HSR Author Instructions Part 2: Manuscript Formatting and Submission Requirements

This post is part of a series explaining aspects of the author instructions (see also the checklist) for Health Services Research (HSR) as they existed circa March 2022. Each post quotes portions of the instructions and explains their import. Neither these posts nor the checklist are a substitute for reading and following the full set of instructions, which is expected of all authors for all submissions. 

This post focuses on portions of Section 2 of the author instructions, which is about manuscript formatting and submission requirements. This is probably the section of greatest interest to authors submitting manuscripts, yet some recommendations and requirements are frequently overlooked. I’ll focus on those in this post.

Section 2.2: “HSR publishes the following types of papers in its regular issues: Research Articles … Research Briefs … Methods Articles and Methods Briefs … Commentaries …”

Each of these article types has its own focus and the requirements and recommendations for each vary. This is all documented in the instructions, so I won’t repeat it all here. I do want to emphasize just a few points:

  • Research or Methods Briefs are particularly appropriate for studies that “make incremental contributions to the literature”. These include, for example, “single-setting studies (with an argument for the generalizability of findings to other sites).”
  • Commentaries are by invitation only, though authors may submit a proposal for a commentary (see instructions for details on how to do so). Commentaries must be evidence-based and “organized into thematic sections with subheadings.”

Section 2.3: This section includes a table that briefly summarizes some of the key requirements for article types, like word limits, abstract formatting, and so forth. Whether on initial or revised submission, authors may not exceed word limits without prior approval.

Section 2.4: This section has vast detail about how to prepare a manuscript, with instructions that go document-by-document and section-by-section. Some key points:

  • Instructions for what must be included in the cover letter are found in Subsection 2.4.1. For the most part, authors will also find the same instructions as they submit and answer the required questions online that pertain to prior disclosure or publication of findings, age of data (explanation required if >5 years old), and conflicts of interest.
  • Subsection 2.4.2 has instructions for the main manuscript file and is probably of greatest interest to authors. A few things are commonly overlooked, however, so warrant emphasis:
    • Throughout the manuscript, “for reporting findings about or discussing race and ethnicity, we recommend that authors follow the AHA/ASA Journals Disparities Research Guidelines and JAMA guidance on reporting of race and ethnicity.”
    • “For quantitative analyses, we recommend authors follow the general statistical guidelines provided by the Annals of Internal Medicine.” In addition, “[r]eporting of odds ratios is discouraged (marginal effects preferred) except in case-control studies (see Norton and Dowd DOI: 10.1111/1475-6773.12712 and Norton et al. DOI: 10.1001/jama.2018.6971).
    • Titles should not include abbreviations or punctuation, including colons, dashes or question marks.
    • The Acknowledgements should list funding sources, even for the anonymized version sent to reviewers.
    • The Objective of the structured Abstract should begin with “To …”
    • The Principle Findings of the structured Abstract should “present numerical results (absolute numbers when available and rates only if not available) with appropriate indicators of uncertainty, such as confidence intervals. Do not report the results of statistical hypothesis testing alone, such as P values, which fail to convey important quantitative information.”
    • Each section of the callout box (What is known on this topic/What this study adds) should be up to three bullets long with each bullet no longer than 30 words. Bullets should be written for a wide audience. For each published paper, we use these as tweets in a thread, so think of them, and write them, that way.
    • Tables and Figures should be understandable on their own, without reference to the text. This will require meaningful titles, definitions of all abbreviations. Though I haven’t done a quantitative study, it feels like the majority of manuscripts have tables and figures with abbreviations without definition. It’s not in your interest to overlook this, as editors and reviewers may not recall the definition of everything from the main text when they turn to your tables and figures. Then they become confused or frustrated, which you don’t want.
    • Abbreviations: “[T]erms should not be abbreviated unless they are used repeatedly and the abbreviation is helpful to the reader. Initially, use the word in full, followed by the abbreviation in parentheses. Thereafter use the abbreviation only. We discourage the use of abbreviations that are not already in common use, or that may have more than one meaning. Abbreviations used in the abstract, callout box, main text, tables, and figures should be separately defined in each.”

Again, there is lots more in the instructions. I’m just hitting the main points that are most frequently overlooked. Next in this series, I’ll cover several part of the Editorial Policies and Ethical Considerations section

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