A Question About Journals’ Style Requirements


Dear Journal Editors,

On behalf of those submitting articles to your journals, I write with a question about your house style requirements.We work in an era of publish or perish, in which the acceptance rates of many journals is in the single digits. This often means that in the scramble for jobs, tenure, and promotion, articles get submitted, rejected, and then sent to another journal—many times over.

Editors, your journals differ in many regards, including style: how works are to be cited, whether endnotes or footnotes are to be used, whether the first-person pronoun is permissible, how sections are to be titled or numbered or lettered or not, whether idiosyncratic acronyms should be avoided, whether ending commas and periods are placed inside or outside quotation marks, whether said quotation marks are single or double, whether we should approach this panoply of requirements with good humor or good humour, and so on, etc. (if abbreviations are allowed).

We respect your preferences, and we welcome the resulting diversity of stylistic offerings available to readers of philosophy.

But…

Must we conform to your stylistic requirements in our initially submitted manuscripts? Must we take the time to reformat our papers for every possible desk rejection? We can’t help but feel that that is a waste of time. Wouldn’t it be sufficient to wait until after the paper is accepted to require its author to make the necessary stylistic adjustments?

Many of us, we’ll admit, already engage in the practice of ignoring style guidelines on initial submissions. But that is a luxury afforded largely to those for whom the timeliness of an article’s acceptance may not be that important, e.g., those with secure, tenured employment. Those who need a publication soon—for the job market or for tenure, say—are less likely to take this risk. It would be good for them to know whether they are wasting their time.

We are open to the possibility that there is some crucial piece of information that would make the requirement that initial manuscript submissions conform to a journal’s in-house style sensible. If there is such information, please share it with us. Otherwise, please change your policy, and make that change explicit in your author guidelines.

Thank you!

Backspace key in the wild

 

guest
30 Comments
Oldest
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Neil
Neil
5 years ago

The AJP requires only that submitted papers meet a very minimal minimum standard for submission. BJPS too.Report

Kate Norlock
5 years ago

FPQ makes it clear on our site that initial papers do *not* need to conform to house style (which is really just Chicago 16th ed. author/date anyway).Report

Sergio Tenenbaum
5 years ago

I started ignoring submission guidelines years before I got tenure, and never had a problem (in fact, I started ignoring them because I was afraid I would never get tenure otherwise; I would procrastinate for months before I could bring myself to make all the style changes required for the next submission). I always tell my students to ignore style requirements, and I’ve never heard of anyone getting a paper sent back on these grounds (though I grant that they might be all wisely ignoring my advice). I do know of one exception: a friend of mine had a paper sent back from Archiv that did not conform to their (then) charmingly baroque style guidelines. But this was almost 20 years ago, and the journal has changed quite a bit since then. Report

Jeff Sebo
5 years ago

I think that a reasonable policy is to ask for changes at submission stage only if they (a) significantly affect ability to review or (b) are very easy to implement. So on this policy, it would be okay to ask authors to conform to e.g. length requirements (since that significantly affects ability to review) or spacing requirements (since those are very easy to implement). But it would not be okay to ask authors to e.g. reformat citations or references at this stage (as long as the current draft provides editors and referees easy access to all relevant information).

Also, FWIW this does happen. I recently had an initial submission sent back to me on the grounds that it failed to conform to the house style for references.Report

Sergio Tenenbaum
Reply to  Jeff Sebo
5 years ago

I should say that I completely agree with the point about spacing and length requirements!Report

Kris McDaniel
Kris McDaniel
Reply to  Jeff Sebo
5 years ago

Jeff, would you mind saying where it was sent back?

My experience is like Sergio’s. I’ve never looked at style requirements before submitting. I’ve never had any issue there, nor heard of anyone who has had one — prior to your post.

It would be good to know where just so we know at least one of the places where a very reasonable policy is rejected.

(By the way, I don’t think of length requirements as a style requirement though — that’s a requirement on the content.)Report

Neil
Neil
Reply to  Kris McDaniel
5 years ago

Medical journals and medical ethics journals routinely send back papers that do not satisfy – often demanding – house style conditions. Worse, at least one doesn’t tell you how you failed, just that you failed. The experience was a bit like debugging a piece of code : you know that it won’t run but dammed if you know why.Report

Kate Norlock
5 years ago

Jeff Sebo’s experience reminds me that it’s not equally clear on every journal site what the policy is. Recently, I decided to submit to a journal that said, after one logs onto its editorial management software and registers, “Before submitting please make sure you have adhered to the journal’s instructions for authors.” Those instructions include rather specific footnoting and style requirements. A bit deterring, actually. But maybe some journals want us to be deterred? (Seems a less than ideal way of reducing our numbers.)Report

Sara L. Uckelman
5 years ago

Another vote in favor of journals allowing LaTeX submissions and providing house style and bibliography files.Report

Christopher Hitchcock
Reply to  Sara L. Uckelman
5 years ago

Amen! This also minimizes changes at the proof stage by eliminating errors resulting from the mis-transcription of symbols. Report

David E BEARD
David E BEARD
5 years ago

This kind of thread always strikes me as odd. It seems to me to point to two ways of writing scholarly articles.

