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Ask an Expert: Manuscript Formatting

This is the third part of our “Ask an Expert” interview series. In this installment, we spoke with Cheryl Casterline about the top issues in manuscript formatting.

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What is your role?

As an academic formatting specialist, I format research manuscripts according to a defined set of guidelines in preparation for submission to scientific, technical, and medical journals. Journal guidelines vary greatly, and many journals have very specific instructions. My role is to make sure papers adhere to these guidelines, so researchers’ manuscripts can be considered for publication.

Why should authors care about manuscript formatting in general?

The journal editors’ first impression of a manuscript matters greatly. Inaccurate preparation of a manuscript’s layout, headings, and references, can suggest careless execution of the research and therefore makes acceptance less likely. A professionally prepared manuscript makes acceptance more likely.

Learn more about AJE’s manuscript formatting services [here](

What are the top difficulties in your work?

  1. References in the wrong referencing style, such as using numbered references when the journal calls for author-year style.
  2. References in the reference list that are not cited in the text and vice versa or incorrectly numbered citations.
  3. References that are incomplete (missing information).
  4. Tables that are not created with Word’s table function tool.
  5. Manuscripts that are disorganized and contain mismatched font styles and sizes and unstructured section headings that have no clear hierarchy.

How can these issues best be addressed by authors?

  1. Journal guidelines can be checked by the author to determine the correct referencing style. If a journal hasn’t yet been selected, use numbered style for scientific, technical, and medical manuscripts and author-year style for humanities, business, and social science manuscripts.
  2. If an author chooses not to use reference software, s/he can double check to ensure that citations in the text match those in the reference list and that they are in correct order (if numbered). They can also leave reference formatting to be addressed by a professional formatter.
  3. It is best to verify references from sources such as PubMed or Google Scholar. This will ensure that all reference information is accurate. For journal articles, provide the author name(s), title of the work, journal name, volume and issue numbers, and page range. For books, provide the author name(s), title of the work, and publisher name and location. For book chapters, provide the same information as for a book, but also include the chapter title, editor name(s), and page range of the chapter. For conference proceedings, provide the author name(s), title of the work, name, location and date of the conference, and, if applicable, any publisher information or page range.
  4. Use of Word’s table tool requires knowledge of how the tool works. If an author is not familiar with this tool, it is best to have a professional formatter create/modify the table. Alternatively, the author can create the table using Excel, and the formatter can then easily convert the Excel table into a table in Word.
  5. Use one font throughout the manuscript, make sure the section headings have a clear, distinct, and consistent hierarchy, and use page breaks instead of paragraph returns to separate manuscript sections. A well-formatted manuscript makes the reviewer’s job easier.

Why should authors care about these particular issues?

When authors present a well-formatted paper to a journal, it increases the likelihood of peer review and acceptance. Authors should always start out with their best foot forward. If a paper is not formatted well, the author stands the chance of delaying the submission process because many journals will not accept a paper for review unless it meets their guidelines. Presenting a “sloppy” paper to a journal can also suggest carelessness in the research itself.

Interview moderated by Michaela Panter. This article was updated 05/06/2016 to include the most helpful information for our readers. Stef Knauer, Formatting Team Manager, and Erika Kessler, Academic Formatting Specialist, also contributed to this piece.

You can learn more about AJE’s manuscript formatting services here.

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