Formatting a manuscript for journal submission: Importance of the House Style
House style explained
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 section on the journal’s website.
Importance of formatting according to the 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?
a. Reducing time to acceptance/publication
The most important reason to format your paper to your target journal’s house style is that this can reduce the time to publication. 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.
- 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.
b. Facilitating peer review
Another reason for formatting your paper to a journal’s house style is that doing so can help facilitate the peer review process.
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.
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.
Exceptions/Exemptions to the practice
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.
a. Format-free initiatives
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 the 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.
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 journals, or B2J, submission, and is accepted by a variety of journals.
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 (such as a publication support service) exist to help make formatting to the journal’s house style easier, and in some cases, even unnecessary.
Read next/second in series: Formatting a manuscript for journal submission: Journal Guidelines
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