Must Journal Submissions Conform to Style Guidelines?


An assistant professor writes in with the following query:

Do journal editors ever reject something simply because it doesn’t fit the stated style guidelines? While it is becoming more popular for journals to state that guidelines need only be followed for accepted articles, a good amount of venerable journals still seem to require submissions to fit their guidelines. This just adds seemingly unnecessary hours of work which is precious to us (especially untenured folk). (Or, am I wrong? Does editing to fit a style really matter for submission for some reason I’m not understanding?)

My sense of things is that most journals do not care about citation style and section formatting at the initial stage of manuscript consideration. If some do, which ones? I do wonder about journals with more demanding and idiosyncratic elements in their style guidelines, such as a prohibition on the first-person. I invite comments from readers. Comments from journal editors are especially welcome.

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Hans Gruber
Hans Gruber
7 years ago

Nah, journals don’t care–it’s just a waste of time to put the paper in the journal’s style at the submission stage. What plays the biggest role is the decision on the paper is the referee reports, followed by the editor’s assessment of the referee reports. Whether the paper is in the house style is orthogonal to either of these factors. (Just consider: when you are refereeing a paper, do you give a crap about whether it is in house style?)Report

cms
cms
7 years ago

Referees don’t care, it is true. And they should not. But should your paper be accepted, the editor will have to ask you to conform to the journal style and check whether you really did, before forwarding it to the publisher. This is a lot of bookkeeping work because publishers don’t do that work or don’t like to do it, which gives you a lot of errors. So if the editor does not have an unlimited supply of graduate student work hours, it is up to the author. For at one point the publishing house – or more precisely its Indian or Belorussian subcontractor – will try to make your paper conform to the style, but of course not perfectly and without understanding e.g., whether something is a bloc quotation or not, changing some fonts because they don’t have yours etc. So you correct the galleys, try to elaborate on inconsistencies you found; and if you are lucky 75 % of your corrections are understood and executed. If you do not mind one error per page – or a frustrated editor, because in the end you might complain to him/her -, don’t worry about style files.Report

Jon Trerise
Jon Trerise
Reply to  cms
7 years ago

If the point is that the author will, after acceptance, have to be sure to make the proper corrections b/c editors don’t have a much time, isn’t this true before submission/acceptance as well? That is, this seems to me a moot point.Report

Michael
Michael
7 years ago

As a (hopefully conscientious) copy-editor I would advise that, since our time isn’t unlimited, the closer an author’s manuscript conforms to the journal’s style guide, the more opportunity there’ll be to attend to the actual essay itself in a detailed and sympathetic fashion.Report

Sanquia
Sanquia
7 years ago

I wish journals just made a LaTeX stylesheet available that conforms to their format. It would make everything so much easier, and less of a hassle for everyone (copy-editors included).Report

Lewis Powell
7 years ago

People who have questions about journal practices may also wish to know about the “From The Editors” blog, where journal editors post on relevant topics and answer questions about journal practices.

http://fromtheeditors.wordpress.com/Report

Rachel McKinnon
7 years ago

As far as I can tell, I’ve never had a paper rejected because I didn’t conform to style guidelines for initial review, nor have I rejected a paper as a referee for a paper being in any particular style (e.g., I’ve received some very oddly formatted papers for review and that didn’t explicitly or consciously factor into my decisions or comments–who knows if implicit biases were active, though).

I’ve only ever had to conform to style guidelines for papers that were accepted for publication.Report

jdjacobs
7 years ago

It does not matter at the submission stage. Res Philosophica, the journal I edit, asks that it be in one of the standard styles at the submission stage, but must be formatted to the journal’s style if accepted.Report

Andrew Sepielli
Andrew Sepielli
7 years ago

My experience differs from Rachel’s. As far as I can tell, every rejection I’ve received has been because the paper didn’t conform to style guidelines, with the referees’ stated reasons serving as mere pretext.Report

Jonathan Weisberg
7 years ago

As the referee who keeps recommending Andrew’s submissions be rejected (under various noms de plume, of course), I can confirm that failure to conform to house style was the true cause.

Seriously, though: I’ve never had a paper rejected for this reason, as far as I can tell. Nor would I ever consider, even for a moment, doing so, whether as a referee or as an editor. The only case I can think of where this would make sense is if the journal is absolutely swimming in outstanding submissions, and desperately needs a pretense for rejecting some of them.Report

Karl
Karl
7 years ago

Here is one data point: within the past couple of years I submitted a paper to a journal with some complex LaTeX formatting and in the standard LaTeX style. The journal refused to look at it until I converted it to a MS Word document. I spent a few hours and did so, they then reviewed it and the paper was ultimately published.Report

Kris McDaniel
Kris McDaniel
7 years ago

I doubt most referees even know what the house style of any given journal is. I certainly don’t.Report

hjackman
hjackman
7 years ago

As a referee, I generally prefer that submissions *not* conform the journal’s style guidelines. In particular, I prefer readings manuscripts with footnotes, and manuscripts that have converted their footnotes to endnotes (especially 12 point double-spaced endnotes) are just less pleasant to read. I try not to hold it against the author, since I know that they are putting the paper in such an annoying format at the journal’s request, but I remain annoyed throughout the process nevertheless.Report

Neil
Neil
7 years ago

On several occasions, I have had papers returned to me by the editorial staff (staff at the publisher who receive the submission prior to the editor being aware of the paper’s existence), telling me that it must conform to style guidelines before it will be processed. Once it gets to referees, no one cares.Report

Nick
Nick
7 years ago

I actually put the same question to the folk at From the Editors recently — since it’s been addressed here, they might not take it up there now. I asked, because I’ve heard conflicting things about it. My instinct was always that it didn’t matter a fig, but a kind friend kept insisting (in a similar manner to Andrew) that my impressive run of desk rejections was due to my lack of stylistic conformity. Tenor of the comments above suggests I may have been right.Report