When publishers receive the author's text, it is usually submitted for copy-editing. The role of the copy-editor is to check the manuscript to ensure that it:
• follows the correct style for setting the references (in the text and in the list);
• includes all the references cited in the text in the reference list (and that there are no omissions or additions), and vice versa;
• is consistent in its punctuation for lists (such as this one);
• uses proper grammar;
• contains no typographical or spelling errors;
• reads well in terms of clarity of expression; and
• contains no obvious errors of fact or interpretation.
The copy-edited text is usually sent to the author for approval before it is finally sent to the typesetter for coding and computer-based print production.
Table 4.3.1 lists some common problems that authors should attend to before submitting a manuscript for publication.
Table 4.3.1 Some common problems that authors should attend to before submitting a manuscript
Errors in reference lists awkward, dense or overly long sentences; frequent repetition of the same word in a paragraph; mixture rather than consistent use of appropriate tense; misspellings, and inconsistencies in the spellings of authors' names; the references contain works not included in the text, and vice versa.
text citations not in alphabetical order - (Jones, 1986: Adler, 1992) is incorrect; Adler should be first;
use of '&' in text - Jones & Johnson (1986) is not correct; it should be Jones and Johnson (1986);
use of '&' in bracketed reference - (Jones and Johnson, 1986) is incorrect; it should be (Jones & Johnston, 1986); punctuation of 'e.g.' should be 'e.g.,'
Too many to mention - if done by hand rather than by computer; frequent ones include:
failure to put a full stop after (Ed.), when the edited book is the only citation;
failure to put a comma after (Ed.), when the reference is to a chapter in an edited book;
failure to capitalise the first letter of a subtitle, after a colon; failure to give page numbers to an article in an edited book before the place and publisher, rather than after them; failure to put a space after pp. when indicating page numbers (e.g., pp. 102-5);
failure to use capital letters for the keywords in a journal's title and lower-case for those in a book title; failure to include part numbers for journal references; format incorrect for signifying volume and part numbers in a journal (in the APA style, this should be 36(2) not 36 (2), or 36, 2); confusion over how to cite electronic references; the correct format is: Retrieved 20 August 2005 from www.whatever.com/. Yes, there is a full stop at the end.
Adapted from Hernon and Schwartz (2005), with permission of the authors and Elsevier Ltd.
Clearly, the more the author attends to these details in advance, the less the copy-editor has to do. Copy-editors improve the manuscript by their practised attention to detail - which most authors do not have. Copy-editors, however, might cause delays in the production process when they suggest changes that the authors disagree with, or ask them to write more text.
Copy-editors have a more difficult task when they are dealing with translated books or papers, or when authors are writing in their second language. Here, the copy-editor has to consider the appropriateness of individual words, rewriting individual sentences and, possibly, whole paragraphs (see Misak et al., 2005; Shashok and Kerans, 2000).
I expressed the view in Chapter 1.1 that, with new technology, it was now harder to detect changes in an author's manuscript than it was before. This may be true, but research on copy-editing has begun to focus on the changes that copy-editors make to the finally submitted manuscripts. Wates and Campbell (2007), for instance, examined the changes made to 189 research articles taken from a mixture of journals in the sciences, social sciences and the humanities. Five kinds of change were recorded:
• the copy-editors' suggestions for typographical changes on the proofs;
• the copy-editors' suggestions for more substantial changes on the proofs;
• the number of changes made by the author in response to these;
• the number of suggestions ignored by the author; and
• the number of additional changes made by the author.
The results showed that, on average, there were nine queries per article, and authors responded to 8.4 of these, which left 0.6 (on average) ignored or unanswered. Forty-three per cent of the queries related to the accuracy of the references, thirty-five per cent to minor syntactical or grammatical errors, fourteen per cent to missing data, six per cent to correcting errors that might have led to misunderstandings or misinterpretations, and four per cent to appropriate terminology for units of measurement. Wates and Campbell (2007) concluded that copy editors were doing a valuable job and that none of the changes that they suggested materially altered the conclusions of the articles in question. This, however, was not the conclusion of Goodman et al. (2007).
Goodman et al. compared twenty-four authors' manuscripts placed on open access (after peer review) with their edited versions that finally appeared in print. Twelve of these articles were from journals in the social sciences, and twelve from the field of biochemistry. Comparisons were made between three main levels of assessment:
1 errors that would be normally adjusted by proof reading or minor copy-editing;
2 omissions that copy-editors would not necessarily be able to correct; and
3 severe differences (in the data or the conclusions) which could lead two readers, each with a different version, to draw different conclusions.
The researchers found that seven of the twelve social science articles presented no problems above level 1, but that, for the other five, three were more detailed in the authors' online versions than in the printed ones, and two were the reverse of this, omitting details that were necessary to evaluate the validity of the conclusions. Better results were found with the biochemistry articles. Here, eight provided no problems above level 1, two of the published versions were slightly improved by the editing process, and two were substantially improved in this respect.
Goodman et al. concluded that, in the context of open-access publishing, there might sometimes be copy-edited changes to open-access papers that could lead to errors in the finally printed versions although, in most cases, the changes led to improvements.
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