The “Technical Reports” Paper Type

During our reviewing and publication of the special sections on Measurement Techniques in Solar and Space Physics,


the JGR Space Physics editors sometimes received questions about the appropriateness of “instrument papers” in this journal. The fact is that JGR Space Physics has accepted Technical Reports: Methods and Technical Reports: Data paper types for many years. The fraction of such papers, though, has been small, with most papers in this journal being the Research Article paper type. When we accepted the proposal for the MTSSP special sections, we knew that reviewing the expected ~150 manuscripts on space instrumentation would be a bit different for those receiving the reviews. It’s not a paper type that we normally get, so some in the space physics community were a little confused about this paper type being in this journal.


            I’ve written about the Technical Reports paper type before, but since we’ve reassessed what we want for this paper in JGR Space Physics, it is good to remind the space science community about the expectations for a manuscript in this paper type. The paper must describe a significant original contribution to the field, but this new contribution is the method, technique, or data set. Yes, that’s right: it does not have to include an original contribution to our scientific understanding of the space environment, as is the case for a Research Article paper type. It has to be applicable to scientific study of the space environment, but does not have to actually include such a study.

That said, the manuscript must have these elements:

  1. A section at the beginning why to I need to study the relevant aspect of space physics. You must motivate the publication of this technical advancement in JGR Space Physics by convincing readers that the science area to which it pertains is interesting.
  2. A series of clear statements about the novel elements of the method, technique, or data set. You must place the technical advancement in the context of existing technology or data in order to convince readers that the report contains an original and significant contribution in this area.
  3. A section on what new science is likely to accrue. You must include “at least one illustrative example,” to quote from the paper type description website above. This section closes the gap between the earlier two “must have” sections. That is, given the the current state of scientific discovery in the relevant subdiscipline of space physics and the cutting edge aspects of this new technique or data set, you must then discuss how this new technique will eventually lead to better scientific understanding.

So, authors: if you are writing a Technical Reports manuscript, then please ensure that it includes these three elements.

Also, reviewers: if you are assessing the publishability of a Technical Reports manuscript, please carefully consider these three elements.

AGU has a relatively new journal that is specifically targeted at this manuscript type: Earth and Space Science. Just entering its fourth year, E&SS spans all of AGU’s scientific disciplines, especially requesting papers on “methods, instruments, sensors, data and algorithms” for our field and across the AGU discipline spectrum. I had a recent blog post about signing up for E&SS table of content e-alerts.

A final point to make: Technical Reports paper types are limited to 13 Publication Units rather than the normal 25 for a Research Article paper type. This is to keep the description of the new method, technique, or data set focused. Extra figures and explanation can be put into the online Supplemental Information accompanying the published paper, if needed. You can go over a bit, though and no one should complain or send it back. That is, this limit is not a strict cutoff but is more like a guideline.

Should we do more for our JIF?

In my last post I presented my estimate of the 2015 Journal Impact Factor for JGR-Space Physics. The number is below the all-sections JGR impact factor by about half a point.   I also showed that this section-specific impact factor has been lower than the all-section value for, well, as far back as I calculated it (~10 years). While I am not that concerned, it is a little troubling to think that space physics, as a field, isn’t as good as other fields, like atmospheric science or astrophysics, at citing recently published papers in our new studies.

The ultimate responsibility for this is with the authors of papers. Each of us should be a conducting literature search with every new paper we write, including citation of relevant papers that either build up to the question addressed or place the findings in the context of existing knowledge, in the Introduction and Discussion sections, respectively. As I have written before, please do this with every new paper you submit.

In addition to this, should we who gate-keep and publish the papers, meaning the Editors, reviewers, AGU, or Wiley, be doing more to increase the impact factor of JGR-Space Physics? I guess we could, but it seems a bit unethical and manipulative, as mentioned in the Physics Today article I highlighted earlier this month. We can do something, though, especially the reviewers.

Reviewers, as the expert assessors of the quality of the work, are the best people to be addressing this issue. They should include an examination of the citations in the manuscript, especially the Introduction and Discussion sections, and determine if the study properly motivates the study with respect to existing knowledge of the topic as well as places the findings into the context of other similar or competing findings from other studies.

