The last hurdle

Often, the time between final editing to acceptance of a paper could be much shorter. Here are some common tripping points authors can easily avoid.
The last hurdle

Once all reviewers have raised their thumbs in approval, a paper should be on the highway to publication. Frequently, however, there are editorial issues that delay final acceptance. Here are some of the most frequent stumbling blocks that can easily be avoided:

1) Plagiarism in Introduction and Methods. We cross-check the papers we eventually go on to publish, so sentences and paragraphs that have been directly copied from material available somewhere on the internet will be highlighted to us. For copyright and ethical reasons, we cannot allow that. It might be counter-intuitive, especially if it is a previous publication from the same group or the first author’s doctoral thesis, but everything needs to be 100% original. Sure, there are only so many ways to describe a given experimental strategy, but it is possible to shuffle the phrases, and directly copying the wording from somewhere else is simply not an option.

2) Discussing guidelines. After the last, successful round of review, the authors will get an e-mail from us containing the good news, information about the next stage and a list of editorial requests. The latter are things that need to be changed within the manuscript, Supplementary Information and – if applicable – supplementary data, to make a paper adhere to our style and follow our format guidelines. While we are aware that everyone has their own style and preferences, our requirements are not disputable and are grounded in the desire to maximise clarity, data transparency and understandability for the reader. Therefore, we have to insist on our requests being fulfilled.

3) Conflict of Interest statement. For years, we required our authors to add a statement on financial interests (e.g. involvement with companies etc.). Since a few months ago, however, this has been expanded to non-financial interests, as well, to cover any third-party interests. As this is rather specific to the Nature journals family, there are still a lot of “Competing FINANCIAL Interests” statements. The wording we look for is

“Competing interests

The authors declare no competing interests.” [Or a list of the respective interests.]

This paragraph should occur at the end of the document, after the list of references.

4) Data availability statement. Our guidelines ask for a declaration saying where the data used and raised in the respective study can be found. At a minimum, it should read: “All data is available from the authors upon reasonable request.” If applicable, it should also mention relevant deposited data, including accession codes. This so called “data availability statement” should be located in the manuscript AFTER the Methods section but BEFORE the list of references. The requirements and suggested wording can be found here.

5) Supplementary Information. To aid the reader, we ask authors to adopt a very clear structure for the Supplementary Information. The Supplementary Information can contain only the following sections: Supplementary Figures, Supplementary Tables, Supplementary Notes, Supplementary Discussion, Supplementary Methods, Supplementary References, the latter should be self-contained. Of note, everything that looks like an image, including spectra, qualifies as a Supplementary Figure and needs a number and a legend (title + caption). It might be worthwhile scrolling through the Supplementary Information of a recent Nature Communications paper to get an idea which style we look for.

From my experience, avoiding these stumbling stones can easily shave up to a working week off the time between “Accept In Principle” (AIP) state and final acceptance of a paper.


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