In Boston, which is notorious for its irreverent drivers, residents jokingly refer to stop signs and speed limits as traffic “suggestions” rather than directions. However, rolling through a stop sign in the presence of a police officer will get you nowhere but pulled over. The same goes for ignoring a journal’s Author Instructions. A submitted manuscript that fails to adhere to a journal’s requirements will be flagged and returned to the author before it has a chance to move forward. Don’t be a careless driver! In other words, don’t throw away the enormous amount of time and effort you spent on your research by attempting to speed through the final gate. Slow down and consider the following points and basic tips.
- Make sure your manuscript passes your target journal’s initial screening: The top scholarly journals receive a flood of submissions daily, which are initially screened by the editorial staff before they are passed along to the deputy editors or the editor-in-chief. Most journals use online submission systems that assist staff with managing the steps of the editorial and peer review process. The first task a journal manager will do is check to see that the manuscript contains all of the journal’s required elements. If anything is missing, chances are high that the manuscript will be returned to you immediately for resubmission. Here are some reasons manuscripts get returned:
• The abstract is 300 words, but the journal requires no more than 100 words.
• The submission lacks Highlights although a list of three Highlights is required by the journal.
• The manuscript does not include any keywords. A list of five keywords is required.
• Numbered reference style is used, but the journal uses Harvard name–date reference style.
• Figures are unnumbered and lack legends.
• A PDF is submitted, but the journal requires an MS Word document.
- Find and thoroughly read the journal’s Author Instructions on the journal website. Most journals will post “Information for Authors” through a link that is found on the journal’s homepage. Look for menu headings to click on such as “For Authors,” “Submit Your Article,” and “Author Resources.” You will usually be taken to another page where the journal’s guidelines for authors will be organized into several sections. Make sure you thoroughly read all sections. This can be daunting because a lot of information will be provided, but taking the time at the beginning to familiarize yourself with all of it will save you time and trouble down the road.
Pay attention to words such as “essential,” “mandatory,” “required,” and “necessary.” All of these leave no room for choice. For example, if the instructions state, “A graphical abstract is mandatory for this journal,” then make sure you include one with your submission. However, some elements will be optional. For example, if the instructions state, “Highlights are optional and should be submitted in a separate editable file in the online submission system," then you may choose to submit Highlights or not. If you do include them, make sure you follow the instructions for their length and format.
- Use author tools provided by the journal. Many journals will supply resources to help authors ensure that their manuscript is properly formatted and includes all required elements. These include article templates in MS Word or LaTeX, submission checklists, and reference style guides. Download and take advantage of these tools.
- Show respect. Carefully preparing your manuscript according to the journal’s scope and requirements demonstrates that you value the time and expertise of the journal editors, reviewers, staff, and readership, and just as importantly, it shows that you value your own work.
In short: Follow the directions to ensure that your research article get the green light to move past the first journal checkpoint and on to the desk of an editor.