Contributing to the Journal of the BAA – Part 2

By Hazel McGee

All members of the BAA are encouraged to share their observations and ideas with others by contributing to the Journal, either directly or through reports published by Directors of Sections. This paper provides guidance on preparing and submitting material for publication.


For more than 128 years the Journal has been the life-blood of the BAA, bringing together its far-flung members and providing a lasting record of their work. This is as much the case today as more than a hundred years ago – in fact it is probably true to say that more individual members contribute in one way or another to the Journal now than at any time in the Association’s history. Many more of you may have thought about sending in material, but are not sure of the right procedure – I hope this article will encourage you to do so.


The major articles in the Journal are known as Papers, reflecting the publication’s history (since 1890) and status as a refereed research journal for the amateur astronomical community. You do not have to be a BAA member to submit a paper, but non-members wishing to submit contributions are urged before doing so to study recent issues of the Journal in a library or on the Web, to note the style and nature of the content. Material of particular interest to amateur observers, and reports of amateur observational projects, are most likely to gain acceptance.

Please follow these guidelines in preparing your material for publication:

1. Style. Try to write in plain, uncomplicated English, avoiding waffle and stating your points clearly and concisely. You do not have to write in the third person or in stilted ‘scientific’ language. Use a spelling checker if you have one, and be particularly careful with technical terms or proper names which may be unfamiliar to the Editor. It is always good practice to leave your draft alone for a few days and then re-read it: try to put yourself in the position of your potential readers, who can be thought of as interested laypersons who know less about the subject than you do. After finishing your piece, will they understand better and know more?

2. Text should be typed or word-processed in 10-point or 12-point type, double line-spaced, and if submitting by post, printed on one side only of A4 or (US) Letter paper. Leave a margin of at least 3cm on all sides, and number the pages sequentially at the top. The first paragraph should be a short abstract or summary, which can be used in indexing or elsewhere as a good indication of the content of the paper. Break up the main text with subheadings to a maximum of two levels, but please note that numbering of paragraphs is not required and if present, will normally be removed in editing. Unless you are familiar with equation-writing software, equations are best added clearly by hand in black or dark blue ink.

3. References are numbered sequentially from the start of the paper. Indicate a reference tag by enclosing it in square brackets, thus:[1] Note that the reference tag occurs after any punctuation at the end of the relevant clause or sentence, as shown here.[2] Because of the varied formatting used by different word-processors, please do not attempt to present your reference tags in ‘superscript’ form as you see them on the printed page – this formatting will be added later. In particular, please do not use the ‘footnote’ facility (or any similar feature) which your word processor may provide, as the Editor will then have the tedious task of removing all your careful work and manually re-entering it as plain text.

List the references in sequential order at the end of the paper. A bibliography is a general list of useful background reading, and does not normally require tags within the text. The Editor’s task would be greatly helped if authors would study the reference style currently in use in the Journal, and attempt to copy it in their own lists, noting particularly the following:

  • The reference number is separated from the author’s name by a tab character only, with no full stop or spaces;
  • The author’s name is listed surname first, followed by his or her initials;
  • There is no comma between the author’s name and initials;
  • If there are several initials, they are separated by a full stop and a space;
  • Unless the reference includes a grammatically complete sentence of text, there is no full stop at the end of the line.

4. Figures. Illustrate the paper as freely as possible – if in doubt, send a selection of figures and allow the Editor to choose, although please be sure to make it clear in the covering note if you do not expect all the figures with the paper to be used. If diagrams include text or labels remember that these will be correspondingly reduced in size, and must therefore be drawn proportionally large enough if they are to remain legible. Full colour reproduction is now normal in the Journal so images or photographs in colour are preferred. Write informative captions for all figures, in a separate numbered list at the end of the paper.

5. Tables. If tables are very large or complex, please try to provide a scanned image for reproduction or an Excel file of the data. Where an image or Excel file is not provided, please use only single tab characters (not spaces) to separate the columns in a word-processed or e-mailed table. A properly formatted scanned hardcopy print of the table should also be supplied so that the Editor can make sure the columns line up correctly – those who are not expert with word-processors may find it easier to set tables in a non-proportionally spaced font such as Courier.

6. Submission of papers: a) by email. Please if at all possible submit your paper by e-mail. Send your draft and separate image files to the Papers Secretary, Dr Jeremy Shears []. Please do not embed figures within the text. If you have any query about electronic submission, please e-mail the Papers Secretary who will be happy to help you.

