Published papers need to be styled and formatted in specific ways to meet the strict formatting guidelines of journals. These guidelines can be broken down into two parts: presentation and style. Presentation guidelines refer to the way the paper is presented to the reader, including line spacing, line and page numbering, font size, and margins. Style guidelines refer to the stylistic aesthetic of the journal and include the format of the abstract, i.e. numbered paragraphs or single paragraph, figure and table layout and caption placement, figure size and quality, and referencing style. Combined, these guidelines help the editorial team of the journal maintain a consistent formatting style throughout their journal, present peer reviewers with readable products, and simplify the proof-reading and copy-editing stages once papers become accepted.
Practical example for Life Sciences
Within the life sciences, formatting guidelines vary among journals: some journals require continuous line numbering, while others prohibit the use of footnotes. Typically, formatting guidelines are endemic to the publishing company. For example, British Ecological Society journals (http://www.britishecologicalsociety.org/publications/journals/) promote their own style and presentation that is consistent across their journals. Other publishing companies and journals will use their preferred formatting guidelines and styles. The most varied aspect of formatting among journals is the in-text referencing style. Journals adhere to their chosen referencing style, e.g. APA, Harvard, and have specific guidelines on the presentation of cited works. For example, Functional Ecology has quite detailed referencing guidelines (see ‘Manuscript specifications’ at http://www.functionalecology.org/view/0/authorGuideline.html). In contrast, the ecology journal Oikos is less strict about in-text style and only provides brief details (see http://www.oikosjournal.org/authors/author-guidelines). When the journal states no specific guidelines, as long as authors choose a consistent style, they can use their best judgement and discretion.
Practical example for Social Sciences
Within the social sciences, there tend to be strict style guidelines that are adhered to by journals. For example, Psychology and Social Work journals typically use APA style, the guidelines for which are outlined by the APA Style Manual 6th Edition (see http://www.apastyle.org/ for an online overview). Other popular styles are AMA, Harvard, and Vancouver. While APA is most common, it is advisable to check the guidelines for the individual journal to check for style specifications, and some journals have specific, individual formatting requirements.