Before writing a paper, authors are advised to visit the author information pages of the journal to which they wish to submit (see this link for a full list of Nature Research publications). Each journal has slightly different format requirements depending on readership, space, style and so on. The journal's website will contain detailed information about format, length limits, figure preparation, and similar matters. If your questions are not answered on these pages or through our recommended guidelines below, we suggest you contact the journal’s editorial office for further guidance before submitting. Contact information for the editorial offices can be found on the journal websites.
We also strongly recommend that authors read a few issues of the journal to which they wish to submit, to obtain a sense of the level, length and readership of the journal. Looking at the print issue, or at PDFs in the online edition, is particularly useful for details such as presentation of figures or style of reference numbering. (All Nature Research journals have a free online issue of the journal for those who do not subscribe or have site-licence access, which can be accessed via the journal's "about" web page.)
Nature journals are international, so in writing a paper, authors should consider those readers for whom English is a second language. The journals are read mainly by professional scientists, so authors can avoid unnecessary simplification or didactic definitions. However, many readers are outside the immediate discipline of the author(s), so clarity of expression is needed to achieve the goal of comprehensibility. (See the section below for links to some websites that provide writing help and advice.)
Nature journals prefer authors to write in the active voice ("we performed the experiment...") as experience has shown that readers find concepts and results to be conveyed more clearly if written directly. We have also found that use of several adjectives to qualify one noun in highly technical language can be confusing to readers. We encourage authors to "unpackage" concepts and to present their findings and conclusions in simply constructed sentences.
Many papers submitted for publication in a Nature journal contain unnecessary technical terminology, unreadable descriptions of the work that has been done, and convoluted figure legends. Our journal subeditors and copyeditors edit the manuscript so that it is grammatically correct, logical, clear and concise. They also ensure that manuscripts use consistent search terms and terminology that is consistent with what is used in previous articles published in the journal. Of course, this process is assisted greatly if the authors have written the manuscript in a simple and accessible style, as the author is the best person to convey the message of the paper and to persuade readers that it is important enough to spend time on.
We ask authors to avoid jargon and acronyms where possible. When essential, they should be defined at first use; after first use, the author should use pronouns when possible rather than using the abbreviation or acronym at every occurrence. The acronym is second-nature to the author but is not to the reader, who may have to refer to the original definition throughout the paper when an acronym is used.
Titles need to be comprehensible and enticing to a potential reader quickly scanning a table of contents or performing an online search, while at the same time not being so general or vague as to obscure what the paper is about. We ask authors to be aware of abstracting and indexing services when devising a title for the paper: providing one or two essential keywords within a title will be beneficial for web-search results.
Within the text of papers, Nature journals use a numbering (Vancouver) system for references, not the Harvard method whereby the authors and year of publication are included in the text in parentheses. We adopt this numbering style because we believe the text flows more smoothly, and hence is quicker for the reader to absorb.
Our experience has shown that a paper's impact is maximized if it is as short as is consistent with providing a focused message, with a few crucial figures or tables. Authors can place technical information (figures, protocols, methods, tables, additional data) necessary to support their conclusion into Supplementary Information (SI), which is published online-only to accompany the published print/online paper. SI is peer-reviewed, and we believe that its use means that the impact of the conclusions of the study is enhanced by being presented in concise and focused form in the print/online journal, emphasizing the key conclusions of the research and yet providing the full supporting details required by others in the field in online-only form. We encourage authors to use SI in this way to enhance the impact of the print/online version, and hence to increase its readership. Authors are asked to provide short "signposts" at appropriate points in their paper to indicate that SI is present to expand on a particular point (for example "for more details, see figure x in SI) so that readers can navigate easily to the relevant information. We also encourage authors who are describing methods and protocols to provide the full details as SI.
We all face the challenge of how to make the best use of our time in an era of information overload. Judicious use of SI to ensure that the printed version of a paper is clear, comprehensible and as short as is consistent with this goal, is very likely to increase the paper's readership, impact and the number of times others cite it.
Nature Physics: the Editorial Elements of style explains the importance of clear and accessible writing. The advice contained within this Editorial applies to all the Nature journals.
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A number of articles and websites provide detailed guidelines and advice about writing and submitting scientific papers. Some suggested sources are:
Researchers whose first language is not English often find it useful to either ask a colleague whose native language is English to review the manuscript before submission to a journal, or to use one of the many services that will, for a fee, edit papers to ensure the English is clear and well written. Such services include Nature Research Editing Service and American Journal Experts.
