Journals again. I’ve reviewed several papers in the last couple of weeks and completed corrections or updates on several more. This has once again brought me into contact with many of the joys of dealing with various journals, editors, online review / submission systems and others. While before now I’ve had a right go at the whole review system and many of the general problems it entails, here are a few more specific criticisms that seem to come up again and again and whose entire existence seems to be based around the concept of wasting time or confusing people unnecessarily. So get your popcorn and enjoy ‘Dave pointlessly whines about certain issues surrounding reviews and submissions which will probably never change’:
1. Being asked to format your manuscript according to a ‘recent issue of the journal’. And then not supplying a recent issue of / paper from said journal, which is a real pain if your library does not stock the journal. In other words they don’t’ give you guidelines and don’t give you a source of those guidelines.
2. Giving multiple and contradictory instructions. Often done in conjunction with the one above where the few instructions they do give you clash with the format in the printed journal so it’s not clear what you should do. A good subsection of this is having different formatting requirements for general submissions and then for resubmissions for publications. Why do this? Why not just have the final requirements implemented from the off? Does it really affect the editors and referees to have the subheading unnumbered during review, but not when published?
3. Journals not checking their own data. One journal, who shall remain nameless, has now registered me on their online author / reviewer system four times. This is very annoying as when asked to review a paper I have to keep logging in with different IDs until I hit the one the paper has been registered under. I doubt this affects too many people but it’s happened to me more than once so I can’t be the only one. Similarly I’ve been forced to register myself several times with various sites because when I move jobs, my work e-mail etc. changes. Since I hardly submit multiple papers to every palaeo journal every year, it’s perhaps not surprising that I don’t always remember my password or login details. Except that most journals seem to treat 3 year old login details for palaeontology papers as more secret than the average county’s nuclear arsenal so I can’t log back in without access to an e-mail address for a job I left years ago.
4. Not giving you the necessary details to format your references properly. I know I’ll come into immediate flak / tutting or head shaking since I don’t have EndNote, but that’s besides the point. Journals should provide all the information necessary for someone to submit a manuscript properly and getting the references formatted is a key part of that. Apart form the bizarre insistence on pretty much every journal ever having a different standard format, the real issue here is when the guidelines they give are very sketchy (this is joyfully compounded by them complaining that you didn’t do it right). Most commonly they don’t give examples of citations from theses or book chapters / special publications, or what to do with those that don’t use Roman scripts, but I’ve caught one or two who only ever give examples with one or two authors making it not clear how the commas, points and spaces are supposed to be put in.
I have flagged several of these issues to journals and editors on occasion and they seem to get ignored regularly. I suspect it’s seen as a minor inconvenience to correct the application process, which is understandable, except that it’s also an inconvenience to every author every time they try to format or submit a paper to a journal. It’s also likely to be a frustration to at least some editors, referees and type-setters who have to put up with all the errors that cross their desks because the authors were given confusing or inadequate instructions. So, how about a moratorium on ‘instructions for authors’? I can think of few journals that would not benefit from an overhaul and I suspect most authors would benefit from it too.Share this Post