Peer Review—Magazines

Intelligent Systems


Department Editor Guidelines

On this page, you will find detailed information about managing magazine departments. Please select from the menu below for more information on

What is a Department? Staff Editing
Planning Copyright
Getting Contributors General Ethics
Originality Growth
Length Reader Response
Graphics and Tables News
References Coordination
Author Biography Writing Do's and Dont's
Deadlines How to Contact Us


What Is a Department?

A department is a regularly scheduled topical section. Content can vary considerably among departments but should be consistent within a department.

Departments meet an established page budget. Some departments (products, news, books, letters) may have extra material available in case layouts require flexibility; conversely, they have optional or delayable material.

All departments are edited for grammar, style, and content. A different staff editor is responsible for coordinating each department. The author and department editor are responsible for fact-checking, but staff editors will try to confirm anything you are not sure of.

Because departmental submissions are not peer reviewed (at least not formally), we do not call them articles.

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Plan your content a year in advance. Determine schedules, deadlines, content, and contributors ahead of time. Have a backup plan ready for when contributions fall through or new ideas come up. Keep in mind the difficulty of finding academics in the summer months. If there is an emergency, coordinate with your staff editor as soon as possible to seek solutions.

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Getting Contributors

Some department editors write all their own columns; some prefer to enlist guest authors. Consult the editor in chief if you want or need to have multiple authors write for your department. In addition to asking your colleagues, spread the word about what material you seek on electronic bulletin boards. Talk with other board members and department editors about potential contributors and topics.

Ensure that authors are qualified to write on the subject they are writing about. They should have experience or knowledge that gives them credibility.

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Content must be original, meaning it has not been published elsewhere and is not under review for publication elsewhere. It can be based on work that appeared in a publication or Web site our readers aren’t likely to have seen, as long as it’s not merely an excerpt. Our content must be significantly different.

Occasionally, you might find that a contribution you thought was original appears elsewhere after you have accepted it. Be prepared to substitute something in case this happens.

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Each department has a page budget for each issue. Department articles range from 1,500 to 3,500 words. There may be some variance, so coordinate with the staff editors who must ensure that the variously sized material fits in the available space.

Some departments such as News and Book Reviews have greater inherent flexibility because they are multi-element departments. They can expand or contract as needed. So, the multi-element department editors’ strategy should be to have optional material that can run if there is more room or be delayed or be edited to fit if there is less room. Because of the tight turnaround required by our publishing schedule, the staff makes these decisions within a two-day window, so there is little time for coordination with authors or department editors. Thus, the department editors and staff editors should arrive at a common understanding on how such changes in available space will be dealt with.

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Graphics and Tables

We encourage illustrations in single-topic departments: diagrams, bulleted lists, photographs, screen shots, or tables. All figures and tables must have captions.

We redraw all figures to conform to our style, so please send figures as soon as possible. Make sure that the figure will reproduce at our standard sizes with readable text. We will not use tiny type or abbreviations to squeeze a figure into a small space, as this greatly hinders readability. Ensure that large figures do not contain more detail than necessary (can you extract part of it?).

Figures count as part of your page budget (200 words each), so be sure they are worth the space they take.

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Keep the number of references to a minimum (none are required). If possible, integrate all references into the body of the essay (for example, “As John Doe said in his book XXX (publisher, year), …”) rather than listing them at the end.

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Author Biography

Author biographies should include name, title, affiliation, and email address. We can include the title of the author’s most recent book, with publisher and year, only if it’s directly relevant to the content.

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Staff editors plan their work around deadlines to see if the material will fit in the magazine and to lock in editorial pages.

If your submission will be late, alert us as soon as possible. The closer to the publication deadline (when the staff must deliver the magazine to the printer) the submission will come in, the more likely it will be bumped or you’ll have to guarantee a certain length so that we can plan the rest of the magazine.

Habitual failure to meet deadlines may result in the department being discontinued.

Here are typical department deadlines for a bimonthly:

Issue Deadline
January mid Nov.
March mid Jan.
May mid Mar.
July mid May
September mid July
November mid Sept.

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We prefer to receive submissions by email or FTP. Page formatting is not necessary; we will reformat using our house style and templates. Limit character formatting to italics and bold.

Send each figure and table as a separate file and in hard-copy or PDF format.

For mathematics and other special characters, retain the codes in your file but send hard copy (our fax number is +1 714 821 4010) or PDF so that we can verify correct character usage.

