Wednesday, June 13, 2018

One (of Many) Pet Peeves

I believe some (okay, many) copy-editors get some kind of sick thrill out of enraging authors by using as much red ink as possible. Can they not understand that there are diminishing returns to marginal improvements in papers that already are of sufficient quality to have received publication offers? If a doctor's first rule is to "do no harm," then a copy-editor's first rule should be, "don't fix what's not broken." Most authors spend inordinate amounts of time editing and polishing their work, taking account of comments from reviewers (who mostly wish the author had written a different paper - one that they would have written if they could), and sending the paper to yet another journal after yet another rejection letter. Then, after the paper is finally accepted for publication, and the author breathes a sign of relief, the copy-editor dumps red ink all over the paper.

I have in mind, of course, a very present experience, only one detail of which matters. I am not the sole author. Therefore, I cannot summarily do what I have become accustomed to do in recent years with solo-authored works: pull them from publication after acceptance because of a domineering editor or overly meddlesome copy-editor. I have not done this often - no more than two times in the past five years or so. Some of you no doubt will be wondering: "Isn't that more costly for you than for the journal or its copy-editor." My answer is: "No, not really." For one thing, I ultimately find a decent home for all of my articles. And it doesn't really matter whether it takes an extra year or two because I publish enough each year to more than justify my summer research stipends.

I should hasten to add that I love good copy-editors, and I've probably had two good ones for every bad one. Regular readers of my posts will have noticed that I am not the world's best (or most careful) writer. Good copy-editing has often turned a decent paper of mine into a quite good one (if I do say so myself). But these good copy-editors invariably understand the rule: don't fix what isn't broken. They simply try to help the author say what they think the author is trying to say, but not as well as he or she might say it for the benefit of the reader. A good copy-editor is priceless. A bad one is worse than worthless.

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