At the reviewer instructions at GEMS, AGU brings this up to reviewers in two places. First, it is asked of reviewers in the question set they must answer when submitting their review: “Is the referencing appropriate?” GEMS only provides three answers to choose from: yes; mostly yes, but some additions are necessary; and no. By asking the question, though, it really is just prompting the reviewer to think about this aspect of the paper and encourage suggestions of additional relevant papers to cite. The second place is in the question set for the reviewer to think about in the formal review: ” Does this paper put the progress it reports in the context of existing published work? Is there adequate referencing and introductory discussion?” Again, making sure that the reviewer assesses this aspect of the paper.

See the reviewer instructions for more details on this. There is also a 2011 Eos article about writing a good review. This Eos article has a spiffy flow chart about the review process:


It suggests that you read the manuscript up to 3 times. The article states that reviewers are not there to catch “to catch every typo, missing reference, and awkward phrase.” I agree. The reviewer should, however, catch glaring omissions of clearly relevant studies.

This idea of you-don’t-have-to-force-citation-of-everything is reflected in the GEMS questions to reviewers. Neither of these questions listed above explicitly ask the reviewer to look for citations to recent articles, nor is there a requirement to cite some minimum number of recent articles. I am glad, because I think that would be stepping over the line of ethical acceptability. In the process of thinking about all relevant literature on which the manuscript builds, though, the reviewer should also consider the recently-published studies as well as the older, and perhaps better known and more familiar, studies.

Plain Language Summaries

Since early fall, all AGU journals, including JGR Space Physics, now have the option at submission of including a Plain Language Summary of the work. This is intended for promoting the work to those beyond the specific discipline. I hope that you write one for every new submission. I mentioned this yesterday as one of the submission details that you should add to your manuscript template. This will make you think about it long before you are halfway through the submission process at the GEMS website and reach this text box and suddenly have to come up with words for it. Do it as your write the paper, and have the coauthors critique it and hone the wording of this paragraph. I think that this is an important development for AGU journals.

My unscientific reading of a bunch of manuscripts tells me that most Abstracts in JGR Space Physics are written at a level that can be understood by most others who conduct some kind of research across the broad field of space physics. That said, I think that not many beyond this discipline would really understand most of our Abstracts. AGU has recognized that this is a problem; scientists often write with themselves in mind for the readership, and this means that Abstracts contain too much detail and field-specific technical content for others to truly understand the work. This is a particularly acute problem for space physics, but even for other science disciplines within the AGU umbrella, various reasons (terminology, methodology, or the nuances of what is meaningful and important) make cutting edge scientific results difficult for the non-expert to decipher.

For most journals, this isn’t a big problem, as the readership often includes only those in the field. For journals like GRL or Earth and Space Science, however, which include papers from across all AGU sections and science disciplines, this poses a problem for the full journal audience (i.e., all of AGU) to at least get the basic premise and major findings of those papers not in their specific field.

In addition, AGU would also like to promote the papers in its journals beyond the normal intra-discipline readership circles. For a long time, AGU staff have been writing Research Spotlight articles about a few selected papers from each journal each month. This is time-consuming for them and they don’t have the budget to increase the workforce dedicated to it. The Plain Language Summary is a way for the authors to provide a concise write-up of the work for people outside of the immediate field. This promotion of papers goes beyond the scientist membership of AGU, too. It extends to science writers and journalists, science enthusiasts, and even science skeptics.

AGU has put a length limit of Plain Language Summaries: they can be 200 words maximum. This is a bit less than the 250-word limit on the “regular” Abstract for a manuscript in JGR Space Physics. You should strive to remove jargon and technical terms, remove complicated phrasing, leave out the details, and focus on the big idea of the paper. In this short write-up of your work, convey the reason you conducted the study, one or two key points about the methodology, one or two key findings, and a quick summary of the implications. A sentence or two per section of the paper, tops.

