Information for Contributors

(Revised July 2006)

Information for Contributors contains instructions for manuscript preparation.

Table of Contents


Physical Review Special Topics - Physics Education Research (PRST-PER) aims to publish papers that contain original experimental and theoretical results on the teaching and/or learning of physics. The journal is completely electronic with electronic submission, refereeing, publication, and with the archival record being an online journal. Therefore the journal uses submission procedures which differ from the other Physical Review journals. Submissions are restricted to a limited number of standardized formats. Since Microsoft (MS) WORD and LaTeX have been dominant as the word-processing tools for authoring manuscripts, standardized templates and macros for these two programs have been developed and should be used by authors (see below). A further goal has been to rely on the World Wide Web where possible; in particular, web-based submission and review forms are available which should make it very convenient for authors and referees to enter data in a structured fashion, allowing further automation of routine database entry.

General Information  top

Information relevant to manuscript preparation and to the editorial process for APS journals is available on the APS research journals World Wide Web server. As noted above, however, as a purely electronic journal, Physical Review Special Topics - Physics Education Research has special requirements, so information applicable to other APS journals may not apply to PRST-PER.

Submission  top

Manuscripts must be submitted electronically (via direct Web upload or via e-print servers). Interactive submission forms are an integral part of the submission process. These forms aid authors in supplying all the information needed in a structured format which furthers efficient processing; they also provide a location for additional free form information.

Please specify the author to whom correspondence should be addressed, and give all available communications information for this individual (postal and electronic mail addresses, phone and fax numbers). Please specify the section to which the paper is submitted, and give Physics and Astronomy Classification Scheme (PACS) index categories. These categories are used in preparing the annual subject index. If an important subject of your paper cannot be appropriately classified in the PACS scheme, please give an appropriate keyword or phrase, and indicate approximately where in the scheme this topic would be best placed.

The APS copyright-transfer form must be executed before publication. While the transfer of copyright takes effect only upon acceptance of the paper for publication, supplying the form initially can prevent unnecessary delays. The form may be executed online as part of the submission process in most cases. Alternatively, the signed form may be sent via postal mail to the Editorial Office, 1 Research Road, Box 9000, Ridge, NY 11961-9000. (We cannot accept forms sent via email.) The form is available on the Web via the Author Forms subpage of Be sure to use the latest version of the form.

For detailed information about electronic submissions, see Submissions must be formatted in REVTeX (preferred) or MS WORD. The main body of the textual material of the paper (including tables, captions, etc.) must be in electronic form, as a single file. Auxiliary files and figures must also be sent electronically via the Web or e-print mechanisms. The file should produce double-spaced output. Copies of the manuscript sent by regular mail will not be processed.

Figures must be received in at least review quality form before editorial processing can begin. They should be submitted in PostScript format and only via e-print servers or direct Web upload. JPEG format is also accepted for photographic images. Supplemental electronic material (e.g., java, movies) will be accepted and linked to form the published manuscript.

On resubmission, it is only necessary to resend the figures if the originals in our file are no longer valid. For further information see the APS submission server.

Resubmission  top

When a manuscript is resubmitted, please include a summary of changes made and a brief response to all recommendations and criticisms. The interactive resubmission forms available on the APS submission server should be used for the transmission of modified manuscripts via e-print servers or direct Web upload. These forms should also be used when a manuscript previously submitted to another APS journal is resubmitted to Physical Review Special Topics - Physics Education Research. For any resubmission, please state whether or not the figures have been modified, and supply new figures if there have been such changes. Please update any other information (e.g., address and communication information) that has changed since initial submission.

General text requirements  top

Readability of the journal is an important consideration. Authors are urged to take special care in assuring that their manuscripts are well organized and clearly written. Manuscripts should be written in scientific English, in a style consistent with that of the journal. It is not possible for the editorial office to undertake extensive corrections of manuscripts, due to time constraints and the risk that the authors' meaning might be distorted. Manuscripts requiring extensive corrections are therefore not processed. For this reason, authors whose native language is not English are urged to seek help from a native English speaker. Accessibility of papers is a matter of significant concern, and at least the abstract and introduction of each article should be written so as to be understandable by a broad spectrum of readers.


For general format and style, consult recent issues of this journal and the Physical Review Style and Notation Guide. Additional style guidelines can be found in the Fourth Edition of the AIP Style Manual.

