Writing Articles for SILICON CHIP

So you have spent countless hours developing a project and now you would like to see it published for all the world to see. Does SILICON CHIP accept articles for publication? Yes, we do. Here are some general guidelines to anyone contemplating writing articles for SILICON CHIP.

By LEO SIMPSON

Want to write for SILICON CHIP? You do? Great. Before you start, let's give you some general guidelines which will make your job easier and will greatly increase the chances that the article will be accepted for publication.

Also, before you start on that great article concept, please contact us to find out whether it is of interest to our readers. We would hate it if you had put in an enormous amount of work to produce an article only to find that we reject it because it is not of sufficient interest to our readers.

There may be other reasons for rejection too. We might have a similar article ready or almost ready for publication – or we might have already given another person the go-ahead for a similar idea.

When you contact us, we will ask you for the general concept. If it is a project, we will want to see a circuit diagram and a brief synopsis on what it does, how it works and how much it might cost. We'd also need to know that any specialised components you have used will be available for other readers to obtain.

Perhaps you would like to submit a feature article. Again, we would like a synopsis, ie, a brief outline of the article. You can contact us at silicon@siliconchip.com.au or via our feedback form here.

What about money? Yes, we pay for published articles but there are conditions which we will spell out when you contact us. We generally do not commission articles. We always edit submitted articles and often end up doing substantial re-writes. The amount of work we have to do affects the overall payment.

In accepting articles for publication, we normally require the full copyright, not just Australian once-only rights. If you want to protect the copyright of your design, we can negotiate on this aspect but SILICON CHIP must own the full copyright on the published article, including reprint rights.

The article itself

These days, we like articles in Word, Open Office, Libre Office or compatible documents or .txt files, sent by email. Any Word attachments you send to us should be virus-checked beforehand.

Speaking of viruses, we get a lot of them, sent to us in various ways. If you need to send .exe files or zip files please make sure that you run them through the latest virus software. Contributors get very embarrassed when we subsequently inform them that they have a virus.

As a general policy we, like most companies these days, immediately delete any email that comes in with an attached .exe file unless we know (and trust!) the source.

By the way, we often find viruses in submitted material but the contributor swears that they virus check everything. It's only after a bit of quizzing that we find they haven't updated their virus definitions or signatures for months, perhaps years. Please update regularly!

Article format

There are two major rules:

  1. Please don't make your article “look pretty”. We want it in plain, unadorned text.

  2. Please do not embed ANY photographs, illustrations, diagrams, etc in your text. Where possible, we place these on the magazine page close to the text they pertain to, but this is not always possible.

Since so many people have Microsoft Word or similar word processing software, there is a great temptation to use fancy fonts and formats, dropped caps, italics, bullets, indented paragraphs, text in various colours, text run around photos, multiple columns and so on. Don't bother!

No matter how fancy your document looks, all that effort in presentation will be dumped because if we do publish it, it will be formatted to suit the magazine. So whether we like your article or not, we have no choice but to dump your formatting. We are only interested in your basic text.

For the same reasons, please do not present your article as a PDF file, a Powerpoint presentation or as files from any desktop package such as Indesign, Quark Express, Publisher, etc. We only have to extract the text back out again, which once again will lose all your fancy formatting.

Fancy formatting also makes your article much harder to edit and you want to make our job easy, don't you?

OK, maybe you need to include some tables in your article. In that case, we will need the table format (eg, in Word) but please don't send them as Excel or database files.

All of that sounds like a lot of negatives but we really need to keep the whole process simple and that means text files or Word document files. And to reiterate, please don't embed anything in your text: send any photos, diagrams, illustrations, etc, separately.

By the way, regardless of which word processor program you use, they all have a facility for outputting your article as a .txt file (also known as ASCII or plain text). Do not just change the file extension and hope for the best – the chances are that we won't be able to read it.

That is one really good aspect of email. If you send us an article inserted as a text file, you will be able to read it on the screen, before you click on the “send” button.

Still on word processors: if you have Microsoft Word it is a good idea to make full use of its grammar and spell-checking capabilities. Make sure you have the English dictionary loaded, not American. Also, it is a good idea to use Word's readability statistics after you have run a spell check.

If you want to make your article as readable as possible, keep the sentences and paragraphs reasonably short. Try to make sentences active, not passive and not too wordy. If the Word “Flesch-Reading Ease” score is below 40 (out of 100), you know you have a problem.

Versions

In the past, some contributors send their article, followed later by a “revised” version (and sometimes more than one), right up until publication (and even after!).

This could well be after a lot of work has been performed to prepare and present the article.

While we understand the need for correctness, we need the absolute, final version when you send it. If there is a need for a correction, please discuss it with the Editor either by email or phone.

Photographs and graphics

As you can see from most of the articles in SILICON CHIP, we generally like to include plenty of photos and diagrams. So what to do?

While some people do go to the trouble of taking photos of their projects, they are rarely good enough for publication. We much prefer to take our own photos and for that reason (and also to check the operation of your project) we generally prefer to have the prototype submitted to us.

We do return prototypes, whether or not the article is published.

However, there are times when it may be impractical or impossible to send us your project and therefore you need to take your own photos. If you do, make sure that you fit the whole subject inside the frame. You would not send a photo where someone has a missing ear or chin, so don't send us photos with part of the subject clipped off!

Almost universally, we work only with digital photos. If you must take your own photos for publication, you really need a modern single-lens reflex digital camera with separate control over aperture, exposure time and focus. And while modern, automatic cameras might be great for happy-snaps of your family on holidays, they are really not suitable for magazine photography because you have no control over aperture and depth of field.

The general rule of thumb for a digital photo is that it needs to be at least 1.5MB and preferably larger, regardless of file type. As a guide, the photographs you see in SILICON CHIP start out as 3-4MB – jpegs. Larger photos, such as those used to lead off the story, may be ten times this!

