Friday Editor’s Tip: Lose the formatting!

As Managing Editor of The Pan-Pacific Entomologist, I have the privilege of guiding manuscripts through the entire publication process—from submission and review through acceptance and preparation for final printing. It’s gratifying to see the results of a researcher’s efforts come to fruition, and it is also a good time to be an editor—due in no small part to the plethora of digital tools we have at our disposal. Knowing the amount of effort required to be an editor in today’s environment, I can’t imagine fulfilling the role in pre-computer days when manuscripts were prepared on a typewriter, submitted as hard copy, mailed to reviewers, collated upon their return (after interpreting hand-scribbled reviewer notations), and mailed back to authors for retyping. My heartiest congratulations to and respect for anyone who served as an editor in those days!

One of the holdovers from those days is the use of double-spaced text and numbered lines in draft manuscripts. This was necessary back then to provide space for reviewer comments and facilitate quick reference to specific portions of the manuscript. Of course, most journals today utilize fully electronic processes for submitting and reviewing manuscripts, and in some cases (including The Pan-Pacific Entomologist) a hard copy version of the manuscript may never be produced until the journal itself is issued. While the ability of reviewers to directly insert comments and suggested edits into an electronic version of the manuscript obviates the need to include line spacing and numbers, some authors still find themselves in the habit of preparing their manuscripts with such format. A bigger issue, however, brought on by the change from manual to electronic manuscript preparation is the temptation by some authors to overly “format” their manuscripts. Modern word processing programs (e.g., Microsoft Word) make it easier than ever to give documents visual appeal when printed, and most authors thus find themselves wanting to apply at least some formatting to their manuscripts. Indeed, some even go so far as to format their manuscript so that it closely resembles the printed journal! The problem is that most printers utilize file conversion software that automatically applies formatting according to a journal’s style sheet. Formatting commands used by word processing programs often interfere with those used by file conversion software, thus, to avoid conflicts any formatting applied to a draft manuscript must be stripped out prior to file conversion. The more of this that is done by the author prior to submission, the less potential for errors during printing. Unfortunately, just as secretaries don’t often make very good scientists, many scientists wouldn’t make good secretaries and find the prospect of “cleaning” an overly formatted manuscript more intimidating than it really is. Accordingly, I offer here this little “cheat sheet” for those who would like help in making sure their manuscript is clean prior to submission. These tips assume the use of Microsoft Word (since its file formats are acceptable for submission to The Pan-Pacific Entomologist), but a similar process should be possible with most other word processing programs.

Step 1. Select the entire document by pressing “Ctrl+A”.

Step 2. Click on “Home” in the menu ribbon and open the “Paragraph” dialogue box.

Step 3. Click on the “Indents and Spacing” tab. Set all of the commands as shown in the figure below.

Step 4. Click on the “Line and Page Breaks” tab. Set all of the commands as shown in the figure below and click “OK”.

Step 5. Open the “Font” dialogue box (also under “Home” in the menu ribbon). Set all of the commands as shown in the figure below and click “OK”.

Step 6. Click on “Page Layout” in the menu ribbon and open the “Page Setup” dialogue box.

Step 7. Click on the “Margins” tab. Set all of the commands as shown in the figure below and click “OK”.

Voila! Your manuscript is free of all extraneous formatting commands and is ready for submission (assuming its contents are complete and well written). If there are portions of text that simply must be formatted (e.g., italics for scientific names) those can be reapplied. Of course, my best advice is to ensure the manuscript contains the above settings before it is even started. This not only ensures that formatting is limited to text that must be formatted, but also that the author will not need to spend additional time stripping out unneeded formatting during the preparation of final files for printing.

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2012

20 thoughts on “Friday Editor’s Tip: Lose the formatting!

  1. I’d guess only left justification is justified, but we’ll see what Ted says.

    Similarly Ted, do you even prefer no centering of section headings?

