Check out this post from Skeptical Scalpel about uncool tricks with statistical graphs. Editors beware!—Brenda Gregoline, ELS
Check out this post from Skeptical Scalpel about uncool tricks with statistical graphs. Editors beware!—Brenda Gregoline, ELS
Have you ever been editing and suddenly experienced déjà-vu? You know, that feeling that you’ve read the material before. And I don’t mean several weeks or even days ago. I mean really recently. Don’t worry. You’re probably not suffering from posttraumatic editing syndrome. Often authors duplicate material by presenting it in both table and text forms. This is a no-no. As the AMA Manual of Style states, “The same data usually should not be duplicated in a table and a figure or in the text” (§4, Visual Presentation of Data, p 81 in print). Of course, some overlap is to be expected, but extensive duplication of data in tables and text is a waste of space and the reader’s time.
This month’s style quiz on creating tables and figures asks the user to create a figure and a table from text. There are only 2 exercises, so I’m not going to give 1 away here. Instead, here’s a bonus exercise for you to try.
Directions: Use the information in the following paragraph to create a table that can replace the text. Refer to section 4.1 of the AMA Manual of Style.
In a multivariable model of communication attributes associated with parental peace of mind (controlled for diagnostic category, time since diagnosis, child’s age, parent’s education, parent’s race/ethnicity, physician-rated prognosis, and degree of discrepancy between parent-rated and physician-rated prognosis; adjusted for clustering by physician), the odds ratios (95% confidence intervals) were as follows: 2.05 (1.14-3.70) for parent recalled receiving more extensive prognostic disclosure, 2.54 (1.11-5.79) for parent rated information received as high quality, and 6.65 (1.47-30.02) for parent had a greater sense of trust in physician.
Now, of course, there are several ways to reformat this sentence into a table, but here’s what we published (it was table 4 in this article). (Click for bigness.)
If you want more experience reformatting text into tables or figures, take this month’s quiz at www.amamanualofstyle.com—Laura King, MA, ELS
Publishing a style manual, particularly a lengthy, detailed manual that covers a ridiculous amount of technical material (Hello, AMA Manual of Style!), is a grueling process. In our case, it involved 10 people meeting for at least an hour every week for more than a year, where we tried not to get into arguments about grammar, usage, and the presentation of scientific data. After the meetings there would usually be flurries of e-mails about grammar, usage, and the presentation of scientific data. Then we’d all go home and dream about grammar, usage, and the presentation of scientific data. You get the picture.
My point is that the writers of style manuals are often a little, shall we say, too close to the material. In the case of the AMA Manual of Style, we are all editors as well—and it can be hard for us not to roll our eyes when we run into the same problems on manuscript after manuscript. Come on, authors: there’s a whole book on this stuff!
Which, of course, is precisely the problem. There is a whole THOUSAND-PAGE book that tries to encompass all aspects of medical editing. It’s impossible to expect authors to absorb all the information–they’re just trying to get published, and it’s our job to help them. Here, in classic top-10-list reverse order, are the top 10 editorial problems we see in our submitted and accepted manuscripts, compiled by committee and editorialized upon by me. If any authors happen to read this, maybe it will help them avoid the most common errors; if any journal website–design people read it, maybe they can grab some ideas for more explicit user interface; and if any copy editors read it, maybe they can enjoy shaking their heads in wry commiseration.
10. Missing or incomplete author forms. Most journals require authors to fill out some forms, usually involving things like copyright transfer, an assertion of responsibility for authorship, and so on. These forms are often filled out incorrectly or incompletely. Following a form’s instructions as to signatures and boxes to check can save significant amounts of time in the publication process.
9. Not explaining “behind the scenes” stuff. Values in a table don’t add up—oh, it’s because of rounding. The curve in this figure doesn’t connect the values listed in the “Results” section—oh, we used data smoothing. This kind of thing can be easily explained in a footnote, but many authors forget to do so because it seems so obvious to them.
8. Making life difficult for the copy editor. Authors and editors have the same goal: a polished, published, accurate manuscript. Sure-fire ways authors can ruin what should be a pleasant working relationship are to suggest that the copy editor is making changes in the manuscript for no reason; calling the copy editor to discuss changes without having read the edited manuscript first (this wastes oodles of time); and not reading the cover letter that comes with the edited manuscript. This last is particularly charming when the author then calls the copy editor to ask all the questions that are very nicely answered in said cover letter.
7. Common punctuation and style mistakes (not an exhaustive list). Most frequently we see authors fail to expand abbreviations; use different abbreviations for the same term throughout a manuscript; use commas like seasoning instead of like punctuation marks with actual rules of deployment; and overuse the em dash. However, I’d like to tell any authors reading this not to fret, because that’s the kind of stuff we’re paid to fix. Plus I can’t really throw stones—being a fan of the em dash myself.
6. Errors of grandiosity. Sometimes a perfectly nice and valid study will go hog-wild in the conclusion, claiming to be changing the future of scientific inquiry or heralding a sea-change in the treatment of patients everywhere. Or authors will selectively interpret results, focusing on the positive and ignoring the negative or neutral. It’s natural to want to write an elegant conclusion—it’s one of the few places in a scientific manuscript where one can really let loose with the prose—but it’s always better to err on the side of caution.
5. Wacky references. All journals have a reference citation policy, and across scientific journals it is fairly standard to give reference numbers at the point of citation, cite references in numerical order in the text (as opposed to only in tables or figures), and retain a unique number for each reference no matter how many times it’s cited. However, we still get papers with references handled in all kinds of odd ways (alphabetical, chronological, or seemingly inspired by the full moon). References that include URLs can mean big problems. Often the URL doesn’t work or the site is password-protected, subscription-only, or otherwise useless to the reader. Also aggravating: references that are just the result of the search string for the article and not the URL for the article itself.