This isn’t just extra work for you, greater reach for our science results and helping scientists communicate their findings more broadly is something that AGU is actively promoting. Note that AGU has a blog dedicated to this topic called “The Plainspoken Scientist.”


            Plain Language Summaries just became available for JGR Space Physics a couple of months ago and I haven’t actually seen one in print yet. I hope that they clearly display it with the paper, near or even above the technical Abstract. In my quick survey of recent submissions, it looks like over half of new manuscripts are including something in this GEMS text box during submission. That’s great! I hope that you will take this seriously and write well-crafted summaries of your work for the non-expert. I welcome this addition to the overhead of submitting a paper to an AGU journal because, over the long term, I think that it will help our field and the science literacy of the world.


Defining Plagiarism

Happy Halloween; one of the most bizarre holidays ever invented (in my opinion).

To go with my last post, I’d like to continue the conversation on plagiarism. Lots of people are talking about this topic, , and I have several times before. Here’s a graphic on the usage of the word “plagiarism” in the last 200 years:


How did I make this plot? Google has a site that does this.

Here’s a definition of plagiarism from

plagiarism: an act or instance of using or closely imitating the language and thoughts of another author without authorization and the representation of that author’s work as one’s own, as by not crediting the original author:

            It is not just “language” but “thoughts” as well. AGU can and does check for language overlap, and I and the other editors of JGR Space Physics occasionally send manuscripts back to authors for revision before review to have them rewrite text that is too close to already published papers.

Checking for “idea overlap” is very difficult. The closest that we can come to this is if an editor or reviewer notices that references are missing to key studies of direct relevance. If it is published, then you should give those authors credit for the ideas that they have discussed.

So, I have two pitches to the community.

Authors: please include references all relevant papers. Conduct a literature search at AGU’s EASI database, Harvard’s ADS astronomy abstract service, or Google Scholar. You have lots of resources for this. This is an important step in the scientific method that greatly helps to refine your message to what it truly new and original in your study.

Reviewers: please scrutinize the references, especially in the Introduction and Discussion sections, to ensure that key papers are being cited. It’s one of the questions we ask of you (“Is referencing appropriate?), hoping that this spurs you to read the manuscript with this issue in mind.

Because it’s almost election time here in America, grabbed some hat images and I made up some baseball cap designs that I think we all should be wearing, figuratively if not literally.


Don’t Cite Unpublished Work

The title of this post really says it all. Here’s a quote from a document at the Editor Portal (sorry, I don’t have a public link for it), “AGU journals do not allow references to unpublished journal articles.” This includes JGR Space Physics.


            Like the requirement of having open access to the data (observational or numerical) used to develop findings in a study, all scientific understanding on which the study is based (i.e., the cited literature) needs to be available. This does not mean freely available (the paper could be behind a subscription paywall) or even easily available (for instance, print only in an old monograph), but available somehow. Citing unpublished articles, especially the promissory note of “manuscript in preparation,” is forbidden.

Let me make an important clarification to this: unpublished articles cannot be cited in accepted or published AGU journal articles. At initial submission, citing papers that are “under review” or “accepted” is allowed. You need to provide a copy of the unpublished paper as a supplemental document so that the Editor and reviewers can see it and assess the worthiness of the reference. If they are not supplied, then reviewers can and should ask to see such references and the corresponding author should be ready to provide it.  This means authors should confirm with the authors of the cited yet unpublished paper that it is okay to cite their paper and provide it to the Editor and reviewers.

On submission of any revisions, however, these other papers must have progressed to the level of being available online or in print. If not, then they should be removed and the manuscript revised to accommodate that change in referenced literature. If they are still in the revised manuscript, then AGU staff will ask the authors for a justification about the citation and will consult with the Editor about how to handle it. It could be that the other paper is close but not quite through to acceptance. If this can be verified, then we will probably let that through. It could be a companion paper or another paper in the same special section. Again, this is probably okay. If we let it remain, however, and the citing paper is accepted before the cited paper is available, then AGU/Wiley will hold the citing paper until the publication of that other one. If you must cite that paper, then your paper will wait until the other is available. If two papers mutually cite each other, AGU will coordinate publication. They will even coordinate with other publishers, like they did with the MAVEN special section in GRL last November, which came out simultaneously with 4 related papers in Science, all released in phase with a press conference.

