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The Importance of Instructions to Authors

Scientific journals today receive a large number of manuscripts for consideration for publication. To make their task of scrutinizing these manuscripts a little easier, most journals require that the manuscripts conform to a standard format which varies from journal to journal. This standard format is detailed by each journal in the Instructions to Authors.

Instructions to Authors contain the gist of the journal's expectations from the authors in terms of the types of articles accepted for publication, the required format of each type of article, specifications regarding the number and type of illustrations (photographs/tables/figures), specifications about the language, publishing charges (if any), and any other instructions specific to the journal. It is in the author's interest to read and follow these instructions carefully, as a manuscript which meets all the journal's requirements makes a favorable impression on the journal editors and peer reviewers, permitting the submitted manuscript to go through to the next stage and making the process of peer review easier.

This article mentions the points of information usually provided in Instructions to Authors and discusses each point in some detail:
  • Qualifications for submission
    While most journals are concerned with the subject matter and style of the submitted manuscript, there are some journals which have additional criteria for accepting an article for publication. For example, some journals accept papers only from members of a particular academic body.
  • Types of articles acceptable to the journal
    Journals which publish many different types of articles (such as JAMA) usually have very specific criteria about the content and style of each type of article (e.g., Letters to the Editor, short communications, full-length research papers, review articles, etc.). Such journals use the Instructions to Authors to explain what can be included in each type of article.
  • Pre-submission enquiry
    Some journals prefer if authors make a pre-submission enquiry to learn(a) whether the journal would be interested in the type of article and topic they have in mind and (b) whether the style in which the article has been written conforms to the journal's requirements. This saves both the author and the journal editors a lot of time. The requisite telephone number or e-mail address is provided in the Instructions.
  • The language to be used
    Most English language journals usually accept only manuscripts written in English and manuscripts written in other languages must be translated into English prior to submission. If an article accepted for publication requires some correction of the English (as suggested by the reviewers), some journals (such as JSPJ) offer an English Correction Service at an additional charge to the author.
  • The language style to be followed
    Journals may specify in the Instructions whether they want the British or American style of English used for writing the manuscript. If the language style has not been specified, it is suggested that the author scrutinize published issues of the journal to become familiar with the style required.
  • Formatting style for the main text
    Journals are usually quite particular about how the manuscript is formatted. Most journals set a limit on the number of words or specify the number of pages permitted. The journal may specify the font size (10-, 11-, or 12-point size) and line spacing (usually double-spaced). Most journals prefer the right margin to be left unjustified. Some journals specify that the manuscript must be in a single column format and if double columns are used, the publication charges will be increased.
    Page numbers must be numbered consecutively, with separate pages for the title and figures as mentioned in the Instructions. Some journals such as JSPJ and Nature provide templates to be used for formatting the manuscript. You can view the template for Nature at the following URL:
  • The format for the title page
    Different journals differ in their requirement for the title page. Most journals specify that the title page should be typed on a separate sheet of paper and should include the title of the article, author(s) name(s), academic degrees, address(es) and affiliation, word count, and the name of the person for correspondence (when there is more than one author). Some journals (Transplantation Proceedings) specifically state that a separate title page should not be provided.
  • The language style to be followed
    Journals may specify in the Instructions whether they want the British or American style of English used for writing the manuscript. If the language style has not been specified, it is suggested that the author scrutinize published issues of the journal to become familiar with the style required.
  • The format for the abstract
    The journal specifies the number of words permitted (usually from 250?350 words), the content expected in the abstract, whether the IMRAD format needs to be followed, and whether it needs to be typed on a separate sheet of paper.
  • The number of keywords required
    Keywords are required to facilitate location of the article by search engines on the Internet. Most journals specify the number of keywords they require, ranging from 5 to 10 in number. They are usually included in the manuscript just after the abstract.
  • The format for the references