4. Duplicate submission. In scientific publication, it is not acceptable to submit a report of original research to multiple journals at the same time. Journal editors are likely to be more disturbed by this if it looks deliberate rather than like a simple mistake (not realizing that a foreign-language journal “counts,” for example) or if the case is debatable (a small section of results was published in another paper, but the new paper adds tons of new material). Remember those forms from the 10th most common mistake? One of them asks about previous submission or publication. We need authors to be up-front about any other articles in the pipeline, even if (especially if) they’re not sure if they might constitute duplicate publication.
3. Failing to protect patient identity. Yup, there’s a form for this too! Any time a patient is identifiable, in a photograph or even in text (as in a case report), authors must have the patient’s consent. (Contrary to popular belief, the gossip-mag-style “black bars” over the eyes are not sufficient to conceal identity.) Usually we hear complaints about this, because studies are written long after patients are treated and it can be hard to track people down, but them’s the breaks. If it’s really impossible to obtain after-the-fact patient consent, editors will work with authors to crop photos, take out details, or whatever it takes to “de-identify” patients.
2. Not matching up all the data “bits.” In the abstract, 76 patients were randomized to receive the intervention, but it’s 77 in Table 1. There was a 44.5% reduction in symptoms in the medicated group in the text, but later it’s 44.7%. Sometimes this is because the abstract is written first from the overall results, while the data in a table are more precisely calculated by a statistician; or maybe the number of patients changed along the way and no one went back to revise the earlier data. Either way, it drives copy editors crazy.
1. Not reading a journal’s Instructions for Authors. These days almost all scientific journals have online submission, and almost always there is a link to something called “Information for Authors,” “Guidelines for Manuscript Submission,” or something similar. Judging by the kinds of questions editorial offices receive almost daily, authors rarely read these—but the publication process would often go so much more smoothly if they would.
We are proud of our style manual, although we realize it isn’t the last word in scientific style and format. There can never really be a “last word” because some editor will always want to have it! Anyway, without authors there wouldn’t be anything to edit, so we would never hold any “mistakes” against them. No matter how grievous a manuscript’s misstep, an editor will be there to correct it, because it’s our job. (But mostly because we can’t stop ourselves.)—Brenda Gregoline, ELS
The senior author of a paper has posted its entire contents, including additional data that do not appear in the version sent to your publication, on his academic department’s Web site. The author did not mention this online version to the journal editors. He has already signed the publisher’s copyright transfer form. Is this a problem? How do you proceed?
The Internet has opened many new doors for the dissemination of scientific information, but it has also created new dilemmas. Just because it’s easy to post or send information to more than one place does not mean that this practice is acceptable.
As noted in the AMA Manual of Style, duplicate publication is the simultaneous or subsequent reporting of essentially the same information, article, or major components of an article 2 or more times in 1 or more forms of media (either print or electronic format) (see 5.3, Duplicate Publication).1(p148)
JAMA’s Instructions for Authors notes that submissions are considered with the understanding that they have not been published previously in print or electronic format and are not under consideration by another publication or electronic medium.2 Copies of related or possibly duplicative materials (ie, those containing substantially similar content or using the same or similar data) that have been previously published or are under consideration elsewhere must be provided at the time of manuscript submission.
According to the recommendations of the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE), publication of complete manuscripts in proceedings of meetings in print or online may preclude consideration for publication in a primary-source journal.3
Thus, the answer to the first question above is yes, this is a problem. Duplicate submission/publication is an offense to the author–journal relationship and an affront to the ethical reporting of biomedical research. In addition, if the author has transferred copyright or a license to publish the manuscript to the journal, he/she also could violate copyright law. The type of Web site that has posted the article is not relevant; whether it’s another journal, an institutional site, or even a blog, online posting is publication.
To resolve the situation, it is important to know where in the publication process that manuscript is and to have a frank conversation with the corresponding author. One of the simplest options is for the journal to insist on the immediate removal of the content on the academic department’s Web site. Another approach is for the journal to reject the paper on the basis of previous publication, provided it has not published the manuscript already. In the worst-case scenario, the author refuses to take the paper off the Web site and the journal has already published it as well. This could lead to a notice of duplicate publication, consultation with the senior author’s institutional supervisor, and/or banning the author from publishing in that journal for a specified time.
After publication, some journals permit authors to post a copy of the published article (eg, a PDF) on their academic department or institutional Web site or establish toll-free links from these Web sites to the author’s article on the journal’s Web site. This is an acceptable form of secondary publication (see 5.3.1, Secondary Publication).
Extensive discussion of various examples and consequences of duplicate submission/publication appear in the AMA Manual of Style1 and the ICMJE guidelines.3 The new wrinkle is the ease (and speed) with which researchers can post information online. It may be easy to forget that the Internet, while seemingly ethereal, is a publication venue all the same.—Stacy L. Christiansen, MA
1. Iverson C, Christiansen S, Flanagin A, et al. The AMA Manual of Style: A Guide for Authors and Editors. 10th ed. New York, NY: Oxford University Press; 2007.
2. JAMA Instructions for Authors: Duplicate/Previous Publication or Submission. http://jama.ama-assn.org/site/misc/ifora.xhtml#DuplicatePreviousPublicationorSubmission. Updated March 15, 2011. Accessed April 13, 2011.
3. Uniform Requirements for Manuscripts Submitted to Biomedical Journals: Publishing and Editorial Issues Related to Publication in Biomedical Journals—Overlapping Publications. ICMJE Web site. http://www.icmje.org/publishing_4overlap.html. Updated 2009. Accessed April 13, 2011.