Part III

Publishing the Paper

19. Putting It All Together: Preparing the Final Version

© Gábor L. Lövei, CC BY 4.0

“When I have finished the experiment, and written the paper, the final formatting is not important, because if my work is good, solid science, it will be accepted for publication”. If you believe this statement is correct, you are very wrong.

Why? This can be understood from the working practices of today’s scientific journals. Scientific editing in most journals is still done by volunteer scientists. They are not keen on spending a lot of time on formatting. Moreover, all journals have a specific format, and all papers printed must follow that format. Consequently, the format of a submitted manuscript is among very first things to be checked. If it does not fit the format required by the journal, the manuscript will be sent back without evaluation, and the author is asked to correct the format to fit the requirements. Be careful in this case — the authors can only fail once. If the author does not correct the format properly, the editor will probably not only send it back, but may blacklist the author team and advise them to direct future publishing attempts elsewhere.

This attitude also conforms to the requirements of optimal decoding — if the coding (i.e. the format, in this case) of all the papers is the same, the readers will be able to digest the content faster. They do not have to waste time looking for certain information (methods, question, or conclusions), because they can always find it in a familiar place, which makes understanding faster and easier.

Manuscript formatting remains largely unchanged even after the rapid spread of electronic submission. A manuscript should be double spaced, with wide margins. No right justification is needed. As for formatting, no mimicking of the final journal format is needed. Once the manuscript is accepted, the copy editor will make sure the format corresponds to the journal requirements. At this point in the process, mimicking the final format would be an unnecessary diversion, and a waste of time on the author’s part. Only the following elements of the formatting should be observed (also, check the relevant Instructions to Authors as variations are possible):

  • If a text line is centred, centre it in the manuscript.
  • If text appears in bold in the journal, it should be the same in a manuscript.
  • Indicate Italicised text by either underlining, or setting the relevant text in Italics
  • All characters that will be in capitals, or small capitals, in the published paper should be written in that style in the manuscript
  • Observe the heading structure and follow it in the manuscript.
  • The journal reference style must be followed.

Further, it is a good idea to:

  • Paginate the manuscript, with the author’s name at top right (or “first author-et-al.”, if appropriate), as a header.
  • Start new sections on a new page.
  • Check the spelling. The two major spellings of English, the British and the American, are not the same. They seem to be mutually irritated by the other’s spelling practice (remember the saying: the British and the Americans are divided by a common language). Be careful as no cutting of corners is allowed here — an American journal will insist on American spelling, and a UK journal will require the British equivalent.
  • Use numbered lines in the manuscript — this makes it easy to follow comments and revisions for the editor, reviewer(s) and author. The line numbering should be set to continuous — beware, because the default in Word is “restart on every page”.

You must also place tables and figures at the end; do not insert them into the text, unless the journal instructions specifically ask for this. The position of tables and figures will be decided by the technical editor, when typesetting the text. You should, however, indicate the approximate, desired position, either by inserting a box, or using a note in the margin.

Should you deposit your MS in an open archive?

Once your manuscript is complete, you can decide to send it to a prepublication manuscript archive. There are several of those, and they are usually field-specific. In biology, for example, BioRxiv is the oldest and biggest. Some of them allow others to attach comments but as a rule, they are not there for formal or informal review. The advantage is that such manuscripts obtain a DOI, and thus become citable. In case of a later dispute, this can also serve to decide about priority. They have not been peer-reviewed, so they do not count as “valid” publications. Call me a conservative, but I prefer my own work to benefit from the critical assessment of my peers before I make it fully public. But the choice is, of course, yours when it comes to your unpublished manuscripts.

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