Biographies Department: suggested guidelines for contributors

The following notes were written by long-time Biographies Department editor Thomas Haigh. The current Biographies Department editor may have other views and instructions, but the guidelines here are a way to start thinking about writing an biography of someone for the Annals.

The Biographies department of IEEE Annals of the History of Computing welcomes contributions from all those working on the history of computing.

Length: Biographies will vary in length. Individual biographies of less than 1,000 words will not usually be of sufficient depth to warrant publication. Biographies of more than 4,000 words are hard to accommodate within the department, and so might be better presented as feature articles in the main part of the journal. I often work closely with authors to edit down longer drafts. In general a length of 2,000 to 3,000 words is optimal.

Context and Framing: Biographies should usually deal with the whole of an individual's career. However, it is normal and usually desirable to deal in much greater deal with some portions of that career in more detail than others. When someone has worked in several fields (for example as a physicist and computer scientist), brief discussion of their other activities provides valuable context. Biographies should provide context in which to understand the life and work of the subject. This might include discussion of the institutions, companies or fields in which the individual worked and of the impact of the individual's contributions. When a contribution is technical or scientific in nature, provide sufficient background to allow readers with no special knowledge of the area to understand the importance and nature of the subject's achievements. Likewise, each individual biography will cut a cross section through the development of one or more areas, contributing to our broader understanding of those fields.

Sources: Each biography published in Annals should present information and insights previously unavailable to researchers. This generally demands the use of primary sources such as letters, published and unpublished papers, oral history interviews, sources about the institutions in which the individual was active, newspaper articles related to the individual, and material solicited from colleagues of the individual. Authors must also integrate relevant material from available secondary sources, such as existing institutional or technical histories of institutions and projects in which the individual was involved.

In researching a biography, it is appropriate and usually desirable to seek assessments of the subject's life, personality or contributions to the field from colleagues who know them well. These quotations may be worked into the main body of the article or, if they are a little longer and of sufficient interest, presented as sidebars.

Where the subject is still alive, authors will usually wish to provide them with an opportunity to comment on or correct the biography prior to publication. In cases where subjects are dead or insensible, authors may wish to seek input from surviving family members. Make clear to the subjects that this is a courtesy and they do not have editorial control over the project. We appreciate that authors may interpret aspects of the subject's life in ways which do not reflect the subject's own understanding, but ask for careful documentation in such cases.

Choice of Subject: Biographies for Annals should present the career of a single individual. (However, the creation of clusters of biographies documenting related careers is encouraged). Annals is concerned with the history of computing, and so the biography should illuminate some aspect of the history of computing, broadly defined to include topics such as the history of the computer industry, hardware, software, computer science, scientific computing, the use of information technology within any field, and professional, scholarly or trade associations concerned with information technology.

Subjects of biographies may be alive or dead. The biographies department does not publish obituaries as such, but welcomes analysis of the lives of the recently dead on the same basis as those of the long dead and the living. (The only exception to this policy is the publication of obituaries for historians of computing, explained below).

We welcome biographies of individuals generally recognized as leaders in their fields, such as the winners of major computing awards, founders of leading information technology companies, inventors of key technologies and the like. However, we also recognize that it is both impossible and undesirable to set up an arbitrary threshold of perceived “significance” below which a career is not worth examining. Social historians have frequently used apparently unexceptional lives to shed real light on historical periods. Our objective is to publish work of real historical merit regardless of whether its subject is very famous, somewhat famous, or entirely unknown.

Types of Biography Published:

  1. Scholarly historical analysis (whether by trained historians or diligent amateurs). Authoritative, well researched, and analytically deep biographies written and sourced according to the norms of academic historical research are always welcome.

    We appreciate that scholars might find the considerable amount of research necessary to produce a high quality biography hard to justify for a single, short publication. Hence Annals welcomes biographies produced as part of larger projects. Here are some possible sources for biographical material other than research undertaken solely for the creation of an Annals biography.

    1. A biography might be a preliminary publication part way into a larger project, such as a book or doctoral dissertation. An example is the biography of Jack Kilby (Annals 29:1).
    2. Biographies might also be the by-product of research material which cannot be fully accommodated with a larger project.
    3. Biographies might be produced as part of commissioned or institutional histories, particularly in conjunction with information gathered in an oral history interview. For example, Harvard Lomax (Annals 27:3) or Frank Lautenberg (Annals 26:1).
    4. Finally, where authors have written books or dissertations include one or more chapters devoted to a single individual, they are welcome to prepare short versions for Annals for the benefit of those seeking a concise and easily digestible summary (akin to that found in an encyclopedia or dictionary of biography).
  2. Extended appreciations of an individual's life and work produced by colleagues or others with personal knowledge of the individual concerned. Non-historians sometimes produce thoughtful, evocative and well researched appreciations of colleagues. These should follow the same general format as other biographies and include citations to primary and secondary sources wherever possible. However, publications of this kind will tend to be written in a more personal style, and it is appropriate for them to draw on personal recollections and unconventional sources. One example of a publication of this kind is Donald Knuth's biography of his colleague Robert Floyd (Annals 26:2). The biographies department does not reprint short obituaries of the kind produced for newsletters, newspapers and websites.
  3. Biographies or obituaries of individuals who have been active within the history of computing community. Annals is the primary publication of record for the history of computing, and therefore has a responsibility for the publication of timely obituaries in this area. An example is the biography of I. Bernard Cohen (Annals 25:4).
  4. Autobiographies of a scope and character meeting the general requirements of the department. Short or fragmentary pieces should be published in the Anecdotes department, while autobiographies of more than 3,000 words might be more appropriate as feature articles. One example of a publication of this kind is the description by Arthur Porter of his work on the Manchester differential analyzer (Annals 25:2).

Relation to Theme Issues: The Annals biographies department is keen to publish biographies which complement articles published in Annals, in particular those published as part of special theme issues. We encourage the editors of special issues to work with their authors to produce relevant biographies for publication in the same issue, and are willing to manage the Biographies department queue to ensure this.

Illustrations: Annals likes to publish illustrations whenever possible. Authors will need to establish the copyright holders for images and seek permission from them. Inclusions of illustrations often takes place on a space available basis, but estimating their size well in advance makes it more likely that it will be possible to include them.

Format: Biographies conclude with a “Selected Works” section presenting a representative selection of important works by the subject of the biography.

Where existing biographical or autobiographical sources provide additional insight into the individual's life, these should be listed in a "Further Reading" section immediately after the end of the biography.

Like Annals feature articles, biographies should include a full complement of endnotes, and include references with page numbers for all quotations. For citation style see the main Annals author instructions page.

Reprinting and Distribution: The normal IEEE Computer Society policy applies. For non-commercial reproduction this generally requires the permission of the author and inclusion of a particular acknowledgement statement.