Popular Astronomy Writers' Guide
Popular Astronomy is the quarterly magazine of Britain's Society for Popular Astronomy. Before 1981 the magazine was called Hermes, after the messenger of the gods. PA has an international reputation as one of the best, brightest and most informative astronomy publications and is enjoyed by around 3,000 people. If you're thinking about contributing to PA, it would pay to read through some recent copies to get to know the kind of articles we like, their types and subject ranges.
We're always happy to receive original articles on all aspects of astronomy and space exploration. We're interested in astronomical investigations and observations, items of historical interest, society news, the latest astronomy news, and your views. If you can think of it, and it's related to astronomy, PA can find a place for it!
Your style of writing should be aimed at those who do not necessarily possess a specialised knowledge of astronomy. Many SPA members are beginners, new to astronomy and its myriad terms and jargon. When introducing difficult subjects, try to explain the principles involved as clearly and as simply as you can.
Ask the Editor
A good first step would be to sound out your idea with the Editor before submission. Your article may complement plans we have, or it may duplicate material already commissioned, repeat something already published, or it may not be suitable. We usually allow for 800 words per PA page (with headings and graphics), so full articles can range between 800 and 2,400 words – anything lengthier must be by special arrangement with the Editor.
Submitting written material
We can accept handwritten material as long as it is arranged with the Editor first. Typewritten material should be on one side of white A4 paper, double spaced and in a clear high pitch typeface, for the benefit of scanning optical character recognition. At the top of each page state your name / article title / page number.
Don't use a fancy layout or font for your article, or include illustrations among the text - just the plainest text you can. Mathematical formulae should be written out separately and their position indicated in the text thus <mathematical formula #>. Degrees should be written as "degrees".
Don't staple pages together (staples may scratch my scanner!) - either leave the sheets loose or fasten them with a paperclip. Ensure that your pages are numbered. Please make sure that you carefully read through your copy before sending it. Alterations and amendments should be made in the page margins or on a separate sheet, not among the typed text. Material is returned only with SAE.
The best way of submitting text is to send it within, or attached to, an email. Although we can handle most text formats, the most commonly used are: TXT (ASCII plain text without any formatting), Rich Text Format (RTF), Open Office and MS Word.
Acceptable electronic text formatting includes simple italic and bold in your default or normal typeface. The best way to indicate any special emphasis, 'foreign' characters etc, is to provide a paper copy or printout marked up with a colour highlighter. At all costs, avoid the use of fancy fonts; changes of font and size; centring, non-standard justification and spacing on lines, words and letters; superscript and subscript; underline and strike-through; coloured text and backgrounds; borders and box-lines; formatted paragraph numbering or bulleting; formatted footnotes. Mathematical formulae should be sent as a separate image file if possible, their placement indicated in the body of the text.
Check your copy for spelling errors, particularly of people's names. Capitalise proper nouns only. For magnification, state x100 (not 100x). For timings, please state time in the 21:45 UT format (not 21h 45m). State measurements in metric, not imperial, eg 150 mm reflector.
Submitting photographs, images and illustrations
Most people will submit illustrations by email these days, but if you need to send original drawings, photographs or illustrations, send them in a well protected envelope, and try not to fold or crease your material. If you want them returned, please enclose a suitably sized stamped addressed envelope.
Drawings / images should ideally be the originals or good quality laser prints, not photocopies. Line drawings are best done in black ink. When sending slides, on no account should they be glass mounted, which people imagine is the best way to mount slides. According to Robin Scagell, Royal Mail have a special machine for detecting the glass mounts through several layers of card, foam and what have you and shattering it ultrasonically (or so it seems). I can return observational material providing a suitable SAE is sent.
Please send all electronic mail and image attachments to email@example.com. To reduce download time to a minimum and save disk space, please send images in greyscale, reduce them to an appropriate size and at a resolution of 300 dpi. Images are accepted in BMP, GIF, TIF or JPG format. Remember to make a note of the salient observational details in text, and remember to label your disk with your name and the title of the image file.
Original text and image material remains the copyright of the author/artist, and may be used freely by the author/artist at a later date. When using other people's observations it is the responsibility of the author to secure permission from the observer in question before submitting it.
Most NASA images are public domain and copyright free. If you have a NASA image in mind to accompany your article but cannot locate it, ask and the Editor will be pleased to locate it and use it if appropriate.
The Editor will try to acknowledge all submissions to PA promptly, and we'll communicate our acceptance or rejection within a reasonable period. Once your submission is accepted, the Editor will consult the author or artist if necessary, to make changes or amendments, although we reserve the right to edit the material to suit the presentation and available space. It's our aim to produce a readable article in good English. In any disputes, the judgement of the Editor will be final.
Please make back-up copies of your manuscript, supporting documents and illustrative material in case it's lost in the post. We cannot be held responsible for unsolicited material.
Peter Grego, 4 July 2000, amended 2011