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When submitting to (computer science) conferences, you usually have full control over the layout and are able to submit a camera-ready version that will be published as submitted.

For journals, however, you usually have to submit a manuscript that will be reformatted before publication. In my experience, this includes rearranging and scaling of the figures, reformatting the equations etc.

Of course, it made sense before researchers were able to typeset camera-ready papers, but now it seems to be unnecessary and just generates additional costs and errors. Why do publishers still prefer this way instead of letting the authors do the layout? I would expect that the journal style can easily be enforced by providing an appropriate LaTeX template and some additional rules.

I thought it might be due to copyright issues (maybe if the publisher does not do any modifications, it has no right to have a copyright on it), but it also happens for open-access journals where this should be no issue.

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    Have you seen the layout/design skills of most academics? :-) (hint: Look at posters). – Flyto May 23 '18 at 8:33
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    @Flyto Design is very different from typesetting and especially CS has a high density of typography nerds. So yes, most conference papers I read look very good. – koalo May 23 '18 at 8:41
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    I prefer someone else to do the editing and typesetting for me, especially considering they have been trained to do so and have significantly more experience than me. – Bas Jansen May 23 '18 at 10:10
  • @koalo possibly academics in CS are an exception, then ;-) – Flyto May 23 '18 at 10:17
  • @Flyto Why should I care about layout, so long as it's reasonably easy to read? Besides, Latex does a better job than some journal styles. – Jessica B May 23 '18 at 12:51
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I can think of a few different reasons:

  • Not all authors are able or willing to conform to the formatting style. After all, academics are supposed to be experts in their field of research, which usually isn't typesetting. The journal provides formatting as a service to these (and other) authors, and to ensure a consistent style.
  • Copy-editing can also fix a number of typos - it doesn't always just introduce errors...
  • Even if the authors manage to nail the formatting and spelling, chances are that the journal has an extensive style guide that goes way beyond "some additional rules". If you submit papers to more than a single journal, will you really be able to remember which journals insist on capitalizing words like "ansatz" in English?
  • Additionally, journals may use headers/footers they don't want to make available in public templates, or even unusual page sizes that may require the text to be reflowed.
  • Publishers may accept manuscripts in several formats, and have to convert at least one of them into their own format of choice.
  • I don't know how common it is, but the format of choice need not be one of the accepted formats at all. E.g. APS accepts LaTeX and MS Word submissions, but converts both into an XML format. This allows them to generate both PDF and web versions of the papers, and additional versions in the future. There is even work underway on using the XML format to make papers fully available to the blind.

Finally, as long as the author signs over some or all of their copyright, such issues should not be a reason for this. Also note that formatting/editing does not necessarily cost that much, especially compared to carefully checking a submission.

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    @BenI. That's an oversimplification. You might as well say that my comment is written using ASCII so there is no need to convert it for French readers. – user9646 May 23 '18 at 3:57
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    "Copy-editing can also fix a number of typos - it doesn't always just introduce errors." In my experience they most commonly "correct" perceived typos into actual errors. Mostly because they have no understanding of the subject matter. – Maeher May 23 '18 at 6:34
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    Is there any real-world advantage in enforcing journal style guides though? I've never felt that consistent capitalization of the word "Ansatz" across articles of the same journal is important for my research. I read papers from different journals all the time and I am used to them looking different anyway. – Federico Poloni May 23 '18 at 6:48
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    For any journal that's actually printed on paper, there's also the fact that the printing company will have all of their submission requirements, and no scholar wants to deal with actually making their documents truly camera ready with something like QuarkXpress for a large scale printing outfit. Regarding typos, if I recall correctly, it's the author(s) who have final approval on the galleys, not the copy editor, so the author(s) can and should take the opportunity to make sure nothing gets incorrectly changed in copy editing. – Todd Wilcox May 23 '18 at 17:17
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    @ToddWilcox I try to take responsibility for the final version of my papers being right. But I took a lot of care over getting the first version right, and most journals don't tell you what changes they've made (I've tried asking, but it seems they don't bother to keep track). Finding the deleted comma in 20 pages of text I've already proof-read five times is an unreasonable waste of my time. – Jessica B May 24 '18 at 6:38
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If all authors were able to produce camera-ready manuscripts, publishers would not need to reformat submissions. The problem is, most authors are not able to do so (including those that think they are).

If you've ever reviewed articles before you'll probably have seen what un-typeset articles journals deal with. They can look fine, but they can also have figures separate from the article proper, text overruns, broken references, and misrendered equations. I've seen papers submitted using another journal's style files, which is still fine as long as there are typesetters who can reformat the manuscript. I've also seen papers which had missing paragraphs, but on checking the source files the paragraphs are there, they just did not compile right.

TeX makes things easier but still isn't foolproof. I remember one author sending me an angry email saying "I've sent you the files, why can't you just press print? Doesn't LaTeX do all the relevant typesetting?" and I showed him a page where LaTeX put the figure on one page and the caption on the next.

Don't get me wrong: if you prepare your manuscript well, the typesetters have less work to do. You're right that sometimes reformatting introduces errors, but the number of errors removed is significantly higher than the number of errors introduced. Reformatting manuscripts is significantly more expensive than handing CRC manuscripts. But even CRC manuscripts have to be checked.

