Understanding and following the Information for Authors (Author Guidelines)
A hidden key to success in academic publishing is learning how to understand and follow a journal’s Information for Authors (IFA), also known as Author or Submission Guidelines. This article offers you a handful of very practical tips about following your target journal’s IFA while preparing your manuscript for submission.
1. Understand that the IFA differs for each journal
The IFA frequently runs multiple pages in length, and although most IFAs share similarities, each journal’s is unique. Focus on complying with your target journal’s requirements. If your paper is ultimately rejected and you need to submit elsewhere, start the process over again. Don’t assume that a second journal’s IFA will exactly mirror the first.
2. Study the IFA closely
Once you’ve zeroed in on your journal of choice, study their IFA closely, as if you were going to be tested on them (because you will be tested on them!). The corresponding author of the manuscript must become a master of the IFA.
3. Follow to the letter every element in the IFA
Write your manuscript in strict accordance with the IFA. Many IFAs have extremely detailed and specific guidelines, sometimes down to the font size, margins, number of authors allowed/paper (which will differ depending on type of manuscript or topic) etc. Abide by those parameters, especially if yours is a first-time submission to a journal. The journal editorial office has taken years to develop and refine the IFA; taking exception to or disregarding the IFA will yield you a quick rejection. And it may earn you an unwanted reputation within an editorial office.
4. Share the burden of IFA compliance
Enlist help from your co-authors, other colleagues or even family members. Assign them to become keenly familiar with certain elements of the IFA, and then ask them to review the submission according to their newly developed IFA micro-expertise. Having multiple pairs of eyes pore over the submission will result in polished, compliant papers.
5. Keep in mind your paper’s first audience: the editorial office staff
Place yourself in the shoes of the editorial office staff and reviewers who will receive your submission. Beautifully written papers that clearly comply with the IFA are a joy for them to receive and help them focus on evaluating the content of the manuscript. Make it easy for the editorial office and reviewers to like you.
6. Remember the watchwords: intentionality and thoughtfulness
At every step and in every detail in your manuscript preparation, these two words should superintend everything you do. It may help to think of your manuscript as if it were a music composition. Each note, tempo modulation and change in volume affects the whole. If you approach making every submission a mini-masterpiece, editors and readers will take ‘note’ and appreciate you. As will tenure committees and research funding agencies.
7. Complete the IFA checklist (or make your own)
Many journals provide a comprehensive checklist to help ensure authors meet all their criteria. Make sure every item is accounted for on that checklist, and include the completed checklist with your submission. If your journal doesn’t have a checklist, make your own. (Here’s one that we have developed: Checklist for Writing and Submitting a Quality Scientific Article)
8. Give yourself and your manuscript some time
Steps 1–7 typically require considerable time. Once you have prepared your manuscript and are ready to submit, wait a week if possible and then conduct a final pre-submission review. You may be simultaneously gratified at how good your preparation is, and also surprised at how many fine-tuning modifications you may feel the need to make.
As a final note, remember the overall goal of paying close attention to the IFA: to get your submission to the next step in the process, namely to be considered for peer review. Abiding by the IFA gets your paper a seat at the peer review table. All the best!
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