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Understanding and Applying Journal Manuscript Formats

The process of getting a paper published in a scholarly journal is often rigorous and intricate. One critical aspect that can significantly influence the success of a submission is understanding and meticulously following the journal manuscript format. The format serves as the structural backbone of your paper, presenting your research in a way that's accessible and familiar to readers, reviewers, and editors in your field. It functions as a universal language that ensures your paper communicates its message effectively, regardless of the complexity of the topic.

Unfortunately, the failure to adhere to the prescribed manuscript format can lead to outright rejection, even before your paper has the chance to undergo a thorough scientific evaluation. Editors have to sift through an enormous volume of submissions, and a paper that doesn't conform to the required format may be viewed as a reflection of the author's attention to detail and respect for the journal's guidelines. Therefore, ensuring your manuscript aligns with the journal's format can improve its chances of being considered for peer review.

An essential component of any manuscript structure is the IMRaD format—an acronym for Introduction, Methods, Results, and Discussion. This structure is widely accepted in scientific writing as it provides a logical and coherent flow of information. The introduction sets the stage by outlining the research problem and the objectives of the study. The methods section details how the study was conducted, while the results section presents the findings. Finally, the discussion section interprets these findings in the broader context of the field. Understanding the IMRaD structure is fundamental to writing a paper that meets the expectations of both the journal and its readers.

Understanding author instructions

One of the initial yet crucial steps in the process of manuscript submission is locating and comprehending the author instructions provided by your target journal. These instructions typically provide explicit guidelines on the manuscript's structure, formatting style, referencing style, and other specific requirements.

Author instructions can usually be found on the journal's official website. They're often located under tabs or links labeled with terms such as "For Authors," "Author Guidelines," "Submission Guidelines," or "Instructions for Authors." If the website has a search function, inputting these terms can also lead you to the relevant information.

The instructions often come with a range of specific terminologies associated with academic publishing. Some common terms you might encounter include "abstract" (a brief summary of the manuscript), "keywords" (terms that capture the essence of your paper), "acknowledgements" (giving credit to people or institutions that helped with the research), and "conflict of interest" (any personal or financial relationships that could influence the research). Understanding these terms is essential to ensuring your manuscript meets all of the journal's requirements.

If the author instructions are not immediately visible, don't assume that they don't exist. It's important to note that some journals may not label their instructions for authors in an apparent way. In such cases, look under sections like "Publish," "Submit," or "Contribute." Sometimes, the instructions might be found under a different category such as "Editorial Policies" or "Submission Checklist". If you still cannot find them, don't hesitate to use the contact information provided on the journal's website to request guidance. Following these instructions to the letter is essential to ensure your manuscript complies with the journal's standards and to avoid any unnecessary delays or rejections.

Understanding the journal's aims and scope

The "Aims and Scope" section of a journal is a fundamental element that authors should pay close attention to. It defines the journal's purpose, the topics it covers, and the type of research it prefers to publish. It serves as the journal's mission statement, outlining its commitment to the academic community and setting the boundaries for its content.

Understanding a journal's aims and scope is vital to your manuscript submission process. If your paper falls outside the specified scope or does not align with the journal's objectives, it's likely to be rejected, regardless of the quality of your research. The editorial board often evaluates the relevancy of the submission to the journal's scope during the initial screening process, even before assessing its scientific validity.

To ensure your manuscript aligns with the journal's aims and scope, consider the following tips:

  1. Carefully read the aims and scope: Before drafting your manuscript, familiarize yourself with the journal's objectives and the topics it covers. This will give you an understanding of the type of research the journal prioritizes.
  2. Tailor your manuscript: Highlight aspects of your research that align with the journal's aims and scope. In your introduction and discussion, emphasize the relevance of your study to the themes outlined in the journal's scope.
  3. Consider the audience: The journal's aims and scope reflect the interests of its readers. Consider how your research will appeal to this audience and articulate its relevance and potential impact in your manuscript.
  4. Pre-submission inquiry: If you're unsure about whether your paper fits the journal's scope, consider submitting a presubmission inquiry. This can involve sending an abstract or a brief summary of your paper to the editor, who can provide feedback on whether it would be suitable for their journal.

