Manuscript Formatting: the bane of my sad existence

“Dear Professor Timming,

Thank you for submitting your manuscript to the Journal of Scholarly Angst. Your paper has now been unsubmitted for the following reasons:

  1. We have no respect for your time. We also want to see how badly you want to submit to our journal by making you jump through hoops like a circus animal.
  2. Your title page is missing a fax number. Please provide one. I mean, how the f*^k are we going to send you a fax without that number? What if your e-mail address and phone number aren’t working?
  3. Please spell out the first name of authors in your reference page, instead of using initials. How would you feel if we referred to you as A. instead of Andrew, dips*^t?
  4. Please use American dates (e.g., January 1, 2020) instead of British dates (e.g., 1 January 2020). American readers of our journal will be utterly confused if you put the day first, followed by the month.
  5. You forgot to include Highlights, which basically reproduce your abstract, but, hey, you can never summarize your key findings too many times, am I right?
  6. You need to double-double space between all paragraphs, except for paragraphs that start after headings. Those, just double space.
  7. Thank you for including your ethics statement at the end of the manuscript. But you also need to include the exact same ethics statement on your title page. That way we know you’re serioius about ethics.
  8. You forgot to mention in your covering letter that this paper is not under review, nor published, elsewhere, even though you already confirmed this via the online submission system.

Once you have made the above changes, please log into your Author Center and resubmit, you filthy animal.”

Different formatting requirements are the bane of my existence. For the love of God, can’t we all just agree on one format and stick with it? Do we really need eight different referencing styles? Must we spend hours and hours re-arranging the content of our manuscripts simply for the sake of conforming to an arbitrary set of formatting rules?

“For the love of God, can’t we all just agree on one format and stick with it?”

Honestly, I’m still trying to figure out which is more time consuming: (a) just submit the damn manuscript in whatever form and let the managing editor spell out exactly what needs changing or (b) read through the 30+ pages of instructions to identify the necessary changes myself. I suppose this is an empirical question that should be researched.

The time wastage associated with formatting rules is so great that I often wonder why we are required to do it. The only answer I can come up with is that journals only want serious submissions and therefore make us jump through hoops so they can weed out scholars who are less committed and just “shopping around.” But the truth is that the most revolutionary scientists are so because they never follow the rules.

I, for one, am growing tired of the monotony of this task. We are under so much pressure in so many ways as academics that being told we need to reformat our submission may well be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. This is a rallying call: it’s time for journals to shift all formatting requirements to the final stage of the peer review process. Either that, or let’s just agree on one format and roll with it.

Prof. Andrew R. Timming

This article is published under a Creative Commons 4.0 license.

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