For AGU journals, being “in press” means being available. AGU posts nearly all papers at the journal website within 3-4 days of acceptance. Other journals may or may not do this, though, so “in press” is not a guarantee that you can cite the paper. Like I said, AGU will contact other publishers and coordinate, release. Who knows, this might even expedite publication and availability of that other paper.

Finally, citation of some non-DOI references is allowed, especially those that are permanently archived. One example of special relevance to JGR Space Physics is the preprint service. Citing a paper there is allowed, even if it doesn’t have a corresponding peer-reviewed version available yet. Posting to is allowed because these papers are “permanently available” at this site. In the end, it is up to the Editor, in consultation with the authors and reviewers, to decide if the citation to a paper at (or similar service) is acceptable.

This has been enforced at GRL for a while but is relatively new for JGR Space Physics. If you start to see emails from AGU staff asking about these references to unpublished work, now you know why.



Paper Publicity

In every decision letter from an AGU journal, including JGR Space Physics, now has a paragraph about publicizing your paper. Specifically, the wording looks something like this:

The “Publicity Information” link is in the lower left corner of this page, under the “Resources” heading. You get a page with this heading:


            There are two kinds of information on this page: the first paragraph is on how AGU might promote papers in their journals. I had a post a few months ago on how the JGR Space Physics webpage has several features intended to highlight and promote some papers, but this list mentions some others, like social media posts and Eos Research Spotlights.

The rest of the page describes the process of working with the AGU Public Information Office to make a press release, press conference, or some other more formal announcement about your study. If you think that your paper is worthy of a press release, then please contact this office immediately after acceptance, or even after the first revision decision, so they can start working with you on the best way to promote the findings to the public and the press. One of the things they might do is to “embargo” the manuscript, i.e., not post the accepted preprint version of the article on the JGR Space Physics website, until there is an official announcement about it. Nanci Bompey, the AGU Public Information Manager, is very good at working with both the press and with authors to market Earth and space science findings beyond our own community. She and her team can help, so please don’t be shy about promoting your work.

Let me stress again, though, that the embargo is critical to retain the anticipation and excitement around the official release of the study. So, if you want to pursue this route for one of your papers, then please fill out their form either during the editorial process or immediately after acceptance.

New Paper Type Descriptions

AGU has updated the paper type descriptions, and they are available at the Author Resources webpage.


The updates are minor tweaks from what is was before, so the big news is that a listing is now easily available on the AGU publications page.

I will very briefly go over those that JGR Space Physics accepts:

  • Research articles: the standard paper in the journal. I don’t know the exact number, but my guess is that over 95% of papers in JGR Space Physics are of this type, presenting a new scientific advancement within our research scope.
  • Commentaries: providing a perspective on a particular topic in the field, intended to spur discussion and new research in that area. These are by editorial invitation only, but if you have a willingness to write one, then please contact an editor.
  • Reviews: Yes, JGR Space Physics publishes the occasional topical review article, usually in conjunction with a special section. These are also by editorial invitation only, and are pitched at a more technical level than those written for Reviews of Geophysics, which are written to appeal to a broader AGU-wide audience.
  • Comments: specifically directed to “elaborate, criticize, or correct” a recently published paper, this are usually very short and should be submitted within a year or two of the original paper.
  • Replies: the rebuttal from the original authors when a Comment is written about their paper.
  • Technical Reports: Data: presents a new and significant data set for community availability and usage. It has to have a clear example demonstrating its relevance to the field, but the paper does not have to include an advancement of the space physics understanding.
  • Technical Reports: Methods: presents a new and significant model, data analysis technique, or experimental methodology that enable new scientific advancements.

Note that JGR Space Physics does not accept “research letters,” and no journal has a paper type called “brief reports,” which was removed a couple of years ago. Also, special section prefaces or introductory articles now fit under the Commentary umbrella, as do editorials.

