Some might think that layout is important purely because of aesthetics. While there is some truth to this, it also simplifies the answer too much.
Layout is important to your journal for quite a few reasons. Here we’ll go over why it matters, how it can help your journal to be successful, and how you can use a journal management system to help simplify the process.
What is layout?
Generally speaking, layout is the way in which different elements of something are arranged (or “laid out”). Imagine putting out all the different parts of something on a table and moving them around until you’re satisfied with the way it looks.
When it comes to your journal, you want your journal to have a “look” to it. You want articles published in your journal to be identifiable and look good. For journals, there are many different layout elements to consider, but some are questions of taste. Others are important. For example, three crucial elements of journal layout are text, images, and white space.
Many people might not consider that the font that they use in a document can have an impact on whether or not something gets read. For example, some fonts are broadly considered to be “unprofessional” (Comic Sans commonly, and humorously, being cited as one of the worst fonts). Other fonts might be too difficult to read. The trick is to find a font that you like, that feels “clean” and is easy to read. A few simple recommendations might be to avoid fonts that are based on calligraphy (or that have elements of those) as they tend to make text a bit “flowery” and challenging to read. Conversely, basic fonts (Times New Roman and Cambria, for example) are often considered to be “very basic”. There is a balance to be struck, and selecting a good font can work wonders for the way that your articles are received.
Remember, you want the work to be professional, and so taking a look at what other journals are doing might be a good idea. Are they all using the same font (or the same two or three fonts)? If so, you have an easier selection process. If everyone is using different fonts, then you have a bit more flexibility (but more work to do) in terms of selecting the right one for your journal. This is an important element of your journal’s layout.
Graphics are a common part of any journal. It doesn’t matter if the article is about history, physics, philosophy, or chemistry—visual aides are extremely common. This means that you need to decide what your expectations are for these graphical elements. Unlike the layout of text, images can be more complicated. Because images are a part of the submission itself, and not something that your journal will provide, you will need to set requirements for these images. Remember, if your authors submit images that low resolution, these can become pixelated if they’re enlarged. You will want to include expectations (minimum sizes, resolutions, file formats, etc.) in your submission guidelines to authors. If you’re looking for ideas for how to prepare submission guidelines, be sure to read our article on the subject.
There are other considerations you might want to keep in mind. For example, how you justify your images (left-aligned, centered, right-aligned), the physical size of the image relative to the rest of the document, as well as how you will handle captions. These can all affect the “look” of your publications and so making sure that it all looks good is very important.
While text and images are very important to the look of your journal’s articles, another thing that matters is the white space. White space, broadly, is the amount of space between different design elements. For example, the line spacing or the size of the margins of a document. If there is too much white space, this can make a document feel empty. If there isn’t enough white space, a document might feel cluttered. How much white space you should have is a very difficult question to answer. As with most design elements, the answer is “you will know it when you see it”.
Make sure to test your layout on different screens (from smartphones to large 4K displays) to make sure that you’re happy with your journal’s layout.
How can layout help the publishing process?
Layout isn’t something that you need to worry about during the initial stages of the publishing process. That said, layout can make things easier during acceptance and peer review. If a submission is clear and easy to read, it helps speed up the amount of time that initial screening and peer review can take. If a submission is provided as a “block of text”, it will be your team’s responsibility to try and clean up the submission so that a reviewer doesn’t send it back to you. Remember, the peer review process is crucial to the speed of publication, so you want to make sure that a reviewer doesn’t reject work based on weak layout.
Once you’ve determined what your layout will look like, a really good idea is to create a basic template with instructions that authors can use to submit their work to your journal.
What happens if authors don’t use it and submit work without it? This is a question that has a range of answers. A short answer might be “nothing”. Regardless of the state of the layout, you’ll accept the submission. This is more convenient for the authors, but causes there to be a delay in the publication period. Another answer might be that you expect authors to use the template, no exceptions. This can cause headaches for certain authors.
Another option is to request the template, but view things on a case-by-case basis. It’s important to select the option that best works for you and your journal.
Using a journal management system to help with layout
In the same way that securing and organizing English editing for your journal’s articles is important, making sure that layout is done properly is also critical. You want all your journal articles to look cohesive. Everything should look the same, regardless of the content.
But how do you get this work done? Much like English editing, setting expectations is important. Unlike English editing, however, maintaining these standards is actually quite a bit easier. As long as the articles are set up according to the template, it’s as easy as that.
An easy way to make sure that layout is done properly is to make sure that your team is familiar with the template and can quickly format any submission to those standards. A journal management system can help you to assign these tasks to a team (or individual).
Why layout matters
We have previously talked about the importance of reputation, but your reputation can be affected by many different factors. While your team’s professionalism, consistency, and standards are highly relevant, along with pricing, other things can impact this as well. Whether or not your journal looks like you’ve made an effort to produce something aesthetically pleasing and easy to read is also extremely important.
Making sure you produce consistently produced content includes the way that content looks. Make sure that you have a layout that you’re happy with for your articles.