Title  top

The writing of the title deserves special care. It should be concise but informative enough to facilitate information retrieval. Capitalize only the first word in the title, proper names, chemical symbols, etc.; other words should begin with lower-case letters, just as they would in the text. For manuscripts submitted to the Comments section, "Comment on ..." followed by the title of the paper to which the Comment refers is, however, good practice. Do not use serial numbers in titles unless the number is followed by a specific title. If you wish to use a serial number, please provide information on the other published articles in the series.

Authors  top

The names of authors may be listed in any order in the byline at the beginning of a paper. The author who submits the paper is responsible for ensuring that all coauthors have approved the paper and for checking that the form of each name (e.g., initials versus full names) is that normally used by the author.

If the authors are at different institutions, they may be grouped by institution with the name of the institution following each group. If the authors are not grouped by institution, the names of institutions may be listed following the list of authors. Each author's name should then be followed by a superscript number (or numbers) which refers to a similar superscript number preceding the appropriate institution (or institutions). Normally, the most concise presentation is preferred.

Footnotes to an author's name or address are intended to facilitate locating or communicating with an author. In many cases, it can be helpful to identify an author as "spokesperson" or "author to whom correspondence should be addressed." Footnotes giving email addresses of one or more corresponding authors are strongly encouraged. All information concerning research support should appear in the acknowledgments. Footnotes which describe an author's position or title are not acceptable.

Abstract  top

Every paper must have an abstract. It should be about 5% of the length of the article, but less than 500 words. It should state all subjects about which new information is given and the conclusions and results. For experimental papers it should specify clearly what quantities were measured, what objects were studied, and under which experimental conditions. It should be self-contained and not contain footnotes, coined words, or acronyms which are not explained.

Notation  top

Notation should be clear, compact, and consistent with standard usage. Equations should be neatly formatted, punctuated, and aligned to bring out their structure, and numbered on the right. (a) Diacritical marks (tildes, etc.) can be put over any symbol, including indices. (b) Three-vectors are generally set in roman boldface type. More general vectors, matrices, etc., are usually set in lightface italic type, although boldface may alternatively be used. (c) Be careful when using the solidus (/) in fractions. For example, 1/2a means 1/(2a), not (1/2)a. Use appropriate bracketing if needed to ensure clarity.

Symbols and units  top

Physical Review Special Topics - Physics Education Research tries to follow the recommendations on symbols and units of the International Union of Pure and Applied Physics (IUPAP) and of the National Institute of Standards and Technology. Metric units (preferably SI), not British units, are used, unless the British unit is part of the name of an object.

References and footnotes  top

References cited in text material must be numbered in order of their first citation, and should appear in a separate double spaced list at the end of the text. They should be designated by online Arabic numerals enclosed in square brackets. Use the tagging provided by the authoring tools (special REVTeX and MS WORD macros) developed for Physical Review Special Topics - Physics Education Research whenever possible to allow automatic generation of hyperlinks. Footnotes (for subsidiary remarks, not for references) may be placed at the bottoms of published pages. Such footnotes to text material should be designated by superscript numerals, numbered consecutively throughout the paper, and placed at the bottoms of the manuscript pages on which they are cited. Authors who do not wish to use this option should combine references and footnotes in a single list, designated by online numerals in square brackets, numbered consecutively in order of first citation, and placed at the end of the text. References and footnotes within tables should be designated by superscript lower case roman letters and given at the end of the table.

In preparing the list of references for papers the author should be guided by the Physical Review Style and Notation Guide, especially Table I and the list of Journal Title Abbreviations, and by the corresponding material in the AIP Style Manual. When reference is made to internal reports or other items not available in the open literature, it is the responsibility of the author to provide sufficient information to enable the reader to obtain a copy of the referenced material. References to classified reports or other documents with restricted circulation should be avoided. The names of all authors should be given in the references, unless the number of authors is greater than three.

Though contrary to standard Physical Review reference style, Physical Review Special Topics - Physics Education Research encourages authors to expand the citation format to include titles on all references as an aid to the reader. The appropriate citation format should be in the form: N. D. Finkelstein and S. J. Pollock, "Replicating and understanding successful innovations: Implementing tutorials in introductory physics," Phys. Rev. ST Phys. Educ. Res. 1, 010101 (2005). However, to encourage fairness in referencing, citation titles will be removed if the expanded format is not used for ALL citations.

Acknowledgments  top

Acknowledgments of support must be placed in an acknowledgments paragraph at the end of the text of a manuscript. Not all types of acknowledgments are appropriate for the Physical Review. We do not include acknowledgments to those who helped in the preparation of the document being published; to referees or editors (unless they were involved before the paper was first written); to those who contributed general encouragement (family, friends) or services which were not directly part of the research. References to positions, titles, and awards are inappropriate as are dates associated with awards. Examples of suitable acknowledgments are thanks to other scientists for scientific guidance given in discussions or by the communication of results, mention of technical assistants who helped in the actual research, and citation of funding agencies which sponsored the work. Acknowledgments should be a simple statement of thanks for help and may not be a dedication or memorial. Acknowledgments to people should precede those of financial support.