You can find the paper type designation for a particular article just above the title. Most will say “Research Article” like this example,


because that is, by far, the most common paper type in JGR Space Physics. You have to scroll through the list a bit but you can find other paper types, such as Commentaries like this one:


or Reviews, like this one:


            Happy writing, and reading!

GRL Editorial Policy

This Eos article is well worth the read. Written by the entire editorial board of Geophysical Research Letters, it clearly and concisely explains the current mandate and policies of that journal. Perhaps like many of you, I have had quite a few rejections from GRL over the years. Sometimes I have pushed back and resubmitted to GRL, and other times I have expanded the study and submitted the manuscript to a different journal. As the article states, GRL serves a particular role in geoscience research, and we should respect that role and honor the service of the editors and reviewers that make GRL a rapid-publication, high-impact publication.


            They touch on many of the topics that I have mentioned in this blog. I’d like to take their Eos article as an opportunity to review some of the key points of AGU publication policy that they address. A big change in policy is that GRL has resumed the use of major revisions. There is always an editorial dilemma between rejection and major revisions, over the levels of rejection, or even why we should reject at all. They nicely explain that major revisions are back, but the turnaround time is fast (30 days). If you are submitting to GRL and demanding rapid publication, then you should be ready to work quickly to make that rapid timeline.

Another topic they mention is that GEMS now allows editors to retain the original submission date on a submission-after-rejection manuscript. If the paper is largely the same, then you can refute the rejection, and if the editor is convinced by your arguments, then they have the option of switching the submission date back to that of the original submission. That is, this essentially treats the “new” submission as a revision resubmission. Note that this normally doesn’t get applied for rejection without review, but rather for decisions based on scientific content and quality. I rarely use this feature, but it is an option for all AGU journal editors within GEMS.

They bring up mobility between journals within GEMS. One of the levels of rejection is “reject and transfer.” AGU has also implemented a very helpful “consultation” feature in GEMS to allow editors from different journals discuss a manuscript before suggesting a transfer. I get a small but steady stream of transferred GRL papers, and we occasionally send papers on to other journals, like Space Weather, Radio Science, and Earth and Space Sciences.

The Eos article has an important section on AGU’s Data Policy. This has been around for several years now and I have written about it several times. Note that they adopt the same position on code, demanding availability of “data from numerical models” rather than the code itself.

The GRL Editors explain their position on the cross check analysis. This is always subjective call of whether to send it back, especially with respect to self plagiarism and overlap in the methodology section. I give some tips for checking for overlap here.

I am glad that they mentioned reviewer recognition in the article. None of the AGU journals would exist without the dedicated reviewing service of the research community. This work greatly helps with the process of ensuring high-quality papers. There are a lot of you involved in reviewing, and I also extend my thanks to you.

Finally, the article wraps up with a note on visibility of papers. Papers are highlighted on the journal websites, as well as via Eos Research Spotlights and Editors’ Vox articles. We’re also trying to increase the number of Commentaries in AGU journals and promote papers via social media, like Facebook and Twitter.

In summary, I really like the article that Noah Diffenbaugh and crew wrote about GRL‘s editorial policies. I am very happy to see editors reaching out to the community to increase communication and transparency so we all know what goes on behind the curtain.

New AGU Manuscript Templates

It took me quite a few months to notice, but in case you didn’t see them, there are new manuscript templates available at the AGU Author Resources website. The links are in the lower left part of the page, under the “Resources” heading. They have created one for Word and another for LaTeX.


            One of the big changes in these templates: embedded figures and tables! AGU has been accepting papers with figures and tables embedded in the main text for quite a while now, these new templates help guide authors to actually doing this.

Another change is single-space text. At least in the Word template, the document is no longer double-spaced but rather the default is a single-spaced manuscript. I like this change a lot. I see that the LaTeX template still has double spacing as the default, but doing loading the “setspace” package, with the command \usepackage{setspace}, allows you to control line spacing throughout the document. I print out documents very rarely now and do most of my markups of other people’s papers as “tracked changes” or “comments” to the document, so I prefer single-spaced text.

