Instructions for authors (IAs) probably constitute the most substantive document prepared by science journals. IAs are meant to provide authors with the information necessary to submit a manuscript that adheres to a journal’s technical and content specifications and federal and ethical guidelines. However, in light of the number of articles that require corrections and clarifications before publication, it is evident that many authors are not reading the IAs before submitting their manuscripts. On the basis of comments made by the audience throughout the session, this is a major issue for most, possibly all, journals.
George Kendall emphasized the need for the IAs to be effective resources that guide authors, reviewers, and editors through the submission, review, and publication process. The IA should convey the personality of the journal (who we are) and state the requirements for publication (what we want). In general, contact information should be placed near the top of the IA, and there should be a table of contents so that readers can readily access a specific section of interest. Kendall suggested that the IA contain four sections: general, including ethical policies; the types of articles that the journal publishes; manuscript content requirements; and how to submit a finished manuscript. He then discussed how reviewer guidelines (RG) should closely parallel the IAs. For example, the RG should clearly define the types of content that the journal seeks to publish, including level of originality and reader interest. Reviewers should also be guided by the manuscript evaluation form, which can be designed to emphasize the journal’s interests and technical guidelines. Finally, Kendall emphasized the need for the editorial office to develop clear and concise IA and RG that serve not only authors and reviewers but editors and editorial staff.
Dana Compton provided another perspective on the use and value of the IA. She said that PNAS uses the IA as a resource document for authors, staff, and vendors. PNAS staff rely on the document to answer authors’ questions about journal guidelines, and vendors use it to obtain details about the journal’s content and scope. She noted that the goal of the IA is to be a central hub for all the journal’s resources. Yet, whether it is easy for authors to use is a major concern. In particular, the IA is very long, and this may make it difficult for authors to locate the information that they need. However, PNAS has a resource section in its IA that contains heavily used resources, such as the license for authors, a tool to check the length of a manuscript, and guidelines for preparation of digital art and inclusion of supporting information. She also provided a few tips about what to include in the IA: Make the IA concise by including only essential information, make the format user friendly (tabbed view and searchable), and remember your audience, which may extend beyond authors.
The questions generated from the talks revealed the complexity of keeping the IA user friendly and content rich. Suggestions from the audience included publishing a submission checklist for authors, distributing IAs at society meetings, and visually highlighting the revisions and updates of IA content.