Manuscript etiquette

Quality control

I care about the time of my colleagues and collaborators. Therefore, I want to limit their efforts as much as possible but facilitate their flow of thoughts to make meaningful comments to the work.

The checklist below is meant to be run through before sending out a draft. This is leading to less time being spent with the obvious and practicalities. More time is going directly into giving content-centered comments and proposals for revision.

1. Make ‘feeling’ notes
Often, I already get the feeling when writing/revising that a certain comment will arise or that something is unclear. But I don’t know yet how to pinpoint what it is exactly. Make a small mark, then go back later and take a moment to think about where you stumbled.

2. Read every page out loud
Serves as a language control and flow of thought / words

3. Check reference list
Any weird formatting?

4. Tables and in-text numbers
Check against sources (prevent mistakes). Do counts sum up correctly? Do percentages add up? Are the numbers correct and the same in tables & text?

5. Have all previous comments be adressed?
Consider adding a version guide with requests & how the requests have been implemented.


Making revisions in a mauscript is a dextrous task. Often revisions of a manuscript are delayed because of the busy schedule of co-authors, who only manage to give their comments after additional reminders.

I was amazed by the comment of a colleague who told me that, when he was working in a two-person research group, they would be able to send out full manuscripts within two days. Because their communication was so straightforward and the focus was maximized, discussion could happen easily, and textual adaptions could readily be implemented.

Therefore, I have decided to adopt a similar two-author centered strategy for my manuscripts. Although I usually collaborate with multiple people and thus have more co-authors, I try to produce a very good first draft with only one other colleague. This happens in close collaboration and with rapid communications. Only after we both are satisfied, we would send out the manuscript for comments and revisions to the other co-authors.
In subsequent rounds of comments, the same principle would be implemented again, thus always producing good intermediate versions before they are shared with other contributors.

In this way, I am striving to make sure that every contributors’ time is being used efficiently, and that it becomes less dextrous to work through a draft manuscript, because one has naturally less comments.

More reading

Why are papers rejected? Read these common reasons

Anticipate how others will peer review your work. Help from Matt Might on how to peer review.

How to respond to peer review. Again a great resource from Matt.