  2. I was the editor of a peer reviewed journal on metallurgy in the pre-computer days (and also a beetle collector). One fun thing you didn’t mention was doing layout with paper strips and rubber cement.

  3. I’ve always been fine with a little bit of formatting on the part of writers (boldfacing and italics, where appropriate) since it not only helps the author in preparing the document, but it also facilitates the reviewers who have to read it (there are those occasional writers who try to duplicate the eventual layout).

    Even if writers go overboard on formatting, InDesign has a handy way purging all of it: When you place a document make sure that “Show Import Options” is checked on the file chooser dialog; after you pick a file and click Open, another dialog box opens up where you can check “Remove Styles and Formatting from Text and Tables”. This places the document with just the bare text and carriage returns.

    I do this on every document when it comes time for layout, since I like to start with a clean slate. In submission guidelines and when talking to authors prior to submission, I explain that all formatting they do will be stripped when layout is done, so it’s in their interest to keep it to a minimum and not waste their time going beyond that.

    • I’m not familiar with InDesign, but it sounds like an even simpler way to strip the formatting.

      Your approach is reasonable and similar to mine. Manuscripts that I receive are basically either lightly/not formatted or very heavily formatted. I presume this is indication of which authors actually read submission guidelines. I don’t sweat a little bit of formatting, but if they are heavily formatted I’ll ask the author to clean it up. It’s best if they can do it; however, some authors are better than others at following though. For those that aren’t, another round of emails to let them sign off on the version that cleaned up becomes necessary.

      • Not really a horror, just making things more difficult than they need to be. I think (or hope, at least) that most authors we’ve dealt with will tell you we were flexible and understanding in our dealings with them. This post was intended to be helpful rather than admonishing.

          • Sure – it’s always best to understand the journal requirements before starting the manuscript, or if that decision hasn’t been made then be conservative with formatting until the decision is made. It still amazes me how many authors don’t even read author instructions before submitting a manuscript.

    • Indents will also need to be stripped out. This is fairly straightforward if they are true indents, but “pseudo-indents” (manually inserted tab character) are more problematic since they can’t all be removed with a single global command (I suppose I could do a search/replace and leave the replace field blank).

      Again, italics and bold are allowed in certain cases to indicate formatting where it wouldn’t normally be applied (these are indicated in our author instructions), but to do so for headings, subheadings, addresses, etc. just creates extra work for both authors and editors.

  4. Most of the journals that I deal with have fairly specific formats they expect you to follow and tell you how to format various headings, when to use italics, and when to use bold. Then, of course, there is the extremely important journal style for citations (and the law must be that no two journals in a field can occupy the same citation format space). I suppose uniformity is somewhat desirable in a journal, but I wonder if much of this isn’t also a hold-over from when papers had to be typeset?

    As for double-spacing, I think it increases the chance that a reviewer will spot errors and it certainly makes a draft paper easier to read. I haven’t seen any studies to support this hypothesis, but that is my experience.

    I have seen studies that purport to demonstrate that the little shoes on serif fonts act like a dotted line for the eye to follow and increase reading speed and comprehension. So, using a serif font like Times Roman is generally considered best practice for printed material. But now that papers are being increasingly read on-line, perhaps a san serif font would be more desirable? One of my colleagues has macular degeneration and she hates serif fonts – everything becomes a blurry mess – but can still read sans serif fonts.

    • I really just wish all journals would subscribe to one of two Literature Cited models: full info as in most entomology journals, or minimalist for lowest amount of required text. Examples:

      MacRae, T. C. 2012. Cool paper about bugs. The Pan-Pacific Entomologist 89(1):1–10.

      MacRae, TC (2012) Pan-Pac. Entomol. 89:1–10.

      I find double-spaced pages manuscripts annoying—either way and somebody isn’t happy.

  5. Just a follow-up comment on manuscript formatting or lack of …

    As I have some papers in progress, I checked with a couple of managing editors and, as Ted has suggested, both said “Keep it simple.”

    Best wishes, …


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