Always shoot at the maximum resolution the camera will allow and please don’t “Photoshop” (or otherwise process) any pictures yourself – send us the original files (ie, straight from camera) so we can process them the way we want them.

Send us all the photos you took so we can choose the ones which suit us best. Remember it’s far better to shoot at or close to the camera’s highest aperture (eg, f22 if your lens goes that far) to get the best depth of field. You may need to open the shutter for a longer time to compensate so a tripod is pretty-much a necessity (unless your camera has image stabilisation). Always focus on the leading edges of the object because the depth of field is much better towards the back.

If you are taking photos of your project, vintage radio or whatever, don't do it on your front lawn, grubby garage floor or against a brick wall. Try to use a neutral background which contrasts with the object you are photographing. You can use a plain or light pastel bedsheet but make sure it is spotless and has been carefully ironed to take out the creases. Remember that the camera will ruthlessly record any stains and blemishes. Remember also that any shiny surfaces on the object being photographed will pick up the background (foreground) colour and can give unwanted colour casts.

Speaking of unwanted colour casts, taking photos under fluorescent light will give a greenish cast while incandescent lighting will give a red cast. Many cameras have filters built in to compensate for this but it's best to avoid them altogether.

Direct sunlight will give very strong shadows which can conceal detail while indirect sunlight can give an overall blue cast. Using the inbuilt (camera mounted) flash is almost guaranteed to give you unwanted shadowing.

Can't win, can you? Well, you can but it is best to be aware of all the traps. The best light - by far - is outdoors with a lightly overcast sky. Shadows will be minimised or even eliminated and the light is virtually pure white. But sometimes you don't get those overcast days without the rain pouring down!

That is why it is preferable to send us the project and we'll take the photos in our studio. If we mess up, we have to do it again!

Scanned photos

We work in the digital domain and would very much prefer not to have to scan any photos (or other artwork). However, if there is no other option, we prefer to do it ourselves. Scanning is an art, especially when it comes to scanning for reproduction in a magazine.

Circuit diagrams

While we will always redraw your circuit diagram to our style, we need clear and legible originals. These can be anything from a pencil sketch to a computer printout. If you send a computer file or printout, please make sure that it has black lines on a white background. If you send a pencil sketch, do it with a sharp HB pencil. 2H or 4H pencils give very thin lines which scan poorly.

If you scan your pencil sketch to send to us, first print it out yourself to make sure that all connections and component values can be clearly read. Many scanned circuits do not have sufficient resolution or contrast to make them clear or even legible.

If possible, when you draw your circuit diagram, stick to the conventions of inputs on the left, outputs on the right, positive supply rails at the top and negative/ground rails at the bottom.

For capacitors up to 1000pF, please use pF. For capacitors up to 1000nF, please use nF. For capacitors of 1uF and above, please use uF. Note that we do not use so-called “metricated” abbreviations for resistors – eg, 1K5 meaning 1.5k or R33 for 33 ohms. There is less chance of an error in conversion if we don't have to convert.

One other point – the Australian standard mains voltage is now 230VAC; circuit diagrams and text should reflect this (ie, not 240VAC!).

We have a separate (and detailed) style guide for circuit drawing and labelling. If you'd like to make our life easy and draw your circuit using our conventions, so we don't have to re-label components, please ask us for a copy of this guide.

Printed circuit boards

If you have produced a PCB, we prefer that the pattern be drawn in Protel or any version of PC board layout software compatible with Protel: Easytrax, Autotrax, Circuit Maker or Altium Designer. EAGLE files are acceptable however we usually end up spending extra time converting these to Altium format.

If you design your PCB in another package (eg, Kicad, Ivex etc), we will need an EPS or PDF output of each layer – ie, one copper layer, one drill guide and one “silkscreen” overlay layer for a single-sided board. For double-sided boards we need two copper layers, one drill guide and one or two overlays.

Designing PCBs is a separate topic in itself. We've published several articles on the subject which you should refer to but as a general rule, keep components more or less evenly spaced on a 25-thou grid (typical) and parallel to the sides of the board; don't have diagonal components – it doesn't look right. One exception is quad flat pack ICs which may be best routed if rotated by 45 degrees.

Other points to consider:

(a) 230VAC wiring must be safe and comply with all relevant codes.

(b) circuit components must be readily available and reasonable in cost. Avoid designs which require specialised components to be sourced from multiple different vendors if possible, especially if they are overseas and have a high postage charge or minimum order value.

Sending us your files

Assuming your synopsis has been accepted, we prefer to accept files via e-mail (up to several megabytes) or dropbox. If that isn't possible, you can send us a USB flash drive, CD-ROM or DVD-ROM in the mail. If doing this, pack very well before sending (sending a CD to us just in its jewel case is almost guaranteed to have the CD destroyed in the post).

The beauty of flash drives and CDs is that there is plenty of room for you to include all your photos and diagrams along with the text. And they're cheap!

Alternatively, files can be uploaded to the SILICON CHIP FTP site. If you want to choose this option, we will supply you with the FTP address, passwords, etc.

Timing

SILICON CHIP is planned many months in advance and is produced approximately two months in advance of publication date (eg, the September issue will be produced in June/July).

Therefore, it could be some months before accepted articles are published. Until your article is “locked in” it is often difficult to provide an estimated issue date. It will happen as soon as planned, possible and produced!

A PDF “proof” will be supplied to you before publication for fact and spell-checking. We would appreciate a thorough but speedy check (including parts lists) so any problems can be resolved in a timely manner.

Payment is made after the issue is released. We prefer to pay by direct deposit so we would need to have your account name, bank, BSB and account number before publication.