1. Write what you think is the best article, send it someplace, and when it is rejected, send it somewhere else with minimal revision.
2. Identify the journal, craft the article toward the journal explicitly, citing the authors published in that journal, the perspectives that that journal represents, and (as a result) the style that the journal requires.

I honestly don’t understand the first strategy, though I know people who make more money than I do make a career from it.Report

P.D. Magnus
Reply to  David E BEARD
5 years ago

I honestly don’t understand the second strategy. If you’ve written your paper so that it could only go in one journal, a rejection from one place kills it and all the effort you’ve put in. Any journal submission process has some noise in it, so even a great paper might be rejected.Report

Tom
Tom
Reply to  David E BEARD
5 years ago

I also find that the the journals I want to publish in are far too heterogeneous for strategy 1 to make sense. To be frank I’ve actually never heard of nor imagined strategy 1. That came straight out of left field.Report

Tom
Tom
Reply to  David E BEARD
5 years ago

Whoops. Those ones are supposed to be twos. Strategy two is the weird one. Report

Christopher Hitchcock
Reply to  Tom
5 years ago

I’m with P.D. and Tom. I write a paper when I feel I have something interesting to say (rare), or when it is the next logical step in my research program. I can’t imagine starting by choosing a journal. Report

David E BEARD
David E BEARD
Reply to  Christopher Hitchcock
5 years ago

Philosophy is an eccentric field, I think, then. (I am a nonphilosopher who follows this blog.)
I advise students to identify an audience early in the project, to survey the conversation among that audience on the topic (in the lit review), primarily focusing on works published in the journal to which you will submit, supplemented by essential works published in other venues.

The process is conceptualized in this metaphor:
“Imagine that you enter a parlor. You come late. When you arrive, others have long preceded you, and they are engaged in a heated discussion, a discussion too heated for them to pause and tell you exactly what it is about. In fact, the discussion had already begun long before any of them got there, so that no one present is qualified to retrace for you all the steps that had gone before. You listen for a while, until you decide that you have caught the tenor of the argument; then you put in your oar. Someone answers; you answer him; another comes to your defense; another aligns himself against you, to either the embarrassment or gratification of your opponent, depending upon the quality of your ally’s assistance. However, the discussion is interminable. The hour grows late, you must depart. And you do depart, with the discussion still vigorously in progress.”

The Journal is the parlor, as I conceive of it, though I think that in philosophy, the “discipline” or “the subfield” is the parlor?Report

Tom
Tom
Reply to  David E BEARD
5 years ago

I just don’t actually feel like the metaphor is apt at all. I mean, are there really while chains of academic conversation that are confined to a single journal? I’ve never encountered that. More standardly, it seems like the conversation sprawls across several journals. Indeed, if you confined yourself to, say, articles in The Journal of Philosophy, it’s not clear you’d write a coherent piece of philosophy. What would the subject of such a paper even be? Something that combines ethics, philosophy of science, analytic metaphysics, and a grab bag of other fields all at once??

Is this publishing technique really mainstream in other fields? I’m familiar with several sciences and I *know* it’s not the norm there. I’m having a hard time believing it’s real at all. Report

David E BEARD
David E BEARD
Reply to  Tom
5 years ago

Hmm. Among my biology colleagues, it seems very standard. There are only so many places you can send a piece on the reproductive habits of the cuttlefish.

And of course, no one cites ONLY the relevant work IN the journal (I did say “primarily focusing on works published in the journal to which you will submit, supplemented by essential works published in other venues”). That would indeed be a broken submission.

