Monday, 26 March 2012

Make MNRAS submissions look more like MNRAS

Have you ever submitted an article to Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society (MNRAS)? If not, I offer you this lousy joke,
Q: Who was the first electricity detective?
A: Sherlock Ohms.
and invite you to stop reading now. The rest of this post is irrelevant to you. 

If your answer was "yes", then you've probably noticed that just putting your article into mn2e.cls doesn't make it look quite like the final publication. If you care enough about such things, read on for a few steps that make a submission look more (but not exactly) like the final product. In short, you can change the font, fix the bibliography and stick to MNRAS style on some minor points.

Fix the font

I would love to know exactly what font MNRAS uses. The closest approximation I've found among the LaTeX defaults is Times. So the first step to improving your article's MNRAS-ness is to simply add


to the preamble. To illustrate the difference, here's a comparison between the default font, Times and whatever MNRAS uses, all at the default font size.

Times is definitely an improvement.

Fix the bibliography

The first fix in the bibliography is to change its size. MNRAS sets the bibliography in smaller type than the main text but the mn2e.cls file doesn't emulate this. To fix things, enclose the bibliography in a \footnotesize block. That is, call the bibliography with something like


If you use BibTeX and copy entries from NASA ADS, then you might find yourself being asked for more bibliographic information when your paper is being readied for print. Part of the problem is that the BibTeX entries are not always complete. For example, I often find that books and conference proceedings don't include the publishers' names and addresses. You can usually find these in the "default format" entry on ADS and enter them manually. For the appropriate entry names in the bibliography file, look in the LaTeX Wikibook.

The MNRAS bibliography breaks down on long author lists. There are several fixes for this. One is to modify the .bbl file after BibTeX runs and thereafter summon the bibliography with


so that it isn't recompiled each time. The other option is to use (or make) a different .bst file. Michael Williams has done such a thing and you can download his variant of mn2e.bst here. His variant doesn't work perfectly with the MNRAS directive of listing all three authors on the first citation and as "et al." thereafter. You get output like "Jones, Smith, & White (2012)", which is ugly. I've tried my own hand a custom MNRAS bibliography style to fix all this. You're welcome to download it here, give it a try and send me feedback. If you've worked out your own happy medium between the original MNRAS file and Michael's fix, let me know below.

Fix minor things

For whatever reason, mn2e.cls doesn't appear to flush equations to the left like in the journal. This is fixed by calling the class file with the fleqn option, as in


plus whatever other options you use. I thought this was a result of an outdated mn2e.cls but I'm clearly not the only one.

Finally, there is a host of small things that you shouldn't forget. I've either made these mistakes myself or seen them in arXiv submissions. Hopefully a handy list of common errors will help someone not make the same errors.

  • The article title is set in sentence case.
  • The running header is limited to 45 characters. If the title is longer, you must provide a short one.
  • Names of software packages are set in small caps. i.e. \textsc{code} in LaTeX. I sometimes see folks use other fonts. e.g. \texttt
  • Tables never have double lines.
  • Subreferencing is never done inline. That is, MNRAS won't allow "Cox & Giuli (1968, §27.3)". I don't think they allow page numbers either, even though I think they're useful...
  • No citations in the abstract.
  • "per cent", never %.

Further fixes?

Your submission should now look more like MNRAS but it isn't there yet. If you know how to fix this or anything other outstanding discrepancies, let me know in the comments.


  1. Hi there, I have a question for you, since your blog came up as I was googling a fix.
    The apparent problem is that somehow arXiv does not seem to be using the same fonts that I get with {times} and compiling on any of my computers.
    The compilation logs at first glance are not different... entries that seem to have to do with fonts seem to match.
    But in the end the PDF of arXiv has pretty darn urgly fonts... certainly not looking like those in my own PDF!
    For the life of me I could not figure this one, and I kept replacing the latex file with small modifications... without success.
    Any clue?

  2. Hi GF. I've successfully uploaded arXiv articles that use the Times package, although I've only ever used the TeX>DVI>PS>PDF sequence. Since writing this post, I've learned that you should actually use mathptmx instead of times. Maybe try that? i.e.


    Otherwise, I don't know what the problem is. As far as I know, arXiv compiles with a bog-standard installation of LaTeX. Try asking on TeX.StackExchange. It's a good place for TeX questions and there is a tag for arXiv-related questions.

  3. Hi Warrick, I checked your paper (not the science...;-) and it does look like mine, font-wise, and it's not that it's bad, but it is NOT what I get when compiling on my computers. Nope.
    I don't think I can attach/include in the comment images.
    I have taken a couple of screenshots of a portion of the two PDFs to show you the difference... unfortunately for some reasons I have not investigated yet my webserver is not serving anymore, as of 10 days ago, but I have been to busy to look into it, hence I can't do the easy thing of posting the two images there. If you care enough about it I can email them to you, or the two PDFs (the one on arxiv is 1205.2344).
    I use latex+dvips+ps2pdf, simple. On RHEL5/6 or ubuntu (10.04). It may be the dvips or ps2pdf steps that are done differently on arxiv. I noticed that their dvips is not the same that runs on my machines.
    I did not take a note, but mine says "This is dvips(k) 5.95a" (e.g. on a RHEL5 box), and in the arxiv logs the name was different, more than the version (to which I did not pay attention)... there was "something" in the name printed in the log. Anyhow... the truth is that none of them has a font that look particularly close to the real MNRAS one, although {times} has a better line-spacing and fonts "aspect ratio".

    That said, I am quite annoyed by the fact itself that the result of the arxiv compilation and mine are not identical!

    I will take a look at mathptmx.

  4. GF, I had another quick look at my paper and the fonts in my locally compiled copy are identical to the arXiv version and the same as your arXiv version. For what it's worth, know that the arXiv paper size seems to be US Letter rather than A4.

    I don't think I'll be able to help you get to the bottom of this but I'd recommend taking a close look at your local packages. Like you say, none actually look quite like MNRAS in the end. Good luck!

  5. Interesting... btw I tried mathptmx, and the only thing that changes is the font used in math (making it more times-like).
    So, hmm... there is something "here" that makes the fonts different. I will check dvips, and the list of fonts in the PDF directly (from the properties dialog.)
    I have to add that I get the same on at least three different machines running three different versions of linux: RHEL5, RHEL6 and ubuntu 10.04, and on none of them I have installed anything non-standard. This consistency makes the differences pretty puzzling. If I may abuse of your patience a little more, could you share what is your OS and latex installation,
    and maybe the log of the compilation of one of your files?
    Thanks a lot.