Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Authoring and reviewing manuscripts

Anyone who is accustomed to writing and reviewing manuscripts is familiar with the associated time burden. This morning, I reviewed a manuscript for Optics Letters, which brought to light some of my long-held pet peeves. I have been meaning to complain about the archaic formatting requirements of all scientific journals in which I publish, but, my high-level of morning testosterone nudged me into making my move. Below is a letter I sent to the optical society. I plan to write a similar email to other journals as I am asked to provide reviews.

The email, below, speaks for itself.

Dear Editors,

In the process of reviewing a manuscript for Optics Letters this morning, I was reminded of inefficiencies introduced simply by the formatting requirements. I am sharing these thoughts with you in hopes that you will change your submission guidelines.

When I prepare a manuscript, I use the two-column single-spaced format, placing the figures and captions near the referring text (in the same format used by OSA journals). I find this much easier to read when composing and editing a manuscript. Subsequently, when submitting the manuscript, I waste time reformatting it into a single-column double-spaced document with figures and captions at the end of the manuscript.

When reviewing a manuscript on my computer in the standard OSA format, I need to constantly jump around form the text to the captions to the figures. This is especially annoying on the small screen of a laptop and very difficult using a touch pad. For this reason, I always refuse to review when traveling - which I have been doing quite a bit lately. Even on my desktop, I estimate a 15% overhead in effort, not to mention the interruptions in the my thoughts.

I understand that this archaic system has its roots in the old days of paper manuscripts. I suggest that you consider accepting the two column format for submissions and using it in the review process. After acceptance, the authors could provide a manuscript that is suitable for editing. For manuscripts submitted in LaTeX, the OSA style file could have an option for "twocolumn" and one for "manuscript." Then, it would be a simple matter of changing one switch in the source file to reformat the whole thing in one single swoop.

I understand that such changes do not happen overnight. I therefore strongly urge you to consider the option of accepting submissions in two-column format. Given the heavy burdens placed on our time, an increase of efficiency in preparing a review may make it easier to find reviewers willing to make the effort. As I am becoming more of a curmudgeon, I have toyed with the idea of refusing to review manuscripts that are not reviewer friendly. I hope that OSA will be proactive in making the review process easier so that reviewers and authors remain loyal to what I believe is an excellent organization.

Mark G. Kuzyk

Mark G. Kuzyk
Regents Professor of Physics
Washington State University
Pullman, WA 99164-2814
Phone: 509-335-4672
Fax: 509-335-7816
Web Page: www.NLOsource.com

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