As editor of one journal for four years and as guest editor of several other journals, I can say: it’s how tit worked under me. (weak smile)Report

Obi-Non
Obi-Non
5 years ago

Can’t we all just decide to pick a single style and go with it? Have the APA run a poll, or look at which styles are most prominent, or something. A little coordination would go a long way!Report

jmugg
Reply to  Obi-Non
5 years ago

Obi-Non: Not really. The trouble is that the various sub-fields have different citations needs. I like APA over Chicago because I work in philosophy of psychology. Actually, some of my work ends up in journals where both philosophers and psychologists publish. But I don’t think journals specializing in, say, history of philosophy should use APA. Style emerges out of the needs of a discipline. Pretty much every discipline emerged out of philosophy, and philosophy has very different sub-disciplines. The result is that philosophy has lots of different citations style needs.Report

Mark Anderson
5 years ago

At S.Ph. (http://www.sphpress.com/journal/) we require only that the style be internally consistent and the essay exhibit prose at least approaching elegance. Admittedly, the latter is perhaps a more stringent requirement for academics than the former.Report

Fritz Allhoff
Fritz Allhoff
5 years ago

*Public Affairs Quarterly* doesn’t require that initial submissions are in house style; that requirement only kicks in for accepted manuscripts. Report

Chris Rawls
Chris Rawls
5 years ago

Yes. Just yes.Report

Dale Miller
5 years ago

Utilitas will not require that papers conform to our house style on initial submission beyond the length limit and line spacing requirements. (I say ‘will not’ rather than ‘does not’ because I’m transitioning in as EIC and handling new submissions. I don’t know what the practice was in the past, but I’d be surprised if was any different, save for the fact that I implemented the length limit.)Report

Samuel
Samuel
5 years ago

The initial question seems to be asking for the wrong thing… the author asks: “Wouldn’t it be sufficient to wait until after the paper is accepted to require its author to make the necessary stylistic adjustments?”

Well, that’s already how it works (except for the medical ethics journals Neil notes). As Sergio points out, you can simply ignore whatever the journals say about house style and they will send it to referees anyway (unless, they desk reject it for non-style reasons). I’ve never had anything sent back to me because it wasn’t in house style, with over a hundred submissions under my belt (including all mainstream phil journals). In short, just IGNORE it and nothing happens!

What we should perhaps be complaining about is that we should ever have to screw around with style, even after the acceptance stage. For example, if journals can agree upon (as some on this thread are suggesting) a uniform template (perhaps a LaTeX and a Word version of the template, which the journal could convert as needed using pandoc), the issue of authors having to manually tinker around with style would never arise. Report

An exception
An exception
Reply to  Samuel
5 years ago

I’ve had Phil Studies send a paper back to me – the same paper, twice! – for failing to conform to style requirements regarding things like citation practices and bibliography entries.Report

Matt McAdam
Matt McAdam
5 years ago

Are these requirements set by the journals or their publishers? If the latter, the editors may have little control over it. Report

David Hunter
David Hunter
5 years ago

The Canadian Journal of Philosophy requires stylistic changes only once a paper has been accepted for publication. So no need to reformat your papers before submitting them to us.Report

Steven French
Steven French
5 years ago

As Neil kindly mentioned, the BJPS certainly does not require initial submissions to conform to our ‘house style’ (Here’s what we say in the Instructions for Authors:
New submissions
• should have all identifying references removed for the purposes of triple-masked review;
• should refer to the author’s own work in the third person;
• should remove all acknowledgements;
• must be prefaced by an abstract of about 100 words;
• need not be in any particular style on initial submission, but if the paper is accepted for publication we will require a version in the Journal’s style. )

I find it bizarre that any journal would demand otherwise (and the publishers don’t care about initial submissions for obvious reasons) and I suggest that those that do, be avoided (easy for me to say, I know …)Report

Kate Norlock
5 years ago

Partly agreed with Samuel that “The initial question seems to be asking for the wrong thing,” but the legit complaint in the OP moves me to suggest that all journals should make it explicit on the publicly available page of their website that style is/is not required at the submission stage. That way we don’t have unpleasant surprises when navigating the internal software on the day we thought we’d be submitting.

But disagreed with Samuel that “What we should perhaps be complaining about is that we should ever have to screw around with style, even after the acceptance stage.” Maybe a paywalled journal with a publisher of great wealth can afford to hire a full-time copy editor to render articles consistent and well-documented. But at FPQ I get a jumbled variety of citation styles, and even with our smallish volume of submissions, our authors make a fair share of work for a freelance copy editor, whom we cannot hire full-time. If y’all want more journals and online, open-access venues for peer-review, then “screw around” you must. I do sympathize, and like Homer Simpson, I usually get to the style-adjusting stage with the attitude, “Can’t someone else do it?” But sometimes, the answer is no, someone else can’t do it and the author can if they want it to look publication-ready.Report