eLife references: Yes, we take any format; no, we're not rekeying

Authors can use any reference style when they submit their work to eLife.
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by Sian Roderick, Interim Head of Production -

How many times have you been about to submit a manuscript to a journal only to realize that you forgot to check their reference guidelines?

And how much time have you wasted changing the citations styles from Harvard to Vancouver, reformatting references or finding an EndNote, Mendeley, ProCite, BibTeX or Zotero style to match? Do you sit there asking yourself, “What’s the point”?

Well, is there a point? The short answer is “no,” which is why authors can use any reference style when they submit their work toeLife.

In the past, having a consistent reference format within an article allowed human readers (e.g. the editor and reviewers of your manuscript) to easily read and understand details within a reference list. This consistency was important before the advent of digital desktop publishing. Armies of copyeditors would toil over pages and pages of double-line-spaced A4 sheets of text in 10 point Times font. Having references that weren’t in a consistent format meant hours of extra work and red pen to fit them to the (human-readable) house style. These reams of paper were then posted or couriered to the typesetter who then set the type by hand (otherwise known as letterpress).

metal movable type
Source: Willi Heidelbach/ Wikipedia.

In the 1960s, phototypesetting replaced letterpress. Characters were projected onto photosensitive film ready for offset printing. When the 1980s brought computers and word processing, desktop publishing began but simplifying references to a standard format was still laborious (and that was after you had already transferred the typewritten manuscript to the computer).

Technology moved on apace so that manuscripts stopped arriving by post and instead landed in the production editor’s e-mail inbox. Copyediting was done on screen – track changes replacing the red pen. However, it was with publication in SGML, initially, and subsequently XML/HTML that more automation was introduced and tools were created to take the labour out of repetitive processes such as “fixing” references. Today, once a manuscript is sent for typesetting, the typesetter takes the text file and runs it through a series of automated processes (eXtyles or their own proprietary tools) to apply the journal style (including switching between Vancouver and Harvard reference styles), highlight spelling errors and inconsistencies for a human eye to review and tag various sections of the articles according to the publishers specified xml DTD.


Application of style:

At eLife we accept references in any format. Our typesetter can unravel almost any reference and format it according to the eLife style with the tools they have built and include it in the XML according to the NLM 3.0 DTD. These steps include running a tool that checks for un-cited, unlisted or identical references; applying our journal style when formatting punctuation, spacing, case and font; checking to ensure the journal abbreviation matches standard databases and that queries for the author are generated to clarify any ambiguity. What’s more - they can compare these references to PubMed for accuracy. Our future plans also include running the reference lists through a CrossRef query in order to add DOIs to the reference lists and to enable cited-by linking.

This means that references come out as human readable….

…and machine readable…

<ref id="bib48"><element-citation publication-type="journal"><person-group person-group-type="author"><name><surname>Serizawa</surname><given-names>S</given-names></name><name><surname>Miyamichi</surname><given-names>K</given-names></name><name><surname>Takeuchi</surname><given-names>H</given-names></name><name><surname>Yamagishi</surname><given-names>Y</given-names></name><name><surname>Suzuki</surname><given-names>M</given-names></name><name><surname>Sakano</surname><given-names>H</given-names></name></person-group><year>2006</year><article-title>
A neuronal identity code for the odorant receptor-specific and activity-dependent axon sorting
<ref id="bib49"><element-citation publication-type="journal"><person-group person-group-type="author"><name><surname>Shykind</surname><given-names>BM</given-names></name><name><surname>Rohani</surname><given-names>SC</given-names></name><name><surname>O'Donnell</surname><given-names>S</given-names></name><name><surname>Nemes</surname><given-names>A</given-names></name><name><surname>Mendelsohn</surname><given-names>M</given-names></name><name><surname>Sun</surname><given-names>Y</given-names></name><etal/></person-group><year>2004</year><article-title>
Gene switching and the stability of odorant receptor gene choice
<ref id="bib50"><element-citation publication-type="journal"><person-group person-group-type="author"><name><surname>Smyth</surname><given-names>GK</given-names></name></person-group><year>2004</year><article-title>Linear models and empirical bayes methods for assessing differential expression in microarray experiments
</article-title><source>Stat Appl Genet Mol Biol</source><volume>3</volume><fpage>Article3</fpage></element-citation></ref>

All of this makes reference formatting more useful for the author allowing you to use whatever style – EndNote, Mendeley, ProCite, BibTeX or Zotero - that suits you.

Sian maybe contacted through s.roderick@elifesciences.org