Developing author guidelines

Topic lead: Alex Mendonça, Wendy Patterson, Tom Olijhoek
Last updated: 05/06/2023

Author guidelines are the manifestation of a journal’s editorial policy. They help guide potential authors in structuring their article correctly and prepare it for submission. Guidelines often also inform authors on Article Processing Charges and license/copyright conditions. Having clear and straightforward author guidelines will save support time from the editorial team and facilitate indexing and admission to journal indexes.

Author guidelines are an expression of the journal’s editorial policy and workflow and should be presented transparently. Prior to submitting their manuscripts, authors typically check author guidelines, so these should leave little to no questions left. Author guidelines are also used by journal staff and the editorial board to check that submitted papers are compliant. Moreover, indexes and other discovery services may also check the author guidelines against their own indexing policy.

Author guidelines should ideally be reviewed and updated at least annually, or every time there is a change in the journal’s editorial policy. For that reason, it is advisable to publicly state the date of the last updates and keep an internal record of previous versions, if possible. If author guidelines are made available in different places (e.g. the journal website and the submission platform), care must be taken to ensure that the exact same guidance is being provided.

Key components of author guidelines

Ideally, a journal’s guidelines for authors should cover the following items:

  • Journal scope, aims and focus
  • Languages accepted for submission and publication and information on whether translation options are available
  • Journal’s privacy policy
  • Description of the journal’s archival policy
  • Content types accepted by the journal
  • Clear description of the journal’s evaluation workflow, including any variation based on content type
  • Details on the required formatting and structure or sections for the various content types
  • Instructions on what should be included in the cover letter (if required)
  • File formats accepted for submission (e.g. Word, pdf, LaTeX)
  • A description of how figures, tables and schemes should be prepared, including required resolution and acceptable file formats
  • Bibliographic standards adopted for citations and bibliographic references to other texts, research data, methods, computer programs and other materials
  • Expression of journal’s commitment to ethics and best practices in research communication
  • Statements on research integrity and plagiarism policy
  • Description of how corrections, retractions and concerns are handled
  • Description of the appeals process
  • Author’s rights and their responsibilities
  • Instructions on how authors should inform individual contributions for the manuscript (using a taxonomy is advisable, such as CRediT)
  • Policy on conflict of interest
  • Information on licensing and copyright retention
  • Information on reporting funding sources
  • Open science practices, including the journal’s policy for accepting preprints, research data availability statements and open peer review
  • Clear indication of any kind of fees related to the submission or publication of the manuscript, including any other scenario where fees may be collected from authors
  • Instructions regarding obtaining permission for and the correct use of copyrighted material
  • Any other instructions specific to the journal’s subject area (e.g. principles for submission to medical journals)

Journals might consider developing document templates for the various file formats accepted for submission and providing a download link in the guidelines for authors. This will make it easier for authors to comply with the journal’s manuscript format requirements.

If in doubt about the development of your own author guidelines, it is recommended that the guidelines of journals in similar fields are reviewed and considered as a starting point.

Dealing with the growing use of AI (artificial intelligence)

The use of AI techniques in research articles is growing quickly. Examples include ChatGPT and other Large Language Models. Because these cannot take any responsibility for the submitted work, artificial intelligence tools do not satisfy the conditions for authorship.

Authors remain fully responsible for the content of their manuscript, even those parts produced by an artificial intelligence tool, and are therefore accountable for any breach of publication ethics.

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