Send in all author names, affiliations, postal addresses, phone numbers, and email addresses. A fax number is also helpful. We use this information to contact authors in case of an emergency and to send authors two complimentary copies of the issue.

Send in a completed copyright transfer form (see Copyright section).

For departments with varying contributors, submit a brief editor’s introduction that explains the significance of the topic and briefly describes the author.

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Staff Editing

The staff edits all material submitted to IEEE Intelligent Systems before it is published. As with articles, we edit departments at several levels:

  • Grammar, punctuation, and spelling.
  • Style—conventions on capitalization, spelling, usage, and phrasings that the Computer Society magazines have adopted to ensure consistency.
  • Organization and flow. We should be able to “reverse-engineer” the structure while editing the material. On a minor level, we may add, remove, or move section and subsection headings to help better guide the reader from topic to topic. On a major level, we may reorder material (or suggest reordering, depending on our judgment as to how needed reorganization is) to achieve a more straightforward order. The basic criterion is that one idea should lead to the next rather than be left unfinished until several ideas later. There is a subjective element to this.
  • Clarity and presentation directness. We seek an active, direct style that avoids jargon, complex phrasings, and uncommon words because such a style better ensures that the ideas contained in the material are readily and correctly transferred to the reader. This might involve simplifying, rearranging, or rewording text. There are often many ways to achieve an active, direct style, so we try to be sensitive to the author’s voice when making these changes.

Department editors should make it clear to contributors that their submissions will be edited and that the magazine’s standards differ significantly from those of research journals. The magazine straddles the line between research and commercial publications, which gives it the benefits of technical review and clear presentation. That does mean a higher degree of editing in matters that might appear at first to be subjective or arbitrary but is actually the imposition of a standard presentation approach (the editorial equivalent of a common user interface) within an issue and from issue to issue.

The department editor and the staff editor should make good-faith efforts to sustain a smooth working relationship.

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The IEEE copyrights all the content IEEE Intelligent Systems publishes. All authors must sign a copyright transfer form before the material is accepted for publication. To reduce paperwork, regular contributors may sign a form that covers all work published in a calendar year.

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General Ethics

The magazine follows standard journalistic ethical practices, which in essence seek to ensure that material is accurate and fair and that any biases or potential biases are made explicit.

  • Authors and editors shall be free of conflicts of interest, and biases must be stated. In an opinion, commentary, or expository piece, the authors’ affiliation coupled with a brief introduction or biographical note usually suffices. In a news report or product review, such situations generally disqualify the contribution from publication.
  • Editors and guest contributors shall avoid self-promotion and avoid creating the perception of self-promotion. Acceptable content includes
    -- informative and illustrative narratives of one’s own experience pertinent to the topic discussed;
    -- brief references to one’s own work if they are pertinent to the topic discussed; and
    -- impartial accounts of close colleagues’ works, products, or services, provided that the writer doesn’t have a vested interest in them.
    Content that might be perceived as promotional includes
    -- detailed accounts of one’s own work, products, or services, whether for research or commercial purposes, undertaken alone or in collaboration with others;
    -- comments about the superiority of one’s own work, work products, or services; and
    -- sales pitches or instructions on how to obtain one’s own work, work products, or services.
  • Examples drawn from personal experience (that might be viewed as promoting a personal project or product) must show clear relevance to a larger topic and should be balanced when possible with examples from competing or external sources.
  • Authors and editors shall strive for accuracy, fairness, clarity, and precision. (All possible efforts should be made to ensure that all relevant points of view are given in any material not presented as an opinion. Evaluative and analytical material must consider the main arguments from dissenting schools of thought. This does not mean that each point of view must be given an equal amount of space in each report, but it does mean that all substantial points of view must have equal access over the long term.)
  • Errors shall be corrected completely and promptly. (This holds whether the errors occur in opinions or reports. The ideal is to remove them before publication or follow them with an editor’s note pointing out the inaccuracy. All mistakes that do get published should be promptly corrected in a similar or better position in the magazine than the mistake ran in. Generally speaking, errors in departments should appear on the first or second page of the department; those in articles should appear in the letters section.)
  • Authors and editors shall not misrepresent an opinion, interpretation, or position statement as fact. It is the responsibility of the author and editor to disclose political or commercial motivations.
  • No gifts, favors, free travel, special treatment, or privileges shall be accepted.

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Departments are not static. Their focus or mission might change as they become established or the field they cover changes. Periodically consider the readers you want to reach and whether your approach continues to meet their needs. By nature, some departments will focus on subsets of the readership; others will appeal to most readers.

