In April, I asked the Twittersphere what annoys them the most when it comes to submitting manuscripts to peer-reviewed academic journals. From the irritation of having to reformat references to fit some journal’s arbitrary style, to consigning figures and captions to the end of a submission, (as though it really was still 1988), to the pointlessness of cover letters* where all authors want to say is “Dear Editor, here is our paper” but feel the need to throw in something about how amazing their results are.
The tweet proved a lot more popular than I expected and for a good two days you could see a steam of delicious rage rising from my timeline.
I had an ulterior motive in seeking out this information from my fellow Twitter users. As those who know me will be aware, one of my aims is to help improve the transparency and reproducibility of published research. One of the journals I edit for - Cortex - is working through its (future) adoption of the new Transparency and Openness Promotion (TOP) guidelines. The TOP guidelines are a self-certification scheme in which journals voluntarily report their level of policy compliance with a series of transparency standards, such as data sharing, pre-registration, and so forth. Using the TOP framework to describe where a journal fits in with respect to transparency and openness is currently endorsed by over 500 journals. I guess you could call this "meta-transparency".
Now, in putting together the TOP policy for this journal which I serve, we realized that it involves the addition of some new submission bureaucracy for authors. There will be a page of TOP guidelines to read beforehand and a 5-minute checklist to complete when actually submitting. We realize extra forms and guidelines are annoying for authors, so at the same time as introducing TOP we are going to strive to cut as much of the other admin as possible.
The top 10 things authors hate
Anyway, back to the things authors hate the most, and their most popular recommendations. For fun, I calculated an extremely silly and invalid score of every interaction to this tweet, adding up RTs, favorites and the number of independent mentions of specific points:
- Abolish trivial house style requirements, including stipulations on figure dimensions and image file types, especially for the initial submission, as well as arbitrary house referencing and in-text citations styles. This is by far the most popular response. Score 112
- Allow in-text figures and tables according to their natural position until the very final stage of submission. Score 61
- Abolish all unnecessary duplication of information about the manuscript (e.g. word count, keywords), main author details and (most especially) co-author contact details that is otherwise mentioned on the title page or could be calculated automatically; abolish any requirement to include postal addresses of co-authors at least until the final stage (affiliation and email address should be sufficient, and should be readable from title page without requiring additional form completion); eliminate fax numbers altogether. Score 50
- Abolish requirement for submissions to be in MS Word format only. Score 36
- Abolish endnotes and either replace with footnotes or cut both. Score 33
- Allow submission of LaTeX files. Score 29
- Allow submission of single integrated PDF until the final stage of acceptance. Score 27
- Abolish cover letters for initial submissions. Score 21
- Abolish the Highlights section altogether. Score 18
- Remove maximum limits on the number of cited references. Score 7
- Abolish the requirement for authors to recommend reviewers. Score 7
- Increase speed of user interface. Score 6
And finally (lucky number 13), which actually scored the same as abolishing cover letters, goes to Sanjay Srivastava: "Getting rejected, can you do away with that?” Alas, that is beyond my current lowly powers, although...cough....I am getting there!
The original article appeared on Chris’ blog site, NeuroChambers.
How Elsevier is combating some of these pain points
Your Paper, Your Way
Catriona Fennell, Director Publishing Services, Elsevier: "We’re happy to report that for more than 700 Elsevier journals we have rolled out the "Your Paper, Your Way" initiative which eliminates requirements 1, 2, 4, 5, 6, 7, 9 and 10 for new submissions! Not only do authors love it, editors and reviewers find that it creates no more effort when reviewing the paper. Often they prefer having the figures and tables within the text."
Also worth noting....
Despite these coming in at #9, the majority of authors don’t seem mind to mind them. In our Author Feedback Program, we asked authors how strongly they agreed with this statement: “I found it easy to produce highlights that gave a clear overview of my article.” The statistics are below… (n=37,639).
They can also be a great way for authors to get their work noticed!
* Cover letters
For at least some of our editors, cover letters still prove a useful resource when it comes to assessing a submission.
Further reading / viewing