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Creating symposium style guidelines for authors

Compiled by Geoff Hart

Previously published as: Hart, G.J. 2002. Creating symposium style guidelines for authors. the Exchange 9(4):5–6.

Our SIG’s e-mail discussion group (subscription details on page 8) is remarkably quiet these days, but occasionally spawns a detailed thread on a topic of interest to science communicators. One thread from last year concerned the creation of style guides. I’ve provided a lightly edited version of the thread here in the hope that it will encourage you to join the discussion group and contribute your own questions:

Janette Busch: “Last year I edited the proceedings for a conference and I must have done a good job because I have been asked to do it again this year... Actually it was such a steep learning curve the first time and I feel it would have been a shame not to have done it again!

“Even though last time was the first time I had done anything like that, I knew enough to say that I would give the printers a hardcopy of the files rather than electronically. This was because the authors had been given no guidelines at all about the format of their papers and I suspected there may be problems with the graphs and graphics in the files. I ended up changing the format of the text and tables but left the graphs (charts) as they were because I… couldn’t open them in any of the spreadsheet programs available to me.

“This time I have been asked to give the authors some guidelines. I have no problem with the text but I would welcome some advice about what I should specifiy for graphics, and graphs (charts). Any help would be appreciated.”

Richard Barnett: “I have always followed the guidelines for the most authoritative and influential professional publications in the field of interest. That practice has the advantage of being familiar to contributors.”

Geoff Hart: “In my experience, many contributors pretty much ignore any guidelines you send them, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth trying; some will almost certainly follow the guidelines, and any consistency you can get is worth the effort. The easiest way to get people to ignore the style guidelines are to make the guidelines long enough that nobody wants to read them. Try suggesting that contributors follow the style guidelines of one of the major journals in your field (on the logic that they’ll already know how to prepare manuscripts in that format), and provide a 1- or 2-page example that shows some ad hoc text formatted the way you want it (on the logic that many people can’t follow directions but can come up with a convincing facsimile of the desired result if you give them something to mimic). All else being equal, prioritize the top three to five things that should appear consistent, and ignore the less important stuff.

“If possible, ask the person who’s organizing or ‘editing’ the proceedings (i.e., whoever will get their name listed on the cover as author) to review the manuscripts before they’re accepted, with the condition that acceptance depends on following the guidelines. Then, before sending the guidelines, pick one of your authors you can trust and ask for a review of the guidelines (to detect missing or confusing instructions). Revise, and send them out. Then cross your fingers and hope that you get something usable.”

Janette Busch: [provide a 1- or 2-page example] “That sounds like a great idea. For me, I can ‘fix’ the text to the style I want, the main problem is trying to ‘fix’ the graphs when they are put into the file in such a way that I cannot change them. Does anybody have any ideas about this problem? I have a vague recollection that there is a solution but cannot remember it.

[ask the person who’s organizing or ‘editing’ the proceedings… to review the manuscripts before they’re accepted] “I suggested last year that it would be a good idea to do that this year, without success. The message was that we are dealing in the main with farmers, not academics, and if we are too hard on them we won’t get their contributions at all.

[pick one of your authors for a review of the guidelines] “That’s a good suggestion. I will do that.”

Geoff Hart: “What materials are they sending you? If they’re sending camera-ready copy, I used to handle corrections using whiteout and Letraset-style dry transfers, followed by laser printouts of corrected captions and suchlike once that technology became available. If you actually receive PDF or something electronic, there are a variety of tools (such as Graphics Converter, available at most Mac download sites, or Paintshop Pro, ditto but for PCs) that let you open files, convert them to bitmaps, and type right over the offending text to replace it.

[if we are too hard on [the authors] we won’t get their contributions at all] “Even academics do this. So when you’re putting together symposia, you inevitably get caught in the quality vs. time dilemma: you either (mostly) accept what you get, often of wildly inconsistent quality, or spend the time you need to produce high-quality work. (I published one proceedings where we actually edited and corrected most of the manuscripts, but for several Chinese authors we couldn’t contact or to whom we couldn’t explain what we wanted, we ended up publishing poorly photocopied low-resolution dot-matrix printouts.) If you’re publishing an important proceedings that will obtain considerable status for your employer, sometimes you simply have to bite the bullet and do all that extra work.”

Bonnie Nestor: “I’m not a bit surprised that some of your authors are using 10-year-old software to prepare their papers—if that’s what they have, and it works for them, why would they want to change? (Not to make your life easier!) That said, you may want to adapt the following directions to authors of papers submitted to The Physics of Plasmas, an American Institute of Physics journal:

Acceptable software for figures: PostScript, Extended PostScript (EPS) or TIFF. No other types of software or formats will be accepted. Also note:

  1. Size the figures as they will appear in print (inside a single column)—about 3 inches wide is maximum.
  2. Set the graphic for 600 dpi resolution for line art and 264 lines for halftones (noncompressed), and 600 dpi for combinations (line art + halftone).
  3. Ensure that line weights will be 0.5 points or greater and that fonts are a minimum of 8 points in the final published size.
  4. Save the files to grayscale (B/W), not color.”

“Other journals that accept electronic submissions have similar guidelines; you can probably check the ‘Instructions to Authors’ for journals in your field and see if their requirements are similar. You’ll also want to do some research to find out what kinds of graphic formats these 10-year-old versions of WordPerfect can produce, so as not to make it too hard on the authors, and whether these specifications on resolution and point size will work for the printers.

“Then you need a good graphics conversion package so that you can go in and, say, relabel the axes on a graph. Depending on what software (and hardware) you are using, there are a number of choices. For the Macintosh, GraphicConverter is an excellent solution—powerful, not difficult to use, and very reasonably priced (35 USD). I understand that PaintShopPro is a good tool for the PC world.

“It is sometimes possible to use the Copy function in the word processing package to capture a graphic that you can’t modify and paste it into GraphicConverter, where you can work with it (with Word, you may have to do an intermediate ‘Paste Special’ and select ‘Paste as Picture’ to get something that will go into the graphics package).

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