• Charlesworth Author Services

Formatting a manuscript for journal submission: Common Elements of Formatting

This article discusses formatting the various elements of a paper according to journal guidelines.

Section names

A typical research paper includes a title, abstract, Introduction, Methods, Results and Discussion (often referred to as IMRAD). However, there can be variations across journals.

  • Some journals require additional sections, such as a Conclusions section. 
  • The headings for these sections can vary. For example…

The abstract may be referred to as the summary.

The Introduction may be referred to as the Background.

The Methods section may be referred to as Materials and Methods. 

Title page

The content that appears on the title page can vary significantly depending on the journal, and specifically based on the peer review model. In particular, if a journal operates under a double-blind peer review model, the authors’ names and affiliations should not be included on the title page, so that peer reviewers do not learn their identity.

Word and character limits

A journal’s guidelines should specify whether there are any length limits for the paper as a whole and/or for any individual section.

  • It is common for titles to be subject to a word or character limit (with or without spaces), and this is especially true for running titles.
  • It is also very common for there to be a strict word limit for abstracts

Spelling convention

There are small differences in US English and UK English spelling conventions, and most journals specify which version they prefer. In some cases, the choice is left up to the authors, in which case you can use whatever you feel most comfortable with, but keep in mind that it is never appropriate to use a combination of both styles.

Text appearance

Generally speaking, academic journals require the text of a submitted paper to be visually simple and consistent. This means that…

  • In most cases, a single font style, size and colour should be used throughout the manuscript.
  • In addition, the same margin sizes and line spacing conventions should be applied throughout. 

Heading style

Heading style is often strictly regulated by academic journals.

  • For example, some journals require sections and subsections to be numbered according to a specific scheme.
  • Other common variations include whether all of the main words in a heading are capitalised, or only the first word, and whether full stops are placed at the ends of headings.

Reference formatting

The formatting of both in-text references (citations) and the reference list itself are highly important elements of formatting your paper for submission to your target journal. Each journal has its own unique style (called house style), and will require that your paper be formatted appropriately, either prior to review or just prior to publication.

Publication ethics statements

Almost every journal will require statements of competing interests, financial support and acknowledgements. However, where these statements appear in the paper depends on the journal’s preference.

  • Sometimes, these statements are included at the end of the paper, and sometimes at the beginning.
  • Occasionally, a journal may require these statements to be entered directly into their submission system instead of being incorporated into the main manuscript file.
  • In addition, some journals require specific wording for these sections. 

File organisation and format

Depending on the journal, you may need to upload your paper as a single file containing the entire text as well as all figures, tables and supplementary data; or you may need to upload each of these elements separately.

  • Some journals require each figure to be uploaded individually, whereas some will accept a single file containing all of the figures.
  • Some journals require each figure to be accompanied by its legend, whereas some ask for the legends to appear in the main text file, with the figures uploaded separately.
  • In addition, some journals specify whether figures, tables, etc. are uploaded as .doc/.docx or .pdf file formats.


Read previous/second in series: Formatting a manuscript for journal submission: Following Journal Guidelines


Maximise your publication success with Charlesworth Author Services.

Charlesworth Author Services, a trusted brand supporting the world’s leading academic publishers, institutions and authors since 1928.

To know more about our services, visit: Our Services

Share with your colleagues