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Two Services for Prospective Authors of Acta Crystallographica: checkcif and printcif

Are you still having problems with your CIF submissions to Acta? Have you still not quite got the hang of editing your SHELXL CIF into a full structural paper? Are you hesitant about making your first submission in CIF format?

There are two services provided by Acta Crystallographica designed to make the mysteries of CIF a little less fearsome. Both are automatic program systems which will accept a CIF by web or e-mail and download or mail the results back to you. The relevant addresses are:


This utility checks the file syntax to make sure you haven't forgotten a quote mark, put an incorrect number of data values in a loop, or otherwise transgressed the simple formatting rules. If it finds any mistakes, it tells you what they are (with a full description of the nature of each error on its first occurrence). It tries to notify you of all the mistakes you've made (unlike previous checking software, which just told you about the first), but examine its output carefully - a single syntax error might spark off a cascade of error reports, just because, say, a single semicolon was missing.

If the CIF is syntactically sound, some additional checks are then carried out on the structure it reports. These are a subset of the numeric checks carried out in Chester when a paper is submitted; this set will be expanded as more types of checking are fully automated. At present, you will be told if your paper is lacking any of the requirements stipulated by the Commission on Journals; some physical quantities will be calculated and compared with values in your file; and the MISSYM algorithm will check for the possible presence of higher space-group symmetry.

The results of all these checks will be supplied in a single summary report.


This will take your CIF and apply the typesetting software used by the journal office to generate a preprint of your paper. Because the current version of the typesetting programs is always used, you will get a faithful representation of how the paper will be created - a valuable feature if you're not quite sure how to obtain some desired effect. The preprint will also indicate any data values which the editorial staff would query - for instance, missing Commission requirements, physical values that are or may be unreasonable - giving you an opportunity to forestall such queries!

If you use the web interface, you may select the result as a pdf stream (immediately readable in some browsers with the Adobe Acrobat plug-in software), a pdf file (for subsequent reading via Acrobat or other software, or a PostScript file.

If you use the email service, You should receive the results as two e-mail messages - one reporting a successful outcome and sometimes containing other information and one containing a PostScript file of the preprint. If the software is unable to generate a preprint, the diagnostic message alone is returned, with some indication of the reason for failure.

It is usually sensible to check your CIF first with the checkcif utility before submitting it to printcif.

If you experience any problems in using these utilities, please contact me (bm@iucr.ac.uk) or Mike Hoyland (mh@iucr.ac.uk). Happy checking and proofing!

Brian McMahon
Research & Development Officer

Updated 3 May 2001

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