Many years ago I was incredulous when my wife told me she had to format a paper to meet a journal’s guidelines before it was accepted! Who could favor such a dumb policy? In economics, the rule is you make your paper look good but you don’t have to fulfill all the journal’s guidelines until after the paper is accepted. Sensible!
A paper just published in BMC Medicine estimates that this obtrusive norm costs researchers in biomedical journals alone some $230 million a year in wasted time. That’s consistent with an earlier study which estimated that over a billion dollars worth of time was wasted reformatting papers in all scientific fields. Quoting from that earlier study:
Our data show that nearly 91% of authors spend greater than four hours and 65% spend over eight hours on reformatting adjustments before publication…Among the time-consuming processes involved are adjusting manuscript structure (e.g. altering abstract formats), changing figure formats, and complying with word counts that vary significantly depending on the journal. Beyond revising the manuscript itself, authors often have to adjust to specific journal and publisher online requirements (such as re-inputting data for all authors’ email, office addresses, and disclosures). Most authors reported spending “a great deal” of time on this reformatting task. Reformatting for these types of requirements reportedly caused three month or more delay in the publication of nearly one fifth of articles and one to three month delays for over a third of articles.
It’s all very depressing. If we can’t get rid of unproductive paper reformatting standards–which benefit no one–how can we expect to tackle monumental tasks that require navigating complex tradeoffs such as resolving global climate change or making the tax code more just and efficient?
Yet perhaps there is hope. The BMC Medicine paper was covered in Nature and the authors have started a petition to change the reformatting norm. Do your part. Sign the petition! Free formatting for all on first submission!
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