By considering these strategies, you can increase the likelihood that your manuscript will be viewed favorably by the editorial board, enhancing your chances of publication.

Preparation guidelines

Preparation guidelines are crucial to the successful submission and acceptance of your manuscript. They provide a blueprint for authors to follow, ensuring that the structure and format of the submission are in line with the journal's expectations.

At the heart of these guidelines is the IMRaD structure. Adherence to this structure is fundamental to maintaining the flow of information and ensuring your research is communicated effectively.

However, adhering to the IMRaD structure alone is not enough. It's essential to adapt your manuscript to meet the specific style requirements of your target journal. These requirements might include citation and referencing style (such as APA, MLA, or Chicago), manuscript sections (like abstract, keywords, acknowledgments, or conflict of interest statement), and word count limits for the entire manuscript or individual sections.

In addition to these, the journal might also have specific formatting guidelines. These could pertain to the font type and size, line spacing, margin size, page numbering, and headers or footers. Adherence to these formatting specifications is just as critical as content considerations.

Further, the guidelines might also stipulate specific requirements for figures, tables, and supplementary material. These might involve the number of figures or tables allowed, their resolution, file format, captioning style, and placement within the text.

Preparation guidelines may seem daunting, but they serve to standardize submissions, making it easier for peer reviewers and readers to understand and evaluate your work. Carefully following these guidelines not only demonstrates your professionalism and attention to detail but also increases the likelihood of your manuscript making it through the initial editorial screening and being sent out for peer review.

The submission process

The submission process, while potentially time-consuming, is a crucial part of getting your research published. It typically involves several distinct steps:

  1. Manuscript preparation: This involves drafting your manuscript according to the journal's guidelines, including the IMRaD structure, citation style, formatting, and any other specific requirements. Be sure to thoroughly proofread and revise your manuscript before submission.
  2. Submission: Once your manuscript is ready, you'll submit it through the journal's designated submission system, which is usually found on the journal's website. You may need to create an account and fill out a submission form, providing details such as author information, a manuscript abstract, and any necessary declarations.
  3. Peer review: If your manuscript passes the initial editorial screening, it will be sent out for peer review. Experts in the field will evaluate your research for its validity, significance, and originality.

Feedback from the peer review process is invaluable for improving your manuscript. It's essential to approach this feedback constructively, even if it's critical. Review the comments carefully, respond to each point politely and thoroughly, and revise your manuscript accordingly. It's your opportunity to refine your work and address any potential weaknesses.

Manuscript rejection is a common occurrence in academic publishing and should not be seen as a reflection of the quality of your research or your abilities as a researcher. Instead, view it as an opportunity for improvement. Review the feedback from the journal, revise your manuscript, and consider submitting it to another journal. If you received feedback on the scope or fit of your manuscript for the rejecting journal, look for another journal with a scope that better aligns with your work.

Remember, persistence is key in the academic publishing process. Don't get disheartened by rejection or critical reviews. Learn from them and keep refining your work. The goal is to contribute valuable research to your field, and each step in this process brings you closer to that objective.

Navigating common ambiguities and inconsistencies in guidelines

Academic publishing guidelines can sometimes be rife with ambiguities and inconsistencies, leaving authors perplexed and unsure about how to format or submit their manuscripts. These issues may range from unclear instructions about the citation style, conflicting information on word count limits, to vague guidance about figures and tables' formatting.

