Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Mid-week gripes... re: prepublication formats

I'm sorry, but I HATE reading those pre-publication, not-properly formatted, PDF articles that some journals offer. Okay, I am weird in that I prefer on-screen reading to print-reading (see, I'm green. I like to save paper), particularly since I find no point in keeping paper copies of most articles I read.

But these pre-publication PDFs... Gaah! I can't understand them without actually printing out the pages; to me, it's difficult to understand the format-less flow of text on-screen, especially since the tables and figures are placed miles away from the main body text, and it is a pain to navigate a 20-30 page document to get to a figure or a specific reference at the end and thereafter return to wherever I was reading.

Is it that difficult to convert an accepted article to a more manageable (more precisely, screen-readable) format even for prepublication? It really is not. A single command or two in Microsoft Word will get rid of the awful double spaces and set the font to a smaller size. If one wishes, one can also - Gasp! - put the text in two columns! And all that would take just two minutes prior to converting it into a PDF for online-access. How is it that NO ONE in the publishing world at the offending journals has come up with this easy solution? (Yes, I am looking at you, Blood, and some of the articles in other journals available through PubMed Central...)

And who is it that dictates this particular order of arrangement of items for submission for publication - text, tables, figures, figure legends, all to be placed separately? Why, exactly? Are we still in the times when there were no decent word processors, manuscripts were type-written, and hand-drawn graphs and photos had to be sent directly to the publisher for compositing? All documents are electronic now; journals even require all figures to be pre-composited and submitted at the final size. So, what is the point of retaining the double-spaced type-set any more, or insisting that tables and figure legends be typed in double-space, and figures and legends be placed after the text?

Indeed, why not put the figures inline with the text, so that the text flows around, and the reader is immediately able to understand what on earth it means when s/he reads something like, "...βCD20/80-HIV showed significantly impaired ability to induce IFN-α, IFN-β and IDO activity (Fig. 1A-C)..." by simultaneously looking at Figure 1 in all its glory - without having to flip through 30 pages to get to the figures? Revolutionary concept, innit?

Am I being a tad uncharitable? Perhaps, but the formatting I am referring to is by no means new. The grant application format for NIH and other agencies already enforces this: figures, along with legends, are placed alongside the body text, making it easier for the reader. It allows for proper and comprehensive evaluation of the scientific arguments and observations in the text. So, why can't the journals make a simple change and adopt this format for their article submissions?

'm'okay now. Back to work.

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