Why format to a journal’s house style?


A journal’s ‘house style’ is the formatting of its published articles, such as the font size and style, headings used, reference style, etc. The house style can also dictate aspects of the paper such as word limits (for the entire paper or specific sections), as well as the number of figures and graphs that can be included and the file formats of these display elements. Journal house style information is typically provided in the ‘author guidelines’ or ‘instructions for authors’ on the journal’s website.


Why is it important to format my paper according to a journal’s house style?

Formatting your paper to comply with a journal’s house style can seem like an unnecessary or time-consuming step. So why should you think about formatting to a journal’s house style?


Overall, the most important reason to format your paper to your target journal’s house style is that this can reduce the time to publication. All journals will require your paper to match their house style prior to publication, so this step will have to take place at some time during the review process. Most journals require at least the broadest, most basic aspects of their house style to be applied prior to sending it out for review: this can include elements such as word count and in-text reference style. Some journals even require more detailed elements of their house style, such as numbering sections and subsections, to be applied at this stage. Either way, if your paper is not formatted appropriately at submission, a journal may ask you to make these changes before they send it out for review, resulting in a delay while you make the required modifications.


Another reason for formatting your paper to a journal’s house style is that doing so can help facilitate the peer review process. For example, ensuring that your paper complies with the target journal’s word counts means that a peer reviewer is unlikely to comment negatively on the excessive length of sections, and is more likely to read the entire paper in detail, rather than skipping over or skimming passages that they find to be too long. Similarly, reviewers can get distracted by things such as using British English instead of US English spellings, and sometimes end up commenting on technical details like this instead of focusing on the scientific content of the manuscript. Thus, formatting your submission to the target journal’s house style could contribute to receiving more valuable or useful peer review feedback.


How do I format my paper according to a journal’s house style?

The first place to look for a journal’s formatting instructions is their website, often under the heading ‘author guidelines’ or ‘instructions for authors’. These webpages typically provide lengthy, detailed descriptions of every aspect of manuscript formatting. These descriptions are not always complete; and even if they are, it can still be difficult to identify the information you are looking for because of the sheer volume of information. If you are having trouble finding the information you need or understanding the instructions, keep in mind that ultimately the most important thing to do is make the format of your paper simple and consistent. For example, it is standard practice to use the same font size and style throughout your paper; even if your choice differs from the journal’s preferred font, they are likely to consider this a minor issue that can be addressed post-acceptance if the text is consistently presented and easy to read.


Many journals provide downloadable Microsoft Word templates that can be an invaluable resource in formatting your article to journal house style. These templates are already formatted to the journal’s house style, and can include details such as:

  • word count limits
  • appropriately sized margins
  • column formatting where/if required
  • English spelling type (British vs. US)


Another very useful formatting resource that many journals provide is ‘output style’ for reference lists. Reference list formatting can vary greatly from journal to journal, and formatting each individual reference can be a time-consuming and painstaking process. Applying the relevant output style to your paper using a reference management program is a dramatically easier and quicker way to achieve this, and can take a lot of frustration out of the process. If you cannot find a file for the journal’s output style on their website, check directly with your reference management software; for example, EndNote maintains an extensive searchable database of output styles that can be downloaded and applied to your reference list.


Do I always need to format my paper according to a journal’s house style?

Fortunately, given the complexity of formatting to a journal’s house style, there are some cases in which it is not necessary to do so. For example, several years ago Elsevier launched the ‘Your Paper Your Way’ initiative, which enables authors to submit papers in any reasonable, consistent format, without formatting to Elsevier journal house style. This approach reduces the burden on researchers to repeatedly reformat articles when submitting to different journals, which can take valuable time away from research. Other journals and publishers have since adopted similar policies. You can find a list here of journals that will consider papers that have not already been formatted to their house style, known as ‘format-free’ journals.


Another situation in which you may not need to format your paper to a journal’s house style is if you have posted your paper to the preprint server bioRxiv. bioRxiv offers the option of submitting your paper to a journal directly from the archive, transferring all of the relevant information and metadata for you. This type of submission is known as ‘bioRxiv to journal’, or B2J, submission, and is accepted by a variety of journals. To see if your target journal accepts this type of transmission, consult the list provided by bioRxiv here.



In summary, even though it can be frustrating to comb through a journal’s house style guidelines and apply them to your paper prior to submission, spending the time and attention to apply this step can make a meaningful difference to the speed and value of the peer review process. Fortunately, a variety of tools and options exist to help make formatting to the journal’s house style easier, and in some cases even unnecessary.


Charlesworth Author Services provide expert English language editing and publication support services. Our editors can check you have applied your target journal’s house style correctly. Why not get in touch with a member of our Charlesworth Author Services team for more information.


Our academic writing and publishing training courses, online materials, and blog articles contain numerous tips and tricks to help you navigate academic writing and publishing, and maximise your potential as a researcher. You can find out more about our Free author training webinar series by clicking here. 


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