While I am encouraging you to start embedding tables and figures and single-spacing your text, these are only recommendations. This is still a personal preference and you are free to continue putting tables and figures at the end and double-spacing your manuscripts. I will tell you, though, that this old style of manuscript format is a regular complaint that I receive from reviewers. There are some in our field that vocally gripe about the awkwardness of these formatting options, with their inconvenient placement of figures and tables far from the callout text and the awkwardness of double spacing on mobile devices. My figure is twitching just thinking about all of the extra scrolling.

Finally, just above the AGU Manuscript Template links, AGU has posted links to submission checklists, for both initial submissions and revision submissions. There are different rules for first versus later submissions of a manuscript, because the hope is that later submissions are getting close to acceptance and AGU needs the original files of the text and figures to eventually send to Wiley for production. At initial submission, a single PDF file is acceptable. And, remember, you can always replace the GEMS-generated “merged PDF” with your own version of the full paper document that gets sent to reviewers.


No More Editorial Thank Yous

I mentioned in a post a couple of months ago that the editorial thank you to reviewers has stopped being added to the Acknowledgments of papers, as of the fall of 2015 (about 6 months ago). That’s right, this little sentence:


is now no longer added to papers in AGU journals.

As an author: if you think the reviewers deserve a thank you for their suggestions to improve the paper, then please add that to the Acknowledgments section yourself.

Some people have asked me about this, so it is a useful to clarify the reasons for this change. The main points:

  1. They were written individually by AGU staff, requiring a couple of minutes to dig up this information for each paper. That doesn’t seem like much but it adds up for the more than 5000 papers in AGU journals each year.
  2. Many reviewers choose to remain anonymous, so most of these statements were simply identifying the assigned Editor for the paper.
  3. It was decided that the Acknowledgments section is for the authors to thank those who helped make the study possible, including funding sources and data providers, and not an AGU or editorial comment.
  4. In searches of paper content, the editor’s name would be found, lessening the usefulness of some search tools.

JGR Space Physics was one of the last to discontinue this editorial acknowledgment line. AGU had already stopped doing it for most other journals by the time it ended in JGR Space Physics last fall.

The omission of this sentence means that there is no archival record of which Editor handled the paper, nor is there any acknowledgment of the reviewers if they indeed wanted their names known to the community. For the first point: it is not about the Editor. Our names become well known to the space physics research community over the course of our term and that is enough credit (or infamy) for the task. For the second point: authors should include this thank you, if they so choose, and ORCID will now cover the task of public (but aggregated) recognition. By signing up for an ORCID number, the reviewing assignment tallies will be pushed to your ORCID account. The specific papers you reviewed will remain confidential, but the total number per year for each journal will be made public. This is a way for others to independently verify service activities listed on CVs and resumes.

Note that the information is not lost. The Editor and reviewers associated with a manuscript are kept in GEMS. At this point, all information since the beginning of GEMS (in 2002) is still available. This comes in very handy when papers in a series from an author are submitted over the course of several years. Whatever editor is assigned to each paper, they can look up the history of the paper series and see who has served as editors and reviewers in the past, and even read the reviews of those previous papers. This can be tremendously helpful for selecting the right people to serve as reviewers of the new manuscript.

Furthermore, the editorial “thank you” to the reviewers is not lost, either. From now on, AGU will be sending thank you emails to reviewers with a courtesy notice of the editorial decision about the manuscript. For public recognition, we also are now publishing an annual Editorial thanking all reviewers by name, as I mentioned in my last post on reviewer stats. Finally, there is the annual selection the Editor’s Citation for Excellence in Scientific Refereeing. Last year’s names (for 2014) are here, but this year’s Eos article is not out yet, so I will wait on posting the names for 2015. AGU allows us to select a number of reviewers equal to 0.1% of the number of new manuscripts submitted. For 2015, we were able to select 12.

As always, please feel free to comment below, or at Twitter to @liemohnjgrspace or on Facebook (I always post a link to these blog articles at the “AGU Space” page). We look forward to hearing your feedback on this issue.