Editorial. Refining manuscript elements in the Journal of Neurosurgery: when less is more

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I have long been passionate about the adage “less is more,” especially as it refers to medical and scientific writing. A great example is the 1953 scientific article on the discovery of the structure of DNA by James Watson and Francis Crick.1 Their seminal report, which helped propel the molecular biology revolution forward, is a mere 128 lines long, with one schematic figure, and fills only two pages of the journal.

With this economy of reporting in mind, the Journal of Neurosurgery Publishing Group (JNSPG) has established limits for the elements of submitted manuscripts. I asked

I have long been passionate about the adage “less is more,” especially as it refers to medical and scientific writing. A great example is the 1953 scientific article on the discovery of the structure of DNA by James Watson and Francis Crick.1 Their seminal report, which helped propel the molecular biology revolution forward, is a mere 128 lines long, with one schematic figure, and fills only two pages of the journal.

With this economy of reporting in mind, the Journal of Neurosurgery Publishing Group (JNSPG) has established limits for the elements of submitted manuscripts. I asked the JNSPG staff to investigate the practices of 15 representative journals—including Stroke, Neurosurgery, New England Journal of Medicine, Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry, Lancet, and the British Medical Journal—and they found that most of these journals specified limits for text and abstract length (word counts) as well as for numbers of figures, tables, and references. The JNSPG team, with members of the peer review, manuscript editing, production, communications, and policy departments, then calculated descriptive statistics (mean, median, range, standard deviation, 75th percentile, and 90th percentile) from all manuscripts that were edited over a period of 3 months. The team used the raw data and descriptive statistics to develop preliminary recommendations for my review; they then checked the recommendations against a separate 1-month series of accepted manuscripts. Happily, the results showed that the general trend of our current manuscripts is in keeping with the recommendations.

Our new Manuscript Limits Policy, based on those recommendations, is presented in Table 1; we believe that it will benefit authors in several ways. First, it is highly likely that, by applying these limits to all submissions, we will be able to publish more articles in each issue of our print and online journals. Second, our editorial office will be able to move papers more efficiently through our manuscript submission and article preparation processes. Third, and most importantly, by using economies of language and data presentation (figures, tables, and videos), an author can say more with less—one measure of a truly great writer.

TABLE 1.

Manuscript limits

Article TypeAbstract*Text*Tables & FiguresVideosReferences
Clinical article37540008245
Laboratory investigation37540008245
Literature review (including systematic review)37540008275
Case report20020005245
Technical note20025005245
Historical vignette20035008245
OpinionNA35005245
Letter to the editor or responseNA5001 figure or 1 table or 1 video10
Neurosurgical Focus37535008275

NA = not applicable.

Total number of words. Text = words from the Introduction through the Conclusions of the manuscript; the Abstract, Acknowledgements, References, and end matter are not included in the text total.

Values are totals (tables + figures). JNSPG does not accept tables divided into parts (e.g., Table 1A, Table 1B, etc.); each part will be considered a separate table, and the manuscript will be returned to the author for renumbering.

Applies to all article types except case reports, technical notes, and letters to the editor; use print journal limits for those.

I thank you for working with us as we implement these element limits for submitted manuscripts; we look forward to the positive impact our new policy will have on the neurosurgical literature.

Disclosures

The author reports no conflict of interest.

References

1

Watson JDCrick FHC: Molecular structure of nucleic acids: a structure for deoxyribose nucleic acid. Nature 171:7377381953

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Article Information

INCLUDE WHEN CITING Published online October 13, 2017; DOI: 10.3171/2017.9.JNS172341.

Disclosures The author reports no conflict of interest.

© AANS, except where prohibited by US copyright law.

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References

1

Watson JDCrick FHC: Molecular structure of nucleic acids: a structure for deoxyribose nucleic acid. Nature 171:7377381953

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