Collaborating with your staff editor on content evolution helps ensure that departments do not inadvertently infringe on each other’s areas, that readers’ needs are being addressed, and that several perspectives are considered.

Readership data is always a self-selecting sample, so it should be viewed in terms of relative performance from issue to issue rather than in terms of absolute performance.

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Reader Response

If you get letters about your department, whether in hard copy or via email, send them to the staff for possible use as letters to the editor. Of course, we can’t guarantee that we’ll publish every letter we get.

Before publishing reader responses as letters, we will first obtain the writer’s permission (unless the letter was addressed to “Letters Editor,” which indicates intent to be published).

The author always has a right to respond in the same issue that the letter appears in, although an author choosing to respond must do so before two issues have passed so that no letter is unduly delayed.

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Reporters for the news section must sign a statement similar to the reviewers’ agreement that states the following:

  • The reporter has no financial interest in or official connection with the group being covered. This means a conference organizer cannot report on his conference or that a standards chairman cannot write about his standards effort. Such people are welcome to suggest story ideas to the news editor for an unaffiliated reporter to follow up.
  • The reporter may accept no remuneration such as free travel or accommodations. Accepting incidentals, such as lunch during a keynote address, is allowed for reasons of practicality.
  • If there are questions, the reporter should contact the appropriate person for answers. The help of the news editor may be required in some cases. It is permissible to show draft copies of a report to third parties for the purposes of fact checking, as long as the third parties agree not to further distribute the material or portions of it. Draft interviews may be shown to the interview subject for clarification but only under the condition that the magazine has no obligation to make changes requested by the interview subject.
  • An interview or quote shall, to the greatest extent possible, reflect the true opinion of the interviewee. Any special agreements shall be stated in the article, as per standard journalistic practice. If the subject believes the draft grossly distorts the subject’s intended meaning, that subject may contact the news editor to seek remedy, including the withdrawal from publication of the interview.)

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Keep in touch with other department editors whose departments might overlap yours in some areas to avoid duplication.

Keep in touch with the editor in chief and other editorial board members for feedback and suggestions.

Keep in touch with your staff editor. Keep us informed about your schedule, especially about absences of more than a week.

Department editors’ names and addresses appear in the magazine, but we do not release phone numbers without their permission.

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Writing Do’s and Don’ts

Virtuous habits include

  • A succinct, interesting headline. Brevity is only half the battle; it must also intrigue the reader.
  • A lead that grabs the reader. You are competing with everything else on his desk—make him decide you have something worthwhile to offer.
  • A subhead structure that reveals the content’s organization. Use at least two headings or subheadings at each level.
  • Examples.
  • Bulleted lists.
  • Completeness—attention to details such as price, affiliation, company address, and reviewer address.
  • Consistent format that follows our house style.

The seven deadly sins are

  • Habitual use of passive voice. Use it rarely, when the subject is unknown or not important. Excessive passive voice hides the agent, which lets the reader easily confuse cause and effect.
  • Signposting and weak transitions. Examples are “the next section shall discuss ...” and “as was shown earlier.” Use them sparingly, when there is no better organization available. Weak transitions often signal a flaw in the organization or in the conclusions—either the connection being imposed is artificial or its basis is suspect.
  • Complexity. Keep it simple. The more letters in a word and the more words in a sentence, the greater chance this sin has occurred.
  • Excessive jargon, acronyms, buzzwords, and technical colloquialisms.
  • The lead that tries too hard. It is important to interest the reader in the first paragraph, but do not try to cover every­thing there. Such completeness is artificial, since you have the rest of the text to cover your point. Covering everything only confuses the reader by overloading him with detail.
  • Inconsistent style. When there are several words that mean the same thing, pick one and stick with it. Nonmeaningful variance adds to overhead. Likewise, use the same conventions consistently. Repeat authors should make an attempt to learn our style conventions.
  • Lack of lead or conclusion. All submissions should have an introduction (a lead) and a conclusion. However, they need not be labeled as such—what matters is that you introduce the reader to your contribution (explain what it has to offer) and conclude your presentation when done (tie up loose ends and show the implications of the detail that forms the body).

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How to Contact Us

IEEE Intelligent Systems Magazine Assistant
IEEE Computer Society
10662 Los Vaqueros Circle
Los Alamitos, CA 90720 USA
+1 714 821 8380

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