Submission of papers: b) by post. If this is essential, UK-based authors should send three copies of the text and photocopied figures, with originals, to the Papers Secretary, whose address is found in the back of every Journal. Authors based overseas may send a single copy of the paper (with original figures) if they wish. Please be sure to pack the material carefully for the post, and keep a copy yourself for reference when the referees’ reports are received.

Papers are normally seen by two referees, who may make suggestions to the author for improvements. If after revision the referees and the Papers Secretary recommend it, the paper will be accepted for publication by Council, when the final draft, original figures and digital files (see below) are passed to the Editor, and join the publication queue. You will be sent a proof of the text before printing, and have the opportunity to request up to five complimentary copies of the Journal in which it appears. Except in unusual circumstances, the current delay between acceptance and publication is approximately one year. If you have a good reason why more rapid publication would be desirable (perhaps the paper is currently topical, or the results are of particular immediate interest) please mention this to the Papers Secretary when first submitting the manuscript.

7. Supplying electronic text. The Journal has not been typeset at the printing house for many years. All text and images are formatted by the Editor from the authors’ originals and supplied to the printers in final PDF format. Even if the paper is first submitted in hardcopy, authors are asked to supply a computer file of their final manuscript, and this should be sent by e-mail or other standard transmission method to the Papers Secretary after the referees’ suggestions have been incorporated. Document files formatted as Microsoft Word can be accepted directly; if using any other word processor, please output an RTF or ASCII (plain text) file. Unless using MS Word, please do not attempt formatting of headings, bold or italic type etc., as this creates false characters which must be stripped out before the file can be processed. Headings should not be underlined or written in all capital letters. Supply separate images and line diagrams in TIF, GIF or JPG format in the maximum available resolution; they will be resized for printing as part of the editorial process.

Other contributions

As well as formal papers, there are many other opportunities to contribute to the Journal. For the following sections, the preparation guidelines are similar to the above, although one copy only is required, which should be sent direct to the Editor by e-mail. Hardcopy or scanned attachments of e-mailed contributions should be provided if there are special characters or mathematical symbols which might not transmit correctly. Proofs are not normally provided for short contributions.

Letters to the editor
Letters are welcome on almost any subject to do with astronomy, especially those of particular interest to amateurs. The Editor reserves the right to shorten or edit letters in the interests of clarity, brevity and style, and to reject material that is not found significant or interesting. Please remember to include your full postal address, and an e-mail address if you have one. If you do not wish your e-mail address to be printed below the letter, please indicate this when submitting your contribution.

Book and software reviews
Reviews are normally prepared by invitation only. If you are sent a book or other publication by a publisher and would like to review it for the Journal, please contact the Editor first to avoid possible duplication. If you would like to join our reviewers’ panel, please write to me, indicating your particular areas of interest and qualifications if any. When I send you a book you will also be sent guidelines on how to prepare and submit your review. (Writers should be aware that due to changes in the publishing industry very few books for review are now received, so it may be a long while before you receive a book.)

Notes and News
Section Directors are encouraged to submit short occasional articles on interesting results or forthcoming events of general interest to members. Other members may also send in short articles for ‘Notes and News’, provided they are of more than local interest (unfortunately we do not have space to report local meetings and ordinary events of local astronomical societies.) Please include illustrations if available.

Observers’ Forum
Images, photographs and drawings are always welcome for ‘Observers’ Forum’, as are short notes of interesting observations or techniques. Please remember to supply full captions for your pictures, including details of the instrument, and film or CCD and exposure details.

Publication elsewhere

Papers submitted to other journals or magazines should not normally also be sent to the BAA. However, if a paper has been rejected by another publication because of a different publishing policy, this can be mentioned when submitting to the Journal, and will not necessarily prevent its acceptance. Material formerly published in Section newsletters, if thought to be of general interest, may be used in the Journal. Please inform the Editor if you are sending other items (particularly images and photographs) to commercial publications at the same time as they are submitted to the Journal.

Following Journal publication, authors retain copyright of their contributions, so you are of course free to arrange any other publication you wish. We ask only that an acknowledgment be given that the item appeared originally in the Journal of the British Astronomical Association.

Journal papers are indexed on the Astrophysical Data System on the World Wide Web, and letters to the Editor, book reviews and selected articles and images appear on the Journal’s own Web pages.


The opportunity to contribute to the Journal and thereby present your work to a wider audience is one of the major benefits of belonging to the BAA. I hope the above has been helpful to anyone who is thinking of submitting a paper or other contribution: the Papers Secretary and the Editor look forward to hearing from you!

Hazel McGee, Editor, 1994-2018
British Astronomical Association
Burlington House, Piccadilly, London W1J 0DU, England