As an editor have you recently found yourself thinking either of these things?:

  1. “Why do authors keep sending me articles that are clearly not in line with the mission and scope of my journal?”

  2. “I am tired of having to ask authors to fix avoidable formatting errors.”

If these thoughts have crossed your mind, the good news is there is something you can do right now to ease these pain points: look for ways to make your submission guidelines clearer.

Think of your journal’s submission guidelines as ingredients in a recipe that authors have to follow. In order to get viable manuscripts straight out of the submissions fire you need to tell authors exactly what your journal is about and exactly how their articles should look when they hit your desk. Having a clear submissions “recipe” will save your editors and authors time and frustration during peer review.

Here are some steps to whip up a stellar submission page:

Make sure your journal’s aims and scope are clear and that people know the types of content you accept

One of the most common reasons journals have to sift through irrelevant manuscripts or end up missing out on sound submissions is because their aims and scope are not clearly outlined for authors. Whether you’re constructing or revising your journal’s submission page, take the time to carefully read through your aims and scope section to look for potential holes. It’s possible that you already have everything covered, but there is also a chance that you’ve left out information that authors could benefit from.

Your aims/scope section should include the following:

  • The mission of your journal
  • The fields/sub-fields that your journal covers
  • Whether articles have to fit within a subfield or whether they can be general interest
  • A list of article topics or specific areas of interest to your journal (if applicable)
  • The nature of the research you seek: practice-oriented, theoretical, or either
  • The types of content your journal accepts (book reviews, interviews etc.)

Give thorough submission and article formatting instructions

Sparse or unclear formatting instructions are another common source of confusion for submitting authors. Your formatting section should contain all of the logistics for how submissions should be delivered to your journal. Cover everything from the submission system authors should use and file types your journal accepts, to article styleguide and layout instructions, such as section requirements, referencing procedure, or word limit.

Additionally, be sure to factor in file version and formatting guidelines for tables, images, audio, or video files. Let authors know if your journal is only able to publish a certain number of tables or media per article and remind authors to get all of the necessary permissions for content or media they reference in their submission.

By making your formatting instructions thorough, you’ll be less likely to receive submissions that do not meet your journal’s criteria or to have to work with authors to make formatting edits that could have been avoided.

Explain your Revise and Resubmit (R&R) process

Your journal submission page should also include all R&R formatting guidelines and deadlines so authors know exactly how to submit R&Rs. Explaining your R&R policy in-depth will help you avoid getting late R&Rs or ones accidentally sent as new submissions, which can slow the review process. Depending on the journal management system you use, make sure authors know how to specify R&R manuscripts and how to submit them.

Some journal management systems actually have built-in safeguards to avoid R&Rs getting mixed in with new manuscripts. In Scholastica, authors who have pending R&Rs are given a system prompt prior to making a new submission to see if they intend to submit a new article or revised manuscript. Having preventative measures in place, whether in your submission instuctions, journal management system, or both, will help you limit occurrences of authors submtting R&Rs as new manuscripts and save your journal time and confusion.

Make a checklist

Want to make it even easier for authors to send submissions the way you want them to? Make a step-by-step checklist including your journal’s most common submission pitfalls, and ask authors to submit the signed checklist as part of the submission process. Here are a few good examples of journal submission checklists:

Conclusion: make submission guidelines as easy as following a recipe

If you’re a cooking aficionado you’ve probably come across a recipe or two in your day that contains unclear instructions. What does a pinch of salt really mean? How does one add flour to taste? Can you really boil oil? I am sure you could add your own sources of common and bizarre recipe confusion to this list (taken from my personal experiences). Of course, the worst-case scenario is when you come across a recipe that fails to mention one or multiple necessary ingredients all together.

What does this have to do with academic journal publishing, you ask?

Just as missing or unlcear recipe ingredients can turn your fluffy sour cream pound cake into a one-ton cake of sorts, missing or unclear instructions on your submission page can cause authors to submit “half-baked” or irrelevant manuscripts to your journal. To help your editors and authors avoid undue stress and confusion during the peer review process, giving authors an exact recipe for submitting to your journal is key.

Danielle Padula
This post was written by Danielle Padula, Community Development
Tales from the Trenches