Tables  top

Separate tables (numbered in the order of their appearance) should be used for all but the simplest tabular material; they should have captions that make the tables intelligible without reference to the text. The structure should be clear, with simple column headings giving all units. The decision on whether results should be published in long tables depends on the precision of the data, i.e., whether they can be obtained accurately enough from a figure, and on how many readers are likely to use the numbers relative to the space needed in the journal. If experimental results are likely to be used as reference values by other authors, the publication of the numbers is desirable. If additional numerical data can be obtained from a data center, from the author, or another source, either as tables or in electronic form, indicate how and in what format they can be obtained. Authors with extensive tabular material should query the editors about making it available.

Figures  top

Figures should be planned for the column width of the Physical Review (8.6 cm or 3 3/8 in.). If the detail shown requires it, 1.5 or 2 columns may be used. A note should be left on such figures. High-quality figures must be supplied, appropriately scaled to match closely the final publication size. Figures should be numbered in the order in which they are referred to in the text. They should be identified (outside the image area) by the number, the name of the first author, and the journal. An indication, e.g., "TOP," of the intended orientation of a figure is helpful, especially in ambiguous cases. Each figure must have a caption that makes the figure intelligible without reference to the text; list captions on a separate sheet. Text should be placed in the caption, not on the figure. Groups of figures that share a (single) caption must be labeled "(a), (b)," etc. It is preferable that all parts of a figure be submitted as a single piece.

Figures must be prepared so that all details can be seen in the online journal. The smallest symbols must be at least 2 mm high and plotted points should be at least 1 mm in diameter after the figure is scaled for publication. Avoid small open symbols which tend to fill in, small dots and decimal points, and shading or cross-hatching that is not coarse enough to withstand reproduction. Curves should be smooth; curves and lines should have consistent line widths of sufficient weight [final weight of at least 0.18 mm (0.5 point)]. The resolution of the drawing software and output device should be set as high as possible (preferably 600 dpi or higher).

The figure itself should have labeled axes with units enclosed in parentheses. Use the form I (103 A), not I x 103 amps. Use half spacing within compound units, not hyphens or periods. Avoid ambiguous usage of the solidus ("/") [e.g., use (W/sr cm), not (W/sr/cm)]. When possible, integer numbers should be used on the axis scales of figures (e.g., 1, 2, 3, or 0, 5, 10, not 1.58, 3.16, 4.75). Decimal points must be on the line (not above it). Use 0.5 not 0.5. Use the same number of digits to the right of the decimal point for all numbers on the axis scales. A number must be both before and behind the decimal point; e.g., 0.2, not .2. For complete instructions see the Physical Review Style and Notation Guide or the AIP Style Manual.

Avoid submitting prescreened (scanned) images of photographic material (see also the submission information above); reproduction of such figures in the online journal may not be satisfactory. There is a risk of moiré patterns appearing in the final product. There are greater possibilities for successful reproduction in the journal when data are processed directly rather than via scanning of hard-copy renditions. If scanning of hard copies is necessary, set the resolution of the scanning software as high as possible (preferably 600 dpi or higher) and scale the figure to its final published size.

In preparing figures, care should be taken to present the scientific results accurately. If images used in any of the figures have been manipulated, except for adjustments that affect the picture as a whole (e.g., overall brightness), the modification should be described clearly in the caption or text.

Figures might be more effective in color. This option is available (see also the submission information above). To alert readers of monochrome reproductions of the article that the archive figure is in color, begin the caption with "(Color)".

Miscellaneous  top

The relation of the paper to previously published work should be explained clearly. This should include the work of other authors and previously published work of the present authors, including meeting abstracts and conference reports. If the present results correct, supplement, or supersede previous results, this should be stated. (Preprints and internal laboratory reports are not considered publications.) Indicate which results are new, as distinguished from results obtained previously.

In order to reproduce figures, tables, etc., from another journal, authors must show that they have complied with the requirements of the publisher of the other journal, possibly including written agreement of both publisher and author of the originally published work. (If the original journal is published by APS, only the written agreement of the original author is required to reproduce a few figures or tables.)

Specify uncertainties. Distinguish statistical and other errors. In the case of measurements relative to a standard, state whether the error includes the error in the standard.