Your manuscript has been read by your family and your mentor. It’s been submitted, perhaps rejected a time or two, and sent back for review. It’s been revised, reworked, and rewritten. Isn’t it time to publish it already? Does it really need more proofreading and copyediting?
Academic writing probably undergoes more rounds of writing and rewriting, review and revision, and proofreading and copyediting than any other form of writing. From enlisting family members to read and critique, all the way through to checking the details of typeset proofs, your manuscript goes through a myriad of hands, receiving improvements at each step. But with each revision, the chances increase for errors to be introduced into the text.
While most scholars are likely familiar with the peer-review and revision processes and the reasons for them – the logic, organisation, data integrity, research ethics, and basically the bigger picture – what remains more mysterious is the editorial process that comes after and why it’s so important.
As a writer, I get it. Enough is enough, right? It’s time to publish already! But, as a reader, when I encounter a book riddled with typos and misspellings, I ask myself, “could they really not be bothered?” As a student, when I consult a reference list in an article useful to my research, only to find inconsistencies and missing information, I wonder if I can trust the integrity of the rest of the article. When I want to recommend a source, but find myself making excuses for sloppily formatted aspects of it, I speculate whether there is a better option.
So, we editors are here to help.
Proofreading, copyediting, or both?
Considering that “copyediting” is spelled three different ways in three of my reference books (copyediting; copy editing; & copy-editing), it’s no surprise that there is also little consensus on what it actually entails. Nowadays, it seems that most editing terms are somewhat interchangeable. As Nordicom’s new manuscript editor, my understanding is in line with Amy Einsohn and Marilyn Schwarz, authors of The Copyeditor’s Handbook (2019: 12):
Manuscript editing encompasses any or all of the tasks along a continuum from simple mechanical corrections (mechanical editing) through sentence-level interventions (line, or stylistic, editing) to substantial remedial work on literary style and clarity, disorganized passages, baggy prose, muddled tables and figures, and the like (substantive editing).
So, whatever the editor is called who will process your manuscript after you have submitted it, they will likely cross-check references with citations, keep an eye out for multiple spellings of names and places, look for peculiar treatments of numbers, and check that quotations are accompanied by accurate and easily found sources with page numbers; they will double-check spelling and grammar, ensure consistency throughout, and polish up confusing sentences; and they will bring to your attention that the paragraph in the introduction is actually the same paragraph you have in section such-and-such, and that Figure 4 may actually bring the reader to a conclusion opposite from the one you intend.
This brings us to the main reason the editorial process is important: the reader.
In service of the reader
As an editor, I try to follow the advice of Carol Fisher Saller (2016: 25), editor of the Q&A for the Chicago Manual of Style Online:
Carefulness, transparency, and flexibility are the three paths to editing enlightenment.
At first consideration, enlightenment is something one pursues for oneself. But, if you look up synonyms for enlightenment, you’ll find explanation, illumination, clarification, information, insight, instruction, and education. What all these actions have in common is that they are focused on making something better or more easily understood for someone else – in our case, the reader.
As a group, copyeditors are detail-oriented, often interested in many subjects, and – let’s face it – a bit intense. We live to correct typos and query inconsistencies. So naturally, it would be against my own best interests to advise authors to submit perfect manuscripts – after all, we like correcting mistakes. But there are some things that you as authors can do before you submit a manuscript that will contribute towards an end result of higher quality – benefitting you, the publisher (in my case, Nordicom), and ultimately, the reader.
Become familiar with the guidelines
According to Saller (and I agree), “guidelines for writers aren’t intended to produce a production-ready document; they merely eliminate part of the cleanup” (2016: 66). So, you shouldn’t be scared away. Most guidelines are there for the editor’s convenience, so they don’t have to think about most decisions with every new manuscript. We don’t expect authors to be experts in the guidelines, but we do expect them to pay attention and at least try to follow as much as they can.
Have your manuscript proofread
Proofreading and copyediting are not the same thing. Though technically, proofreading is identifying errors introduced during typesetting – in other words, the “reading of proofs” – it is also widely used to mean reading a text to identify spelling and grammar mistakes. Especially if you are not a native-English speaker, having your manuscript professionally proofread before submission will allow the manuscript editor to focus more on – and therefore catch more – matters of syntax, flow, and language, not to mention formatting. If you can provide the proofreader with the publisher’s guidelines, all the better.
Communicate your preferences early
The English language has many subjective areas. While most in-house style guides have a list of standards for usage, any given manuscript will always present at least one more decision. If you feel strongly about how a certain word or phrase is treated, it’s better to communicate this before your editor meticulously changes them all to a different treatment.
Pay attention to the basics
Preferably before you begin writing – but really, whenever you think of it – take a few moments to adjust your settings. “Select all” and choose the appropriate language (spell-check is useless without that); left-align everything (those pesky extra spaces will have nowhere to hide); add page numbers (the first time your editor scrolls down to check the references list and then realises there are no page numbers to direct their return, they’ll thank you); and for your editor’s sake, don’t get fancy (section breaks, field codes, special headings, etc.).
Remember you’re the subject expert
Even though your editor is likely to have a certain level of knowledge and experience in your field, it is unlikely that they are an expert. While we hope to be experts in the language, when it comes to the subject, we have to rely a least some on you to ensure everything is correct and ethical. We can point out inconsistencies or “red flags”, and may come across a misquoted passage by happenstance, but in the end you as an author are ultimately responsible for the integrity of the manuscript. Ideally, authors will leave time in the writing process to let the manuscript sit for a few days before a final read-through.
If there is time in the writing process, leaving the text (the longer, the better!) before going back to it again gives the author “a set of fresh eyes”. This helps in terms of detecting potential inconsistencies and odd sentences or constructions of meaning. As the copyeditor is not an expert in the field, this will make it less likely for certain inconsistencies to go undetected.Anja Vranic, research assistant, University of Oslo
Create a reliable reference list
My recommendation is to take a minute or two to write out a complete and accurate reference list entry before you cite it in your text. But if you find yourself scrambling to fill out your reference list the day before your submission date, then keep in mind that information is power. In other words, if in doubt, include it. We can correct formatting, italicise that pesky comma, add the “https” to the DOI, but if the information isn’t there, we have to investigate. Any time investigation is involved, there’s a chance for an error to be introduced.
Above, I mentioned flexibility as part of the trifecta of editing enlightenment – it can also bring enlightenment to an author. Some of my best experiences editing is when an author and I can mutually compromise to come up with a solution. I find that if I show I’m flexible on the things that don’t necessarily matter in the scheme of things, I’m more likely to be well-received when it’s a matter that I really can’t budge on.
There’s nothing better as an editor than encountering conscientious authors. If you wonder about something, even if you think it’s silly, you should not hesitate to ask your editor.
Einsohn, A., & Schwartz, M. (2019). The copyeditor’s handbook: A guide for book publishing and corporate communications (4thed.). Oakland, California: University of California Press.
Saller, C. F. (2016). The subversive copy editor: Advice from Chicago (or, how to negotiate good relationships with your writers, your colleagues, and yourself) (2nd ed.). Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.