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Writing Basics

What Belongs in a Supplementary File?


Teri Surprenant, MA, Managing Editor, Language Editing

May 2021

What material should be added as a supplement?

Supplementary files include any type of information or data that you have not already incorporated into your publication that is not essential to understanding your manuscript, but it provides background information or reinforces the main points of the manuscript. Supplementary materials provide readers with access to details that have been excluded due to space limitations, but this pertinent information may be required for other researchers to reproduce your experiments or work.

A good way to test if information belongs in the manuscript or in a supplementary file is to ask: If I remove this information, will the manuscript still make sense, and will my readers be able to understand the point of my research? If removing a particular feature would alter the manuscript in a way that makes a portion of it incomprehensible, then the information should stay in the main text.

Different journals have different requirements for supplementary files, so please consult the author’s guidelines/submission section on your target journal’s website. The journal may limit the number of files you can submit, the word count, the types of files that are allowed, and the format in which they are accepted, especially for video, audio, or animated files. While not exhaustive, the following is a list of what is typically considered appropriate supplementary files: raw data or datasets, minute details that were not included in the methods and materials section of your paper, charts, maps, photos, graphs, images, tables with a large amount of information that would not be practical for inclusion in the primary text, specific chemical information, 3D models, video or audio files, and questionnaires or surveys.

A few supplementary file tips to keep in mind:

• Be sure you are consistent in how you label the files and refer to them in the text. In addition, supplementary files should be labeled in a numbering sequence outside of the information in the manuscript.
• It is important to strictly adhere to the journal’s guidelines; for example, the journal may require you to submit the information in separate files.
• Although you want the supplementary files to be informative, you do not want the files to appear cluttered, so be sure that the information in the files is presented in a straightforward manner.

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