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Manuscript guide for Social Science & Medicine

Social Science & Medicine (SSM) has a “your manuscript,  your way” policy for journal submissions, which means that an author can submit a paper using any format. We have processed thousands of manuscripts for SSM and believe manuscripts have a better chance of being put under peer review if they are initially submitted conforming to the journal style (see SSM’s official guidelines here). Following are items that deserve careful attention prior to submission. When our journal office requests a revision of a manuscript, members of our editorial staff literally compare the paper to this list.

I. Practical Suggestions

  1. Carefully consult SSM’s Aims and Scope prior to submitting your manuscript. The biggest reason for desk rejections is that the study is better suited for a speciality journal. SSM has seven different sections, each with its own statement of Aims and Scope. Choose the one that is the closest match for your paper.
  2. SSM has strict word limits for its submissions, with 8,000 words being the longest, for research articles. Exceptions are considered on a case-by-case basis. The abstract, tables, and references as well as the main text of all re-submissions should be within our word limit, and all revisions should adhere to the same format as initial submissions.
  3. SSM uses a double-blind review procedure, which means that both reviewers and authors are anonymous to each other. Information in the manuscript should not reveal the identity of the author(s), so remove specifics such as citations that directly imply the identity of the author(s), registry numbers, and the specific the particular institutional review board that authorized the research. We still recommend that authors imply these elements (e.g., “The Institutional Review Board at the university of the first author approved all data collection procedures.”), which are reported in detail if we publish the manuscript.
  4. Be sure to include page and line numbers, which facilitate efficient reviewer feedback, should your manuscript go through peer review.
  5. Make sure that paragraphs are easily discerned (e.g., with a tab setting or by white space before each paragraph).
  6. Ensure there are no endnotes or footnotes. Omit this information or incorporate it into your revised manuscript. SSM publishes no articles with footnotes or endnotes.
  7. In suggesting reviewers, carefully list each proposed reviewer’s relevant skills or other background.

II. Language and Style Considerations

  1. Although all SSM articles are published in English, the variant is the choice of the author, just be sure to use it consistently throughout the manuscript.
  2. Proof-read for grammar and punctuation. Pay special attention to consistent presentation, such as formatting statistical symbols (including italicizing symbols in Figures and Tables).  As a broad guideline, we find Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style a nicely compact and correct guide to grammar. If you have any doubt about the readability of your prose, it can be handy to ask a native English speaker to proofread your work (though we suggest that it is someone who is also a good writer and also conversant at least somewhat with the domain of research).
  3. If you are using Reference Management Software (e.g., Mendeley, Zotero, EndNote, etc.), select the SSM template when preparing your article (citations and bibliographies should be automatically formatted to match the journal’s style—but check just in case). If this template is not available through your product, please use the format and style specified on our website (which most resembles that of the American Psychological Association (APA). For EndNote users: The current Social Science & Medicine EndNote file can be directly accessed on our website. Note that using such software is no guarantee that references will be correct, as reference data input into the software may be in error: Please check your references for correctness. Finally, when you prepare the “clean” version of your manuscript, also remove the citation-software codes from the document so that the document is completely editable without access to your reference database.
  4. We recommend headings in this form: (a) Level 1 (e.g., Method): centered, boldface, uppercase and lowercase; (b) Level 2 (e.g., Study Measures): left-aligned, boldface, uppercase and lowercase; (c) Level 3 (e.g., Psychological assessments.): indented, boldface, lowercase (only 1st letter capitalized), followed by a period, text begins immediately after; (d) Level 4 (e.g., Depression.): indented, boldface, italicized, lowercase (only 1st letter capitalized), followed by a period, text begins immediately after.
  5. As with APA style, we prefer left justification to full justification for the text. Moreover, only one space should appear between sentences.
  6. Acronyms or abbreviations should be used at least 3 times in the body of the manuscript, exclusive of abstract, figures, tables, and their expansions. All acronyms and abbreviations must be defined at first mention; use only if acronym/abbreviation is conventional, apt to be familiar, will save considerable space, and will prevent cumbersome repetition. Once defined, please ensure that the acronym/abbreviation is used consistently in the manuscript text.
  7. Point of View: Science writing rarely uses the first-person point of view. Use the third-person point of view instead. For example, instead of saying “I found out that…” rephrase your sentence to “The current study showed that…”
  8. Active versus Passive Voice: For clear, concise sentences, try to use the active voice (i.e., subject of the sentence performs the action) rather than the passive voice (i.e., subject receives the action) whenever possible. For example, instead of saying “The participants have been asked to …” rephrase your sentence to “The participants responded…”. In contrast, there are times when the passive voice is appropriate to use, i.e., to emphasize the action rather than the subject, create an authoritative tone, describe a condition where the subject is unknown or unimportant, etc.
  9. In general, we ask that authors express numerical values using words (i.e., two) for numbers less than 10 (i.e., zero through nine). Numerical values of 10 or greater can be expressed using figures/digits (i.e., 11). No p-value or standard error should be printed as exactly zero (e.g., “= .00”); increase the number of decimal places or indicate that the value is quite small (e.g., “< .001”). For clarity and ease of interpretation, we believe it is better to report confidence intervals in the style (e.g.,) “95% CI = 0.0046 to 0.0087” or “95% CI = 0.0046, 0.0087” because putting a dash between the upper and lower confidence limits might at a glance be interpreted as a negative value when that is not the intention.
  10. Make sure that numbers follow the English standard (thousands separators are commas, and decimal points are periods).
  11. During the review process, we recommend that any supplemental documents be included as Appendixes, in order to ensure that Reviewers will review them. These are meant to be online supplements if the paper is published and do not count against the word limit.

