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Behind the Scenes at JAMA and the Archives Journals: Top 10 Mistakes Authors Make, Part II

Brenda Gregoline, ELS, manages the copyediting team for 5 of the Archives Journals, and is a member of the committee that writes and updates the AMA Manual of Style. She is a member of the Council of Science Editors and has worked in scientific publishing for nearly 15 years. In this 3-part series, she reports on the most frequent mistakes authors make when submitting manuscripts to JAMA and the Archives Journals, and lets us in on what drives copy editors crazy.

It’s impossible to expect authors to absorb all the information in the thousand-page AMA Manual of Style–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. In Part I we discussed filling out author forms, omitting “behind the scenes” stuff, and generally making life difficult for the copy editor. Today we discuss the next 3 in our top-10 list of most frequent mistakes.

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.

Authors and aspiring authors: stay tuned for the final 4!

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