peer review manuscript submission scholarly publishing academic scientific journal
peer review manuscript submission scholarly publishing academic scientific

Opinion: Please Help Reviewers by Embedding Your Figures

The standard system of separating figures, tables, and legends from the text is unnecessary and laborious.

Ricardo Borges and Andrew G. Ewing
Jul 23, 2019


Paper submission and the peer review system have changed dramatically with the arrival of the internet and electronic correspondence. Most young scientists have never experienced the real pain that was hand typewriting text and references, drawing figures, making glossy-print photographs, and sending these all by regular mail to a journal. Rewriting papers and references in that way, months after submission, was probably the worst task in the life of a scientist.

In those years there were reasons for the editors to ask that submission of a paper must be done with the double-spaced main text, tables, figure legends, and figures all sorted separately. However, with current technology there is not any reason to maintain such a completely obsolete system that uses up to 30 to 40 pages for a single manuscript. Nobody will accept to read a paper in a journal in this way, why should referees have to?

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Nowadays, manuscript submission and editing are easy tasks. Correspondence between the authors, editorial boards, and referees are rapid, all carried out electronically. However, the required structure for manuscript submission for most journals is still the same as the ancient way. As reviewers, our obvious question is, Why does this persist? When we have to review a printed manuscript, we have to manage four or five piles of sheets, trying to follow the results and the discussion of the paper. This is even a worse annoyance when this procedure has to be performed in a reduced space like an airplane table, the “office in the sky” for many reviewers. Or when trying to review a manuscript on a computer screen where constant scrolling back and forth to examine figures is distracting. The immense labor of referees worldwide (free labor already) is essential to maintaining our peer review system and journals should work to facilitate their work as the technology moves forward.

Although it is easy with modern word processors to embed figures, tables, and legends in a single file during the reviewing process, most journals still require authors to submit papers in the ancient way. One can accept that the printing procedure might require the use of separate files for figures but printing usually occurs months after the first submission. Currently, some journals have or still allow submissions with the figures embedded, so why is it so rare to get a manuscript to review in the format that we read in journals?

So, please editors, help your referees and change your submission system to embedded figures, tables, and legends. This is quite simple!

Ricardo Borges is a physician and pharmacologist at University of La Laguna in Spain and Andrew G. Ewing is an analytical chemist at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden and an associate editor of Analytical Chemistry.