Scientific sinkhole: The pernicious price of formatting

PLoS One. 2019 Sep 26;14(9):e0223116. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0223116. eCollection 2019.


Objective: To conduct a time-cost analysis of formatting in scientific publishing.

Design: International, cross-sectional study (one-time survey).

Setting: Internet-based self-report survey, live between September 2018 and January 2019.

Participants: Anyone working in research, science, or academia and who submitted at least one peer-reviewed manuscript for consideration for publication in 2017. Completed surveys were available for 372 participants from 41 countries (60% of respondents were from Canada).

Main outcome measure: Time (hours) and cost (wage per hour x time) associated with formatting a research paper for publication in a peer-reviewed academic journal.

Results: The median annual income category was US$61,000-80,999, and the median number of publications formatted per year was four. Manuscripts required a median of two attempts before they were accepted for publication. The median formatting time was 14 hours per manuscript, or 52 hours per person, per year. This resulted in a median calculated cost of US$477 per manuscript or US$1,908 per person, per year.

Conclusions: To our knowledge, this is the first study to analyze the cost of manuscript formatting in scientific publishing. Our results suggest that scientific formatting represents a loss of 52 hours, costing the equivalent of US$1,908 per researcher per year. These results identify the hidden and pernicious price associated with scientific publishing and provide evidence to advocate for the elimination of strict formatting guidelines, at least prior to acceptance.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Biomedical Research / economics
  • Biomedical Research / standards*
  • Biomedical Research / statistics & numerical data
  • Costs and Cost Analysis*
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Peer Review, Research / standards*
  • Publications / economics*
  • Publications / standards
  • Publications / statistics & numerical data
  • Research Personnel / economics
  • Research Personnel / statistics & numerical data*
  • Self Report / statistics & numerical data
  • Time Factors

Grants and funding

The authors received no specific funding for this work.