Nowadays, most good journals provide detailed instructions for authors of manuscripts seeking publication. Such instructions are commonly referred to as the journal's "house style." Although individual house styles may still vary to some extent, considerable effort has gone into harmonizing standards and formats among scientific journals. The most important initiative in this respect is the generation of the document entitled Uniform Requirements for Manuscripts Submitted to Biomedical Journals: Writing and Editing for Biomedical Publication (current version available from http://www.icmje. org). For further information on the background, purpose, and impact of this document, see 9.2, Reference Formats and the Uniform Requirements.
Hundreds of biomedical journals have agreed to use the Uniform Requirements. These journals are encouraged to state in the instructions for authors that their requirements are in accordance with the current version of the guideline. Authors will find it helpful to follow the recommendations in this document whenever possible. Adherence to this guideline improves the quality and clarity of manuscripts submitted to any journal, as well as the ease of editing.
At the same time, every journal has editorial requirements uniquely suited to its purposes. Authors therefore need to become familiar with the specific instructions for authors and should follow those. The Mulford Library at the Medical College of Ohio maintains a useful compendium of instructions for authors (available from http://www.mco.edu/lib/instr/libinsta.html).
When scrutinizing the various instructions for authors, you will find that the level of detail varies considerably among the journals. While many of the principles of individual house styles are standards of good writing and proper use of grammar, some requirements appear to be fairly arbitrary. Why would one journal prefer British spelling and another American spelling? I would argue that even the arbitrary style recommendations make sense in an effort to maintain consistency of papers within any particular journal. It is for this reason that certain house styles have become readily recognized as a particular journal's hallmark. Good examples are The Lancet and the British Medical Journal (BMJ), whose style recommendations extend far beyond the preparation of a manuscript
With the aim to promote clarity of thought and expression, a good house style embraces the use of first-person pronouns, the active voice of verbs, and short sentences. At the same time, good guidelines are ruthless with noun clusters and other unnecessary modifier strings, dangling participles, tautologies, and the many misuses of commas. In addition, the journal's house style imposes technical accuracy in tables, figures, and other data displays, or use of drug names.
Q Before drafting a manuscript, consult the current version of the Uniform Requirements as well as the specific instructions for authors of the selected journal.
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