For authors from China
非英语为母语的研究者经常会在期刊提交原稿前向以英语为母语的同事请教，或者通过在众多的收费性质的服务机构中选择一家来进行编辑，以确保论文中使用的英语语法正确且符合相应的语言习惯。这样的服务包括 自然科研编辑服务 和 American Journal Experts。
For authors from Japan
英語のネイティブ・スピーカーでない著者は、ジャーナルへ論文を投稿する前にネイティブ・スピーカーの同僚に校閲を頼んだり、有料の英文校正サービスを利用することで英語の質を高めることができます。英文校正会社には、ネイチャー・リサーチ・エディティング・サービス や American Journal Experts などがあります。
For authors from Korea
영어를 모국어로 하지 않는 연구원들은 저널에 투고 하기 전 영어가 모국어인 동료들에게 원고의 리뷰를 부탁하는 것이 유용하다는 것을 알게 됩니다. 혹은 영어가 명확하고 제대로 잘 쓰여졌는지를 확인하기 위해 유료 교정 서비스를 이용하기도 합니다. 그러한 서비스로는 Nature Research Editing Service 와 American Journal Experts 가 있습니다.
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It’s rare that an article is authored by only one or two people anymore. In fact, the average original research paper has five authors. The growing list of collaborative research projects raises important questions regarding the author order for research manuscripts and the impact an author list has on readers’ perceptions.
With a handful of authors, a group might be inclined to create an author name list based on the amount of work contributed. What happens, though, when you have a long list of authors? It would be impractical to rank the authors by their relative contributions. Additionally, what if the authors contribute relatively equal amounts of work? Similarly, if a study was interdisciplinary (and many are these days), how can one individual’s contribution be deemed more significant than another’s?
In this article, we will quickly review a few strategies for listing authors and why the order can matter as you develop your academic career.
Why does author order matter?
Although an author list should only reflect those who have made substantial contributions to a research project and its draft manuscript, we’d be remiss to say that author order doesn’t matter. In theory, everyone on the list should be credited equally since it takes a team to successfully complete a project; however, due to industry customs and other practical limitations, some authors will be more visible than others.
The following are some notable implications regarding author order.
- The “first author” is a coveted position because of the increased visibility. This author is the first name readers will see, and because of various citation rules, the first author may be the only name visible. In-text or bibliographic referencing rules, for example, could reduce all other named authors to “et al.” Because of this fact, readers may falsely associate the first author with someone having more importance.
- Traditionally, the last author position is reserved for the supervisor or principal investigator. As such, this person receives much of the credit when the research goes well and the flak when things go wrong. The last author may also be the corresponding author, the person who is the primary contact for journal editors.
- Given that there is no uniform rule about author order, readers may find it difficult to assess the nature of an author’s contribution to a research project. To address this issue, some journals, particularly medical ones, insist on detailed author contribution notes. Nevertheless, even this tactic does little to counter how strongly citation rules have enhanced the attention first-named authors receive.
Common methods for listing authors
The following are some common methods for establishing author order lists.
- Relative contribution. As mentioned above, the most common way authors are listed is by relative contribution. The author who most substantially worked on the draft article and the underlying research becomes the first author. The others are ranked in descending order of contribution. However, in many disciplines, such as the life sciences, the last author in a group is the principle investigator—the person who supervised the work.
- Alphabetical list. Certain fields, particularly those involving large group projects, employ other methods. For example, high-energy particle physics teams list authors alphabetically.
- Multiple “first” authors. Additional “first” authors can be noted by an asterisk or other symbol accompanied by an explanatory note. This practice is common in interdisciplinary studies; however, as we shall explain further below, the first name listed on a paper will still enjoy more visibility than any other “first” author.
- Multiple “last” authors. Similar to recognizing several first authors, multiple last authors can be recognized via typographical symbols and footnotes. This practice arose as some journals wanted to increase accountability by requiring senior lab members to review all data and interpretations produced in their labs.
- Negotiated order. If you were thinking you could avoid politics by drowning yourself in research, you’re sorely mistaken. While there are clearer practices for designating first and last authors, there’s no overriding convention for the middle authors. The list can be decided by negotiation, so sharpen those persuasive argument skills!
As you can see, choosing the author order can be quite complicated; therefore, we urge researchers to consider these factors early in the research process. Don’t wait until the manuscript is drafted before you decide on the author order. All the parties involved will need to agree on the author list before submission, and no one will want to delay submission because of a disagreement about who should be included on the author list and in what order. Additionally, we recommend periodically revisiting the named author issue to make sure that everyone is on the same page and that the list is updated to appropriately reflect changes in team composition or contributions to a work.
For additional information regarding other author issues, see the following articles:
Please also feel free to peruse our other free journal submissions and research writing resources.