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Preparing a technical paper for journal submission

Posted on 26th February 2016

Having recently written about preparing a PhD and reference lists for proofreading, I thought I'd get a guest blog from Peter Haigh about preparing a technical paper for submission. So, here's his advice. And if you want to find out more about him, please visit his website: www.technicaleditorial.com.

What Kate's written in the previous two blogs is relevant for technical articles too so I will try not to repeat those elements and will instead focus on issues more specific to this field.

The first piece of advice might seem obvious but it's well worth saying: read the submission guidelines carefully.

Most journals, particularly the large scientific/technical ones, will publish extensive submission guidance, style guides and templates for submissions and the level of detail and fine-tooth combing that a submission can be subjected to by a reviewer can be astounding.

SI units

I gave some guidance in a recent blog on what to do with spacing between numbers and units – the short answer is always have a space except for % and ° or '.

Another aspect of units that needs to be considered is what needs to be capitalised and what shouldn't be. Unit symbols should generally be written in lower case, such as metre (m) with the exception of litre (L) (which can sometimes be upper case to avoid confusion with 1) and units derived from someone's name, such as Ampere (A) or Farad (F).

Prefixes are capitalised if they refer to one million or more, such as (MV) for megavolt or (TB) for terabyte but (kV) for kilovolt and (mm) for millimetre.

Acronyms/abbreviations

The important thing here is to be consistent, both in how you introduce acronyms and how you use them throughout your document.

To define an acronym in a journal article, most submission guidelines will want you to write all but the most common acronyms out in full in the abstract, and then again once in the main text at the first instance of using them, before then always using the abbreviated form.

Acronyms evolve over time; a fine example of this is ACDC (the electrical abbreviation, not the band!). The Oxford Dictionary for Writers and Editors says that you should use AC/DC but one of the leading publishers of journals and standards – the IEEE – says that it is now preferable to use lower case ac and dc. The style guide for the journal or university that you are submitting to is always the most important thing to adhere to so make sure that you get hold of it, and send it over to your proofreader.

The value of using software for references

It is common for technical works to use the author–number system, sometimes called Vancouver. This means that if you move the references around, if the order needs to change, it will do so automatically. If you don't use software to control this for you, then you have a painful task going through each reference every time you insert a new graph or move a section thinking "should [42] now be [43]?"

Audience

While this is not technically a proofreading job, if the document is being edited then you need to consider who the article is for. Is the paper intended for specialists in the field or laypeople? Will the average reader understand? This manifests itself in the use of acronyms and jargon and one way to check this is to find someone who fits the demographic of your intended audience and show them a sample of it – do they understand what you are saying? On the other hand, a technical paper for a technically specialised journal will not appreciate basic and common terminology being painstakingly explained – this will reduce readability and could be seen as patronising to the readership.

To sum up, the important things are that you use the right tools, pitch it at an appropriate level and when you aren't sure on a matter of style, follow these golden rules:

  1. Do what you're told – follow the style guide.
  2. Do what the authoritative sources in that field say to do and if there's no style guide, follow an industry guideline or common practice.
  3. Whatever you do, do it consistently.
Written by Peter Haigh for the Kateproof blog.