To navigate these challenges, consider the following strategies:

  1. Look for examples: If the instructions are unclear, review recent articles published in the journal to gain a clearer understanding of the expected format and style.
  2. Prioritize official guidelines: If you find conflicting information, prioritize instructions directly from the journal's official guidelines or website. External sources may not be up-to-date or accurate.
  3. Collaborate and discuss: Connect with colleagues or mentors who have experience publishing in similar journals. They may offer valuable insights or advice on how to interpret the guidelines.
  4. Focus on the major requirements: While it's important to adhere to all guidelines, focus primarily on the major elements such as the IMRaD structure, citation style, and manuscript sections. Minor formatting details can often be adjusted later in the process if necessary.

If ambiguities persist and you're unsure about specific guidelines, don't hesitate to reach out to the journal for clarification. Most journals have a contact email or form on their website for inquiries. Be sure to be clear and specific in your communication about what you're seeking clarification for.

Remember, the goal of guidelines is to streamline the submission and review process and maintain a consistent standard in the journal. By actively resolving ambiguities and inconsistencies, you improve the likelihood of a smooth submission process and increase your chances of manuscript acceptance.

Making presubmission enquiries

A presubmission enquiry is a preliminary communication between an author and a journal editor prior to formal manuscript submission. It typically involves an author seeking feedback on whether their manuscript's topic and scope align with the journal's interests. This process can save time and resources by gauging the suitability of a manuscript for a particular journal before investing effort into full submission.

Presubmission enquiries can be particularly beneficial in cases where:

  1. The fit of the manuscript to the journal is uncertain.
  2. The manuscript is interdisciplinary and spans multiple fields.
  3. The manuscript describes a groundbreaking discovery that may warrant rapid publication.

To make a presubmission enquiry, you typically write a concise letter to the journal editor. This letter should include:

  1. A brief introduction of yourself and your co-authors.
  2. A succinct summary of your manuscript, focusing on the main findings and their significance.
  3. An explanation of why you believe your manuscript fits the journal's scope.
  4. A request for feedback on whether the manuscript seems suitable for submission.

Some journals provide specific instructions or templates for presubmission enquiries on their website, so be sure to check if these are available and adhere to any given guidelines.

In response to a presubmission enquiry, you might receive feedback indicating whether your manuscript is likely to be a good fit for the journal. This feedback could range from a positive endorsement, an indication that your manuscript may not be suitable, or suggestions for other suitable journals.

However, it's important to remember that feedback from a presubmission enquiry is not a guarantee of manuscript acceptance or rejection. The final decision is typically made following a thorough peer review process after formal submission. Therefore, the presubmission enquiry should be seen as an initial step in assessing your manuscript's potential suitability for a specific journal.


As we've explored throughout this blog post, understanding and adhering to the journal manuscript format is not just a matter of preference—it is a fundamental aspect of the academic publishing process. It aids in the uniformity of scholarly articles, facilitates the review process, and ultimately enhances the readability and impact of published research.

To successfully navigate this process, authors must be proactive in seeking out and thoroughly understanding the specific author instructions provided by their target journal. These instructions, often detailed on the journal's website, serve as a roadmap to preparing your manuscript, addressing everything from the general structure and style requirements to specific guidelines for formatting, citation, figures, and tables.

As you prepare your manuscript for submission, consider the following final tips:

  1. Familiarize yourself with the IMRaD structure, the globally accepted standard for academic papers.
  2. Prioritize alignment with your target journal's aims and scope. Ensuring your research fits within the journal's intended audience and topic area can significantly increase your chances of acceptance.
  3. Embrace feedback from the peer-review process. Use it as a learning opportunity to strengthen your work.
  4. If faced with a manuscript rejection, don't be discouraged. Take it as an opportunity for growth and refinement, and keep persevering.
  5. Finally, when in doubt, don't hesitate to reach out to the journal's editorial team for clarification on any uncertainties.

The journey to publication can be complex and challenging, but it is also incredibly rewarding. By understanding and meticulously following your chosen journal's manuscript format, you pave the way for your research to be shared, scrutinized, and built upon—a fundamental aspect of advancing knowledge in your field.

Header image by Alex Diaz.

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