In this section, we will look at journal instructions for authors, the types of formatting that may be required, and why it is important to format and structure papers in the style requested by a journal.
Failure to comply with Instructions for Authors sits alongside Aims and Scope as the top reason articles are rejected from journals. This is usually because the first editorial check is for these features - the structure, formatting, word count, etc. It is an all too common hurdle over which authors fall, and can result in what is known as a desk-reject.
Complying with these instructions is famously one of the most frustrating aspects of journal submission, as there are many differences in requirements between publishers and journals. Should you need to submit to subsequent journals after your first, the different instructions can result in significant time being spent on reformatting.
However, it is important to comply with these instructions, as some journals, particularly those which receive large numbers of submissions and need a ‘filter’ to reduce the papers that must be handled, can be very strict on enforcing them. The strictest journals may not even allow a re-submission to correct any non-compliant formatting, so do be careful.
The Instructions for Authors pages should include broad information on aspects such as article type, study type, word limits, abstract structure, and the blinding requirements of submissions (whether you must remove all name and institutional information, so you cannot be identified by reviewers).
After this, there may be some more granular detailed requirements for features such as reference style, titling and presentation of modular elements of the paper such as Introduction, Methods, Results, use of units of measurements, abbreviation, statistics and data presentation, formatting and style of figures and tables, and many more.
Some journals may even provide a set template for manuscripts, which can greatly help for structuring and formatting your papers. These may be a word doc, or a LaTeX editing template through platforms such as Overleaf or Authorea.
Look for and note down the formatting requirements for each article type that the journal considers, such as empirical research, brief articles, or review articles. There are many types of articles, and different terminology used for each type, so make sure the journal accepts the type of paper you are writing and that you have formatted it as requested.
We recommend you look at the JAMA Network Open's Instructions for Authors. This is a medical journal, but features a very thorough and well-structured Instructions for Authors section, which will give you great insight into the range of requirements which may be asked of you when you come to submit your manuscripts.