Annual Meeting Reports

Taking Author Instructions to the Next Level

Authors do not consistently consult instructions to authors (ITAs) and frequently have problems complying with requirements as a result. The relevance of this topic to all publishers was reflected in the attendance at this session (standing room only). ITAs have become catalogs of everything from scope to policy. Sprawling, difficult to navigate, repugnant to authors—how can we make ITAs more useful and palatable?

Rebecca Barr of the Nature Research Journals group of Nature Publishing introduced the topic of ITAs and described how the Nature journals treat them (

David Martinsen of the American Chemical Society (ACS) described ACS attempts to educate authors about the publication process. Through half-day workshops at national meetings and sending delegations of editors to Asian countries to discuss scope and publication ethics, ACS developed a medium for making information easily available to a wider audience: a 10-episode video series describing the publication process, “Publishing Your Research 101” ( The series includes such topics as “How to Write a Paper to Communicate Your Research” and “Tips for English as a Second Language Speakers [sic].”

Martinsen described the complexities of crafting a video series and imparted some lessons learned, including budgeting more time than you think you are going to need and checking each episode one last time before you release it. He noted that China blocks YouTube and Vimeo, making it necessary to find an alternative to deliver the series there. He cautioned against wearing stripes on camera—this can cause a moiré pattern to appear to dance across the screen.

Two other ACS initiatives are ACS on Campus (, which is ongoing, and a new effort, “Mastering the Art of Scientific Publication: the Webinar Series” (

Jacob Kendall-Taylor works with electronic systems for Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), which receives about 17,000 submissions annually. He has a vested interest in facilitating a positive submission experience for authors. He offered this advice to start: 1) Identify the points at which authors have difficulty preparing and submitting papers, 2) accept that authors do not read the ITAs, and 3) prioritize responses to problems that authors experience during submission.

Kendall-Taylor suggested conducting author surveys to learn which portions of the submission or review process pose problems. PNAS staff track emails and telephone calls for two-week or one-month periods to monitor author experiences. In addition to redesigning a submission website to make the process simpler for the author, Kendall-Taylor suggested thinking of ways to make author instructions “unavoidable without being cumbersome,” such as installing pop-up help text boxes in the submission system (think about ordering something online and a prompt appearing, asking if you need assistance) with staff contact information and office hours in case authors need assistance during the process.

PNAS offers “Express Submission,” in which authors provide minimal information (essential data only) upon submission. Upon manuscript acceptance, the author is asked for more information. Express submissions may take as little as 10 minutes to accomplish. PNAS created videos to illustrate their submission process, complete with voiceovers and screenshots showing a cursor moving through the menus (

Jody Hundley of the American Heart Association (AHA) described how AHA began offering a “hybrid model” for copyright in late 2014 for 11 of its journals. Authors needed to be educated about open access and what was meant by licensing their content. In addition to providing useful URLs and websites, the AHA presented copyright and license information in tabular form for the authors, along with a list of FAQs, explaining the options and defining the particulars and article publication charges associated with each ( AHA updated the existing ITAs for these 11 journals to ensure standardized language among them.

If we can reexamine our ITAs critically, from the viewpoint of an author, we ought to be able to see ways to make them friendlier but still useful tools. We can take them to the next level.