Photo Credit: Tim Mossholder on Unsplash
Photo Credit: Tim Mossholder on Unsplash

Researchers across disciplines are busier than ever, so it’s vital to do everything possible to make their experience submitting to the academic journals you work with as frictionless as possible. That starts with providing author guidelines (a.k.a. submission guidelines, instructions for authors, or manuscript formatting guidelines) that are easy to follow.

This blog post offers five tips to help simplify and streamline your author guidelines to save authors and editors valuable time, from linking to external resources to cutting down your manuscript formatting requirements to only the essential items. Let’s jump in!

1. Make your author instructions easy to skim

As tempting as it might be to provide authors with instructions covering every possible step for preparing a paper to submit to your journal, it’s critical to keep your author guidelines short, simple, and focused on what’s most important. That means looking for where you may be able to cut information and not adding more text unless it’s absolutely necessary.

Remember — after months or even years of manuscript research and writing time — authors tend to be eager to send papers to their journal of choice (hopefully yours!). And many scan journal guidelines fairly quickly before hitting the “submit” button, making it easy to miss intricate steps. The simpler your instructions for authors are, the more likely you’ll get submissions that meet your journal’s criteria.

You can make your author guidelines easier to skim by using plenty of visual markers throughout. Use headers to organize information into sections and subsections when necessary (e.g., the journal aims and scope, copyright policy, manuscript preparation steps, editorial policies, and the evaluation process). Doing so will make it easier for authors to quickly spot the target areas they must address when preparing their submission for your journal.

Using tables, bullets, and checklists to break up technical manuscript preparation steps is another way to make your guidelines easier to follow. Not sure where to start? EASE created a template for “quick-check tables” to house the most critical information you need to convey to authors, such as keyword formatting, title requirements, and affiliation layout. Read more about and download EASE’s quick-check table template here.

Most importantly: keep your guidelines in one place! If an author has to navigate between multiple pages to review all of your journal’s instructions, they will be more likely to miss steps or ignore them entirely. Keeping everything simple and skimmable will make it easier for authors to return to the guidelines whenever they need during the manuscript preparation and submission process, therefore making it more likely for your journal to receive submissions that look exactly how you want them to.

2. Provide submission file templates if appropriate

Authors use all kinds of word-processing software when writing papers, which can lead to your journal receiving a variety of submission file types. If you need authors to send certain types of files (e.g., editable file types, such as .docx, RTF, or LaTeX) or take specific steps when preparing different file types, it can be helpful to provide them with a manuscript formatting template.

Template files should include formatting information, such as header styles, affiliation examples, citation examples, and your required or preferred font(s). Moving such in-the-weeds formatting details to a template will save space in your author guidelines, making them easier to skim. For examples of .docx templates for multiple versions of Microsoft Word, see Taylor and Francis’ journal templates here.

Manuscript formatting templates are arguably even more important for LaTeX files if your journal supports TeX format. Because TeX files do not include all of the necessary information for an article’s formatting and contents, templates for TeX files (manuscript) and bib/bbl files (references) can help reduce the likelihood of technical errors later. Check out Springer Nature’s guidelines here for an example of how a journal can provide LaTeX-specific instructions and templates for authors.

Providing authors with templates for any file types your journal accepts will also cut down the work they need to do to make their manuscript fit your house style, improving your submission experience overall.

3. Skip as many article formatting steps as possible

With all this talk of manuscript formatting, it’s important to clarify that the best way to simplify your journal’s submission process is by reducing the number of manuscript formatting steps you require of authors as much as possible.

Carefully consider which formatting steps are critical for authors to follow before submitting to your journal and which could be left out (e.g., is the submission font really that important?). And leverage technology as much as possible to standardize and automate your production workflow so authors and editors can spend less time on pre-formatting steps.

Reference formatting is a common point of frustration for both authors and editors. Authors are often used to formatting their references according to their preferred style, which may not be the one used by your journal. One way to mitigate this issue is to provide examples of your journal’s citation style in your author guidelines or manuscript formatting template to give authors a clear point of reference and help cut down on copyediting steps later.

Alternatively, you could eliminate the challenge by moving to a digital-first, single-source production process like Scholastica’s, which automates manual steps like reference formatting. As discussed in this blog post, our production service standardizes all references to match your journal’s preferred style, no matter what they look like in the manuscript submitted by the author, thereby eliminating the need for authors and editors to check every reference.

Automating article formatting where possible can save you time and will help make your author guidelines simpler and more focused on what matters most — the content.

4. Remember, with consistency comes simplicity

As discussed in this previous blog post, author guidelines must be consistent for obvious reasons. If your guidelines give two contradictory requirements (e.g., regarding page numbering), authors won’t have a way of knowing which to follow.

There’s a good chance your journal’s author guidelines will change over time. Keep that in mind when communicating them. Namely, remember every place you mention a requirement will have to be updated to reflect guideline changes. For this reason, it’s best to condense information as much as possible and avoid duplicating instructions in different places (e.g., on your instructions for authors webpage, any manuscript formatting templates you prepare, etc.).

5. Include clear desk rejection policies

No one likes to see a paper desk rejected. For your editorial team, issuing a desk rejection can take time and cause frustration in cases where papers are clearly not suited for your journal. On the other hand, authors whose papers are desk rejected may feel confused or disappointed by the decision. Having transparent desk rejection policies/criteria in your author guidelines can help prevent desk rejections, saving everyone involved a great deal of time and effort.

Some items you may want to cover in your desk rejection policy statement include:

  • Criteria for determining if a manuscript fits within the journal’s aims and scope
  • Definitions for what your journal considers to be self plagiarism, because this can vary by publication (e.g., do you allow duplicate publication for submissions based on conference posters and abstracts, preprints, and/or translations?)
  • Advice for checking if a paper is significantly similar to articles previously published in the journal to determine whether it will be a novel contribution or potentially seen as redundant and therefore not fit for publication
  • A list of sister journals that may be more suited for research papers closely related to but outside of your journal aims and scope
  • Descriptions of the types of papers that tend to be desk rejected (for an example of this, see Learning and Instruction’s list of commonly rejected topics here)
  • Methodology and source soundness criteria
  • Suggestions for what to include (and not include) in specific sections of a submission, such as the literature review or appendices

Messy writing is another common reason for desk rejection. You can help authors make their submissions as polished as possible by linking to external resources such as reputable copyediting and language-editing partners you recommend. For example, American Journal Experts offers services to support authors writing in English as a second language. These can be important (albeit optional) resources for authors to use that will save time for everyone involved down the line.

Alongside your desk rejection policy statement, you should clearly explain your journal’s peer review policies and any corresponding manuscript anonymization requirements (e.g., for journals with single- or double-anonymized review processes).

Putting it all together

Every academic journal has its own submission criteria and style preferences, and it can be difficult for authors to keep things straight. Providing clear, consistent, and concise author guidelines will help prevent confusion and make life easier for everyone involved in the submission process.

How does your journal explain its author guidelines? Are there any resources or tips we missed that you can share with the Scholastica community? Please let us know by commenting below!

Garrett Wright
This post was written by Garrett Wright, Technical Editorial Associate
Guide to Managing Authors Course