For scientists submitting their papers to journals, there’s an all-too-familiar drill: spend hours formatting the paper to satisfy the journal’s pointers; if the paper is rejected, sink extra time into reformatting it for an additional journal; repeat.
Now an evaluation has put a price ticket on all that busy work: US$230 million price of time was wasted by scientists worldwide reformatting papers despatched to biomedical journals in 2021 alone1. Appalled by that exorbitant price, the authors of the evaluation, which was revealed in BMC Drugs on 10 Could, suggest that journals ought to enable free-format submissions so researchers can spend their money and time on analysis as an alternative.
“I can not think about why anybody would care what an article appears like the primary time a journal sees it,” says David Shiffman, a marine conservation biologist at Arizona State College in Tempe, who was not concerned with the examine. “I don’t suppose it’s a productive use of my time.”
It’s primarily the inconsistencies between journals’ pointers that pressure researchers to reformat and generally rewrite their manuscripts, says Laura Hilton, a most cancers genomicist at BC Most cancers, a care centre in Vancouver, Canada. For instance, some journals require graphical abstracts whereas others don’t; some mix the outcomes and dialogue sections however others preserve them separate. Journals set wildly differing limits on the variety of characters in a paper’s title, the summary’s phrase depend, the size of the reference listing and extra.
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Not all journals reject submissions that don’t conform to their specs, however there’s an implicit stress to comply with them, says Tibor Varga, an epidemiologist on the College of Copenhagen and a co-author of the evaluation. Researchers who spoke to Nature say that they don’t thoughts formatting their articles to adapt to a journal’s type, so long as they’re doing that work after their examine has been accepted.
This time burden disproportionately impacts early-career researchers, says Michelle Starr, a paediatric nephrologist on the Indiana College College of Drugs in Indianapolis. “When persons are extra established, they may have an entire group who can assist with this piece.” Out of 5 of Starr’s manuscripts that journals are contemplating, 4 of them got here again to her inside days so she may right formatting errors the journal workers had discovered.
To get an thought of the price of reformatting, Varga and his colleagues estimated common hourly educational salaries in the US and the European Union, the time spent reformatting per manuscript (4 hours) and the annual variety of resubmissions. They calculated that, if present journal practices don’t change, reformatting may price about $2.5 billion in researchers’ time between 2022 and 2030. Many journals have transitioned to publishing analysis on-line solely, which means that many of those formatting pointers are “historic artefacts” of print layouts, Varga says.
Different researchers have proposed that each one journals ought to have the identical set of pointers or enable utterly free-format submissions. However on the idea of a evaluate of greater than 300 journals’ pointers and interviews with scientists and journal editors, the authors advocate a “golden-middle” resolution that will enable researchers to submit manuscripts with out following particular formatting calls for, however as an alternative abiding by minimal structural necessities comparable to whole phrase depend.
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Varga and his colleagues are planning to launch an “aggressive” outreach marketing campaign to journals, publishers, universities, funders and organizations such because the Worldwide Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE) to implement their suggestions. They’ve already launched an on-line petition that greater than 100 folks have signed.
Co-author Amy Clotworthy, an ethnologist on the College of Copenhagen, says that the authors targeted primarily on biomedical journals as a result of these are inclined to have a particular format that’s completely different from, for instance, that of social-sciences publications. However she says that the authors’ suggestions for free-format submissions apply to different disciplines as effectively.
Christine Laine, editor-in-chief of the journal Annals of Inside Drugs primarily based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, which is the secretariat for the ICMJE, says that, provided that there are millions of journals with completely different “audiences and ‘personalities’”, it’s “typically applicable” for journals to have completely different necessities for phrase depend and different facets of a paper. She provides that editors at Annals evaluate submitted manuscripts that don’t adhere to its formatting steering.
Nature gives a prolonged listing of formatting pointers for manuscripts. However Magdalena Skipper, editor-in-chief of Nature, primarily based in London, says that the preliminary format of a submission to the journal “doesn’t affect consideration of the manuscript” and that the journal will “fastidiously contemplate” the recommendations put ahead by the evaluation. (Nature’s information group is editorially impartial of its journals group.)
Varga acknowledges that some journals have turn into extra lenient about manuscript formatting at submission. However there’s a rising sentiment that researchers won’t put up with practices that “drastically inconvenience them”, he says. “The present system shouldn’t be sustainable.”