Preparing your manuscript for your target journal

Once you have chosen your target journal for your paper, the one you think most appropriate for your paper, tailoring your manuscript for that journal will increase the chance it will be accepted. It is important that you convince the journal that your manuscript is suitable for their readers. If it is properly formatted, the reviewers will easily see and read your paper as if it is already published in that journal. Following the journal’s formatting guidelines is one of the most important ways to present your paper as suitable for the journal. You can usually find these guidelines in the “Aims and Scope” section of the “Instructions for Authors” along with examples of recently published papers.

Aims and scope

Reading the Aims and Scope section of your target journal will ensure that you have chosen the most appropriate journal for your paper. However, you may still need to do a bit of rewriting to convince the editor and reviewers. For example, if I submit a manuscript to a more applied journal, I would add more discussion on forest management or conservation. However, if I chose a journal that is more theoretical, I might want to add more hypotheses and have less discussion about management implications.

Aims and Scope is also sometimes called Mission and Scope, or it may be the first few paragraphs of Author Guidelines. This section should include a broad mission statement, which summarizes the type of research that it publishes, as well as a list of relevant topics. Usually this list will reflect the type of papers that it publishes, but not always. A journal may want to publish more on a particular topic if it received more submissions. The mission statement may also list the type of approaches to research or methods it encourages, and list specific topics that it does not cover. It may also state that it emphasizes new concepts or tests of theory, or have a goal of only publishing papers that appeal to an international audience.

I recommend reading the Aims and Scope to ensure that your topic is covered. Then make sure that your manuscript is written such that it is applicable to as many subjects listed by the journal as possible, particularly if there is any question of the relevance of your paper. This might include adding implications for management or conservation, changing the framework of your study to focus on testing specific hypotheses, or demonstrating how your research is of general interest. I plan to address this topic further in a future blog post.

Instructions for authors

The Instructions for Authors or Author Guidelines are important to read and follow. If you are planning on sending your manuscript to an editing company, following these instructions as much as you can beforehand will reduce the cost of editing your manuscript. Regardless of who formats your manuscript, it is important since it will show the reviewers and the journal editor that you are seriously considering their journal and will give the impression that it is (or will be) published in their journal. Also, if it is not formatted properly, it may be rejected without review. Just today I was asked to review a manuscript for a journal. I looked it over quickly, saw that it was not formatted properly, and asked the journal editor to consider asking the authors to format it properly first. Reviewers are not going to be happy reviewing manuscripts with formatting errors. And reviewers are more likely to recommend acceptance if they are happy.

There are many items to read and follow, but here I will just highlight some of them. Usually the first thing in the Author Guidelines is the type of papers published, along with their word counts. You should ensure that your manuscript fits the type of article and that your word counts meet the guidelines of your target journal. The descriptions of different sections for papers and general formatting are the same for many journals (but not all, e.g., Nature). For example, tables almost always have a line at the top, at the bottom and just under the column headers, and no vertical lines. However, I still think it’s important to read through all the instructions for authors to ensure your manuscript is properly formatted. There may be variation in formatting such as single vs. double spaced, or full or left justification. I also look at recent articles to make sure I use the same formatting such as subtitles in bold. Other useful information in the Author Guidelines can include ethics, preparing figures, the submission process, and the review process. I will explore some of these topics in future blog posts.

© Karen Harper, PhD, and Oxford Editing, 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Karen Harper, PhD, and Oxford Editing with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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