III. Recommendations about Specific Manuscript Components

  1. Include the ‘Research Highlights’ with your revised manuscript. These are an important part of the submission that should also undergo the peer-review process and that are published online with all current Social Science & Medicine articles; reviewers are also asked to rate the appropriateness of Highlights, which consist of a short collection of bullet points that convey the core findings of the article and should be submitted in a separate file in the online submission system. Please use ‘Highlights’ in the file name and include 3 to 5 bullet points (maximum 85 characters, including spaces, per bullet point). See this webpage for more information.
  2. Make your abstract structured, with subheadings in boldface such as Rationale, Objective, Methods, Results, Conclusion. Doing so forces you to cover the important areas of your work sufficiently and helps readers follow the logic of your investigation.
  3. In the Method section, report the degree of missing observations, if any. If you used imputation strategies, provide the details (e.g., multiple imputation, the extent to which observations were missing at random). If you did not use imputation for missing values, provide a rationale why not.
  4. When reporting results/statistics, be consistent in the places used to the right of the decimal point (e.g., tenths place=4.2 versus hundredths place=17.25).
  5. All Figures and Tables should include an appropriate title, a legend (Figures) or footnote (Tables) and be numbered in the order they are discussed in-text. Moreover, (a) Tables (and Figures, if any) should supplement the text, not duplicate it. Do not include data/statistics in the text if they are summarized in a Table (or Figure). (b) In addition, please indicate the approximate placement of the Figures and Tables, such as <INSERT TABLE 1 ABOUT HERE>
  6. We prefer that Figures and Tables adhere to APA formatting, but in the least, Tables or Figures should define all abbreviations and otherwise are interpretable without reading the surrounding manuscript text. (If necessary, refer to the manuscript text for further interpretation.)
  7. For Figures: (a) The figure number, title, legend and caption should appear below the visual display. (b) Follow the title with a legend that explains the symbols in the figure and a caption that explains the figure. (c) The lettering in the legend should be of the same type and size as that used in the figure; and (d) color figures will appear online, but we ask that you also include a black and white version in your re-submission so that it could still be interpreted if printed in grayscale. Additional information on digital artwork is available here.
  8. For Tables: (a) Do not use vertical lines. (b) Use horizontal lines above and below the column headings and at the bottom of the table only. (c) Use extra space to delineate sections within the table. (d) Avoid using any color or shading in tables. And (e), italicize all statistics symbols (e.g., N, p, SD, r, etc.).
  9. Recently published Social Science & Medicine articles provide excellent examples of how Tables and Figures should be formatted for publication; there are some selected examples available online here for quantitative articles and here for qualitative ones.
  10. Make sure that there is a clearly identified Limitations subsection in your Discussion section. Doing so helps readers quickly find prominent shortcomings of your work. Ordinarily, authors should also include a Conclusions subsection.

IV. Recommendations about Specific Types of Research Reports

  1. Randomized controlled trials (RCTs) should include the CONSORT flow diagram and be reported in manner that is consistent with the CONSORT 2010 Statement.
  2. For intervention studies with psychosocial content, we request that you provide online supplements including your treatment manual and that you also characterize the content of the intervention and control arms (if any) in terms of behavior change techniques (see Michie et al.’s, 2013, taxonomy, Annals of Behavioral Medicine; also: Steinmo et al., 2015, Implementation Science). Doing so not only facilitates reviewers’ comprehension of the details of the study, but also informs future replication efforts as well as systematic reviews and meta-analyses.
  3. If your study is a systematic review or meta-analysis, add a PRISMA-style flowchart detailing selection of sources into your review. In your PRISMA study selection flow chart, we prefer the symbol k over n, as n is more conventional to label numbers of observations and k is more conventional for numbers of studies. In fact, you can create a flow chart to avoid the entire vs. problem. For example, “Records identified through database searching (n = 421)” can be revised to “Records identified through database searching: 421″.
  4. If your study is a systematic review or meta-analysis, complete the 2009 PRISMA checklist and include it as an online supplement.
  5. If your study is a qualitative study and/or a meta-synthesis, have you incorporated relevant quantitative research in your Introduction and Discussion sections?

Last updated: 09:22am EDT, 16 May 2017