Sunday, September 25, 2011

Rant on manuscript style fetish

In academic publishing it is time to stop fetishizing manuscript styles. This is something that has bothered me for quite some time, but came back to the fore this past week.  I had submitted an article to a peer-reviewed journal, and it was rejected.  OK, it's a bummer, you go over the manuscript and think of another journal (see my thoughts on that process from a 2006 article in PS: Political Science and Politics).  The first part of the problem is that the journal had very specific and very picky rules about how the manuscript should be formatted, with the warning that manuscripts not following the rules would be sent back immediately.  I had to spend time adhering to those rules, which now proves to be time flushed down the toilet.  Obviously I hoped that an acceptance would make me feel like that time had been worthwhile, but an hour or so of careful editing was a total waste.

The second part of the problem is that the second journal I am considering also has very specific and very picky rules, with dire warnings about not following them, but they bear no resemblance to the first.  Therefore if I want to submit, then I have to spend more time messing with the article manuscript to make it fit.

But why?

I can't think of any valid reason.  The content of the article is what matters, is what people pay attention to, and is what gets cited.  Who cares whether you followed a particular style guide?  It seems old fashioned and unnecessarily rigid.  Clarity is critical, but it can achieved in any number of ways. If you make an argument, I want to know what you base it on, but I don't care if that is a parenthetical, a footnote, or an endnote. I just don't care.

In the academic journal for which I am editor, The Latin Americanist, I make a point of allowing authors to use the style with which they're most comfortable.  In my opinion, the published articles really look largely the same.  Whether the bibliography uses the full name or just last name and first initial doesn't matter.  Or at least it shouldn't.


Mike Allison 8:36 AM  

I am fine with journals making authors adhere to their manuscript styles. However, this should be enforced once the article has been accepted for publication.

Meeting their style requirements (except for maybe font size, margins, and page limits) before they even take a look at the paper does seem a bit excessive.

Chris Lawrence 12:29 AM  

What Mike said. About the only exception I can see is the footnotes vs. inline citation issue (where revising the manuscript after an acceptance to change it over might cause some substantive changes), but at least in political science there seem to be very few journals still using footnote cites. But particularly in this era of BibTeX (only, what, 20 years old?) and EndNote who cares about 90% of this stuff for initial review?

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