    The journal may want the references numbered consecutively as they appear in the text, or placed in alphabetical order. Some journals ask for the DOI (Digital Object Identifier to be included in the citation, even if a print version of an article is being cited). The style to be followed when writing the references will be mentioned, along with specific examples for cited papers, cited books, and cited book chapters. For instance, some journals will specify that all the authors of a cited paper should be mentioned, while others ask for the names of the first or first 3 authors only, followed by et al. Medical journals may specify whether they want the Vancouver or Harvard style of reference writing followed.
  • The format for tables
    The Instructions specify the number of tables permitted, the method to be followed for numbering, word count limit for the titles of tables, and whether a hard copy of the tables is also required. Most journals request that tables be numbered consecutively in the order in which they appear in the text and that the position of the table in the text be clearly mentioned.
  • The format for the figures and photographs
    Read this part of the Instructions very carefully. Some journals have a limit on the number of figures and photographs that can be published. Often, journals will publish a specified number of black and white photographs for free, but will charge for extra photographs exceeding the specified number or for color photographs. The size of the figures, instructions regarding legends and numbering style, file formats permissible, publication charges, and whether a hard copy of the figures and photographs is also required will be clearly mentioned. Some journals specify that figures and photographs should not be embedded in the text file but submitted as individual files, while others allow them to be embedded at the end of the text file. Journals also specify whether the photographs should be printed on glossy or matt paper.
  • Instructions about equations, Units, and statistics
    Most journals, particularly those in the Physical Sciences, provide instructions on math and equations in the text, rules for writing Units (usually SI Units are recommended), and guidelines on presenting statistics.
  • Style guide for symbols, etc.
    Most journals specify styles to be used for abbreviations and symbols, for drugs, for brand names of drugs, for microbial names, etc.
  • Method of submission acceptable to the journal
    Submission of the manuscript can be on paper (the traditional way), on a compact disc, or electronically. With the world-wide explosion in the use of computers, journals are increasingly opting for electronic submissions. Some journals such as Transplantation Proceedings or Journal of Endocrinology have informed authors that all manuscript submissions for future issues MUST be electronic. The journals will individually consider cases where electronic submissions are not possible. Other journals such as the British Journal of Sociology require both electronic and paper submission of the manuscript.
  • Manuscript file formats
    Manuscripts are commonly requested in MS Word or WordPerfect, but some journals may accept submissions in LaTex, PDF, EPS, Text, Postscript, or RTF format. If a PDF document is accepted for publication, a Word or WordPerfect document will be required. Some journals specify file sizes (individual files usually should not exceed 1 KB) and file naming conventions. These should be adhered to carefully, to avoid delays in the review process or rejection of the manuscript. For example, the British Journal of Ophthalmology requires manuscript files to be named following the convention yr_manuscript id number_author (e.g., 2007_001234_suzuki) and image files to be named as yr_manuscript id number_F# (e.g., 2007_001234_F2 for the second figure in the paper).
  • Type of review process followed
    The journal usually mentions the process followed for review of the submitted manuscript. If a double-blinded review is to be carried out, authors are requested to ensure that their identities are not revealed.
  • Publication charges
    Some journals may charge for all the pages but others may publish a fixed number of pages free and charge only for publishing any pages over this number. As explained above, color photographs are charged for, as well as illustrations/figures exceeding the permitted number.
  • What is required in the cover letter?
    Journals such as JAMA, which provide very comprehensive Instructions to Authors, even specify what is required in the cover letter accompanying the manuscript.
In conclusion, it is clear that every journal has its own specific format in which manuscripts should be written when submitted for consideration. This format is explained to authors in the section Instructions to Authors/For Authors, in both the print and online versions of all journals. It is the author's interest to read the Instructions carefully, as they detail the types of articles published in the journal, how and where to submit a manuscript, how to format the manuscript (including tables, figures, and references), and other details such as acceptable manuscript length and publication charges. While going through pages of instruction can appear to be a very tedious task to a young author in a hurry, it is worth spending sufficient time understanding them. Adhering strictly to the Instructions to Authors reduces the chances of the manuscript being rejected by the journal editors even before the process for peer review.