Writing a journal article

Supplementary online material

Supplementary online material is now being used by many journals for things that will only be of central interest to a small number of readers, but nevertheless should not be left out. It is essentially what used to be appendices. Supplementary material often can be several additional pages of text, and sometimes up to 10 additional figures. Different journals have different restrictions on this.

Typical items that can go into the supplementary material are things such as (1) in-depth methods, (2) additional results, (3) further justification for a particular approach, or (4) photographs related to the study. In all cases, the main text needs to refer to the supplementary material (e.g. “see supplementary online material for further details”, or by referring to “Fig. S1”). It is also a good idea to summarise briefly the supplementary material in the text. For example “A null model was used to test whether communities were randomly assembled (see supplementary online information for details)”, or “Additional scenarios were explored and showed broadly similar patterns (Figures S1-S5)”, or “Our study assumes that communities are influenced by institutions at multiple scales, including local, state and federal governments (Fig. S1)”.

Supplementary online material should not be seen as a deposit for everything that didn’t otherwise fit. Rules of prioritizing your material and fitting the content to the prescribed length still apply. Rather, supplementary material is for things that are necessary or informative, but not of central interest to the majority of readers.


Possible exercises:

  • Collect supplementary material from a few different journals that are relevant to you. Get a feeling for what people put into their supplementary material. Which kind of format is useful for you, the reader, to understand how the material is organised?

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