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    I had the personal experience of a publisher introduce a mistake that is pretty much impossible in LaTex unless one retypes (!) everything without any regard for the logical structure of the document. The publish text includes a reference to "Keisler (2009)", a paper that should correctly be referred to as "Keisler and Sun (2009)"- which is actually what is written in the bibliography. I have heard from other colleagues that the same publisher introduced mistakes in their papers that cannot be introduced by normal use of LaTex. – Michael Greinecker May 23 '18 at 7:46
  • Not a typesetter so I can't say with high confidence what happened; however this involves a reference so there's a chance they labelled everything. In any case it's a fairly painless error since there's no ambiguity. Can't comment about your other colleagues' experience without details. – Allure May 23 '18 at 7:52
  • most authors are not able to do so (including those that think they are). That is the sentence of the day. – Cape Code May 23 '18 at 9:36
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    I have refereed papers, and never seen the things you are describing. I think people typesetting journals are completely missing the point when it comes to what matters. Also, my personal experience is certainly not that more errors are fixed than introduced. I've had a whole paper mangled by someone who had no idea what they were doing, and never more than minor typos corrected. One journal removed a comma that changed the meaning of the sentence. – Jessica B May 23 '18 at 12:41
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    Also, changing the reference is not 'painless' just because you can still find the correct one. Research shows that writing 'et al.' harms the careers of those later in the alphabet. – Jessica B May 23 '18 at 12:44
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To supplement the excellent answer by @Anyon:

  • It might be not desired for third party to produce something in exactly the journal look. From what I have seen, even the "non-review" modes of journal styles often look different enough from the actual publisher-made final version. Basically, an officially-looking copy should originate only from official source.
  • One further reason might be the fonts. Proper fonts are a big deal, they might cost a lot, and they would typically not be available for the normal user.
  • It could be that final processing happens with something different, as mentioned in the above answer. One possibility is that they reformat the columns with InDesign or similar that is believed to achieve a better journal look than LaTeX. End users would obviously not have unlimited access to such software.
  • I believe you nailed it down with your first two bullet points. – Matteo May 23 '18 at 3:04
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    Proper fonts are a big deal [citation needed]. It's difficult to argue that proper fonts are important to a computer scientist that reads self-formatted "camera-ready" conference papers all day and never found them inferior. – Federico Poloni May 23 '18 at 6:50
  • My point is less that a different (free) font is ugly, but that a proper printing license for some Palatino variant (or whatever) can be expensive. Thus (and because installing fonts in TeX is a pain in the ass), the publishers don't distribute the genuine journal font. Basically, the availble journal style file and the actual journal style are different, not at least because of fonts. (Other reason: actual camera-ready PDFs are generated not with LaTeX.) – Oleg Lobachev May 23 '18 at 13:51
4

To add to the previous answer: So that journals have an excuse to ask for ridiculously high prices. Indeed, I had to sign agreements that allow me to put my final submission on my homepage but not the final edited journal version "with the value added by the journal." So apparently, some journals think that is what their contributions.

There are possible alternatives, such as overlay journals.

  • -1 because the answer's incorrect. If journals could simply upload the author's version they could hire much fewer staff and save on production costs. See also ctvnews.ca/health/… where part of the signature of a predatory publisher is that production quality declines. Quoting from the article, "“There were all kinds of typos, the grammar was wrong ... In medical journals, everything has to be accurate -- every comma, every word -- so that was my first suspicion.”" – Allure May 23 '18 at 2:08
  • I'm sorry, but I don't follow. How does that make my answer wrong? – Michael Greinecker May 23 '18 at 7:08
  • Do you mean the quote from the article? If the journal contributes nothing, then production quality declining implies that it's actually the author quality that's declining, in which case there's one can't call the publisher predatory, no? – Allure May 23 '18 at 7:16
  • I plainly don't understand how anything you write relates to my answer, that did not talk about "predatory journals" at all. Indeed, I mentioned an agreement I had to sign with a "legitimate" publisher. But yes, the prices commercial publishers ask for are ridiculously high and not driven by cost. – Michael Greinecker May 23 '18 at 7:35
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    @Allure As far as I can tell, people in publishing base their ideas of the economics of the publisher on a faulty judgement of the bit the journal does (which is approximately zero). The only reason I need to look at a published paper rather than the version of it on the arXiv is to check they are the same. If the arXiv version became the official version, I would be happy. – Jessica B May 23 '18 at 12:49
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Anyon gives an excellent summary of why it makes sense for commercial journals to have their own copy-editors who are responsible for formatting for publication. However, you will find that even non-commercial journals that put the responsibility of making the accepted version publication-ready on the authors do not expect this to be done at submission, but only after acceptance. This makes a lot of sense, as means less work for the authors in the event that a paper is rejected from one or more journals before being accepted - no-one wants to have to go to the trouble of preparing several versions in different house styles.

So the question for me is not "Why do journals do this?" but "Why do conferences expect that you submit a camera-ready version?". I think there are two likely reasons for this.

  • Page limits. If it matters at the peer-review stage how long a paper is, it needs to be already be in the required format as reformatting usually significantly changes the number of pages.

  • Time constraints. For conference publications there is generally a very tight turnaround between the peer-review stage and needing a final version, so it's better to ask for a camera-ready version straight off. This might mean extra work for the author if the paper is not accepted, but overall it means less time-critical work.

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