper.

Journals presumably insist on individual formatting styles as a distinguishing feature. I see no scientific merit in doing so. Cosmetic treatments should instead be reserved for enhancing the clarity of a manuscript's content.

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  1. University of Birmingham, UK.

    • Quanmin Guo

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  1. Report this comment #69145

    Bing Xue said:

    Totally agree with this comment, we have waste too much time in re-editing the format of a manus cript.

  2. Report this comment #69153

    Anja Hansen said:

    I agree as well. At least it would be helpful if publishers provide document templates and proper, up-to-date style formats for the most common reference management software tools...

  3. Report this comment #69155

    Robin Berjon said:

    There are two primary ways to address the problem. One is to define a common cosmetic style (as you put it) for all journals, apply it everywhere, and then provide templates for Word, LaTeX, and the various other formats that authors use for input. While not strictly impossible, this path is by far the most difficult and unlikely to succeed. The problem is that it will run against what people in the standards-setting community call bikeshedding . Everyone may agree about the importance of a common style, but you will nevertheless spend years going through corner cases of reference styling, whether including the date of death for deceased anonymous authors is revealing too much, or if it is sensible to support more than one level of subtitling in a figure. Down that path lies a slow drift into insanity.

    And that's before you've even tried to apply the same to the typographical needs and conventions of every single language used in publishing science.

    The other way of addressing the issue is to provide the means to capture the semantics of an article: this is a title, that is a bunch of paragraphs, over there are some references. Once you have the semantics, devoid of visual styling, then it is very straightforward to restyle them any which way you want. If you want every reference in red and every title preceded by a flying unicorn, or if you prefer something a little more conventional, those are simple rules ? it basically means that authors only ever have to produce one manus cript and journals can automatically reformat it to whatever their preferred style is. There is work in that direction, on Scholarly HTML (full disclaimer, I'm involved) which is slowly progressing in a dedicated W3C group .

    The downside of this approach is that for it to work one needs to get the content into the semantic format in the first place, and changing authors' ways and pet tools is hard. In order to address this, my preferred approach is to simply effect a few small modifications to common authoring approaches and then produce an automated conversion into the semantic format. We have already implemented this approach for Word (which is ~85% of science manus cripts) to produce DS3 (same disclaimer).

    Additional advantages of the approach is that it costs a lot less than the current setup (thanks to automation), which means APCs can essentially be set to zero and the output that is produced is accessible to people with disabilities (which PDF or things that try to replace it like ReadCube aren't).

    Anyway, I have hope that we can make progress in this direction!

  4. Report this comment #69281

    Lawrence Moon said:

    I agree with Dr Guo but I too anticipate a quagmire. So below I've provided a tip that may save you all time.

    Frustratingly, some journals have no limit to the number of Figures in a paper whereas others are more selective but allow Extended Data, Supplemental Information or Supplementary Information. Collectively, we waste thousands of hours and tax dollars when we re-submit articles to different journals because we have to adapt our papers to each house style.

    I recently learned how to draft papers (using Microsoft Word) using customised Captions for material (e.g., Extended Data, Supplementary Note or Supplementary Table) that are created and cited with automatic numbering (e.g., Supplementary Video 1) and can easily be re-ordered, inserted, deleted or converted from one type to another (e.g., turn all Extended Data into conventional Figures). Finally, all the numbering is updated automatically with two clicks.

    It takes less than ten minutes to learn how. I put a how-to-guide onto Figshare.

    Moon LDF (2017) How to save time and reduce frustration when writing manus cripts by using customised Captions to manage the numbering, citation and renaming of Supplementary Material. Figshare

    Hope it helps! Best wishes

    Lawrence Moon
    King's College London

  5. Report this comment #69287

    Steven Watterson said:

    Each year, journals in the Thomson Reuter?s Journal Citation Reports database publish approximately 1.5m articles (STM Report, Fourth Edition, 2015). If we suppose that each article was rejected once before publication and that a day was required to reformat each article, this would equate to 1.5m days of annual academic productivity lost to reformatting that a uniform style could help us to recover.

    A number of publishing houses currently offer manus cript transfer, whereby a manus cript rejected by one journal can be submitted to another in the same group, without further editing. If this principle could be extended between publishing groups, the cost-efficiency of scientific research would be improved.

    Crude equivalence already exists between the manus cript formats used by journals from different publishing groups. Most journals accept short reports and full-length reports. Some also consider longer reviews and brief commentaries/perspectives. We could formalise this equivalence through the introduction of a set of standardised manus cript formats that journals could elect to support. Authors would benefit from having access to a list of supporting journals that would consider submissions without reformatting.

    These standards could be developed to support typesetting that enabled each journal to present itself distinctively. Publishers would benefit from fewer formatting errors in the submissions they receive and authors would benefit from the publishing process requiring a lesser time commitment.

    Perhaps we need to launch a consortia of interested parties and draft up set of standards.....

    Steven Watterson
    University of Ulster

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