Take Home Points:
- Journal policies protect both journals and authors.
- Journals should clearly define their policies for their authors.
- Journals should consistently enforce their policies.
Why Are Author Policies for Journals Important?
Sometimes a journal’s list of requirements may seem daunting, especially when authors are eager to have their latest research published as soon as possible. Is it necessary that every submission adhere to all established policies? In a word, yes. But why? Policies like those described below are meant to protect not only journals, but also authors, to prevent discrepancies, disagreements, or even legal issues after publication. Policies are usually created because of an issue that has arisen at a journal in the past. When possible, journals should be proactive in their policy creation and then revisit policies routinely. For the sake of transparency, it is crucial that a journal clearly defines all its policies so that authors are fully informed of the expectations prior to submitting. It’s also important to consistently enforce author policies to prevent claims of bias (i.e., not requiring all authors to adhere to journal instructions) and/or potentially setting new, unwanted precedents. Following is a selection of critical policies that every journal should consider implementing.
Preprints & Data Archiving
A preprint is a draft version of a research paper that is viewable by the public but has not undergone peer review. Not all journals allow preprints; there are different reasons for this: Some believe preprints still constitute prior publication, but more and more journals are allowing preprints and even assist in uploading preprints during the submission process. The Center for Open Science has excellent resources regarding preprints.
An example of a preprint can be found here. As the publishing industry becomes increasingly fast paced, researchers in the field of medicine, for example, are increasingly choosing to upload their work to preprint servers such as bioRxiv and medRxiv, prior to submitting to peer-reviewed journals. Authors should include this information in their manuscript submissions, during the submission process, and link to the preprint, which may be required by the journal
If your journal will (or not) allow preprints, your policy should be clearly stated in your instructions to authors and within your submission system, where applicable. If you will not allow preprints, you should explain the rationale; if you do allow preprints you should provide guidance on the policy and workflow for your authors. See an example policy here (click on “Preprints” in the table of contents).
The same premise is true for data archiving (sometimes called data availability or data transparency). If your journal’s policy requires the underlying data for a submission to be made available with the submitted or published manuscript (underlying data for a manuscript is the data used to create the study and often allows for replication of the study), authors should include their archived data information in their submission to inform the editors, reviewers, and eventually the readers about the underlying data in the manuscript. An example of archived data is provided here. Data archiving guidelines (under “Data Sharing: Practices and Repositories”) have become more prevalent in recent years, and with the Nelson memo encouraging data availability for all funded publications, more are expected. (See this past ORIGINal Thoughts post for additional information on the Nelson memo and data availability expectations.) Data may still be requested by emailing with the author of a manuscript but more data repositories such as Dryad, Zenodo, Figshare, and the like are now available to house data.
Authors should declare all sources of research funding and support and disclose whether the funders have had any role in any authorship aspects of the manuscript. Journals require this information to identify conflicts of interest or to ensure papers adhere to other journal policies; for example, PLOS does not allow tobacco-funded research to be published in their journals. Funders, such as the National Institutes of Health (NIH), require authors to include the source of their financial support in their published articles. Disclosing funding sources is a field in most submissions systems by using the Funder Registry. It should be noted that some journals do not require this information, which means the onus is on the authors to include it. However, many employers and grant funders require acknowledgment of monetary support in this section, as this allows them to track the output of the science they financially support.
Conflicts of Interest/Competing Interests
Transparency is also vital when it comes to conflicts of interest. To help avoid potential bias and allow for the editor, reviewers, and readers to be aware of any conflict when reading a manuscript, it is imperative that authors disclose any competing financial interests when submitting a manuscript. Examples include, but are not limited to, funding support, involvement with an organization or employer that may be affected by the publication, or personal interests, such as stocks or patent applications.
Press & Embargos
Some authors may request a specific embargo date (a restriction on the date of publication) when their paper is accepted to coordinate the publication of a press release through their institution. These requests can be handled by someone at the publisher’s office to ensure the press release is shared ahead of the manuscript’s publishing date. A journal may also choose to highlight a particularly impactful article by writing their own press release. Your policy should clearly state your expectations from the author in your instructions and should detail contact personnel. Authors will need to know an embargo will hold their manuscript back from publishing online early, a key detail to include in any documentation. An embargo allows the journal to hold the article from publication while a press release is written and can involve the journal, the publisher and the author. Press and embargo policies should be clearly explained in a journal’s instructions for authors.
Copyright/License, Creative Commons, & Permissions
Copyright and permission policies can vary from journal to journal. There are many forms of re-use even in the Creative Commons space. Whatever your policy or method, you should have it clearly defined in your instructions. For example, many journals have authors sign a license that allows the author to reuse portions of their own published manuscripts in other written works and presentations. Authors who wish to republish someone else’s work (e.g., a figure) they have not authored must request permission to do so; which may or may not include a fee.
Many journals use the Copyright Clearance Center (CCC) for copyrights, which “helps organizations integrate, access, and share information through licensing, content software, and professional services.”2
It is important for a journal to fully disclose these policies so that authors can avoid potential legal complications by infringing on a publication’s copyright mandates. Journals should also create a workflow for checking permissions.
An appeal is when an author contests a manuscript decision and requests that the paper be reconsidered. It is not unusual for authors to appeal an undesirable decision on a manuscript. Some may feel the reviews do not reflect the overall decision, or that they can address all of the reviewer comments. Whatever the reason, creating a consistent workflow will help you keep track of these types of requests and assure authors that their concerns will be considered. And while each appeal should be reviewed on a case-by-case basis, following a general protocol will make them easier to handle. If a journal chooses to allow appeals, the policies and process should be noted in the instructions for authors. For example, the journals of the American Marketing Association have a detailed policy about their appeals criteria and Springer has a helpful guide on the different types of appeals that can be considered.
Clinical Trials/Reporting Guidelines
According to Equator Network, a reporting guideline is defined as “a checklist, flow diagram, or structured text to guide authors in reporting a specific type of research, developed using explicit methodology.”3 Reporting guidelines can help add another layer of transparency to one’s work, ensuring that a manuscript can be understood, replicated, and utilized in clinical decisions and systematic reviews.3 In addition, authors should include information regarding study approval and animal welfare in the Materials & Methods section. For human studies, a statement regarding participant consent and a registry number for clinical trials—when applicable—should be added as well.
Some journals adhere to the NIH definition of a clinical trial, which states, “A research study in which one or more human subjects are prospectively assigned to one or more interventions (which may include placebo or other control) to evaluate the effects of those interventions on health-related biomedical or behavioral outcomes.”4 Whatever definition your journal chooses to follow, if a submitted manuscript fits your established guidelines, authors should provide a CONSORT flowchart and checklist.
In conclusion, journal policies are created for the protection of both journals and authors, but the former must ensure that these policies are visible, clearly defined, and enforced by the editorial offices. We hope you find the above list of critical policies helpful as you take stock of your own journal’s policies.
- Neuropsychopharmacology. Editorial Policies. July 2022. https://www.nature.com/npp/authors-and-referees/editorial-policies Accessed March 2023.
- Copyright Clearance Center. About CCC. May 2022. https://www.copyright.com/company-about/ Accessed May 2023.
- Equator Network. What is a reporting guideline? https://www.equator-network.org/about-us/what-is-a-reporting-guideline/ Accessed May 2023.
- National Institutes of Health. Policy & Compliance. August 2017. https://grants.nih.gov/policy/clinical-trials/definition.htm Accessed March 2023.
Conflicts of Interest
None to declare