Don't let publishers and copy-editors bully you into accepting their often illogical and distorting changes to your text.
Insist that you will not allow your paper to be included in their books and journals unless you have the ultimate say on what the content is, and no copy editor should be allowed to make any change without asking you first.
Unfortunately, too many of the copy-editors who are employed to work on scientific or academic texts are both ignorant of the subject matter and slavishly committed to following out of date stylistic rules that may be relevant to literary essays written a hundred years ago but have no relevance to modern scientific and academic communication, and when applied blindly to your text can seriously change the sense of what you had written. (Examples below.)
It is not easy to notice such changes, especially without electronic tools to point up differences between original and new version, and some dreadful alterations of meaning resulting from something as simple as insertion or removal of a comma have got through to the final published version because I did not spot them when reading paper proofs. Human brains did not evolve for proof-reading.
Note added 3 May 2018:
I am pleased to say that I have just received the edited proof of a paper for the MDPI journal Information, where all the main changes were clearly marked by colour changes in the PDF file, and most of the changes were acceptable. However, as often happens, multiple spurious commas had been inserted after "e.g.", blindly following an out of date style rule criticised below for confusing parenthetical and forward referring uses of "for example" or "e.g.".
But when I pointed out the error of confusing those two uses, the MDPI Editor immediately removed all the unwanted commas, and said they would pass on the information about the distinction to their copy editors. The article is online here, as evidence: http://www.mdpi.com/2078-2489/9/5/111
You may be afraid to resist copy-editors because too often job applications, tenure or promotion depend on numbers of publications, but if we all put our foot down, publishers will have to take note.
It's your work: don't let them spoil it and make you waste your time resisting or undoing their attempts to spoil it.
I hope more people will join an anti-copy-editing resistance army, so that in future we can suffer less from time-wasting and often also intrusive and corrosive attempts to mangle our manuscripts (driven by somebody's rule-book rather than common sense and an understanding of communication), while leaving it open for those who are not expert in the language to use their help. I have been reading, writing, and speaking English, and teaching in English for over three quarters of a century. Although I make some mistakes, I don't see why publishers should give someone with an inferior grasp of the language, and a lack of relevant technical knowledge concerning the content of what I have written, freedom to make whatever changes they like without even asking my permission or marking the proposed changes so that I can find them quickly.
This is extreme discourtesy and inconsiderateness. Unfortunately, this dictatorial procedure is what most publishers seem to think is their right.
Of course, I have no objection to people who are less experienced and less confident in their use of English willingly handing over responsibility for improving style, spelling and clarity to an expert. But that should be an explicitly agreed option, not the default procedure.
Note added: 2 Oct 2012
It has been pointed out to me more than once that there are copy-editors who agree with some or all of the views expressed below about out of date style rules, but are constrained by the publishers who employ them.
If anyone reading this is in that category, please treat this document as something to show employers, instead of regarding it as a personal criticism. See the Comments page.
Comments received are
here (latest: 2 Oct 2012)
A style guide not to be followed: Shrunk and White
Criticised by Geoffrey Pullum
50 Years of Stupid Grammar Advice
By Geoffrey K. Pullum,
Professor of General Linguistics Edinburgh University.Apparently Strunk & White's The Elements of Style (first edition 1918; most recent Pearson Education Company, 2000) is widely used by teachers in the USA. I think this devastating (and funny) criticism should be a warning to all who believe that something that is widely recommended must be good.
This is how Pullum's review starts:"April 16 is the 50th anniversary of the publication of a little book that is loved and admired throughout American academe. Celebrations, readings, and toasts are being held, and a commemorative edition has been released.Nor I, after reading what he had to say about the book, including:
I won't be celebrating. ......"Its advice ranges from limp platitudes to inconsistent nonsense. Its enormous influence has not improved American students' grasp of English grammar; it has significantly degraded it.
OUP in the USA are an example, and it seriously limits the usefulness for teaching and research of a book like Who Needs Emotions?: The Brain Meets the Robot, (Eds. M. Arbib and J-M. Fellous).
I was glad to find that OUP in the UK are more sensible, and allowed Margaret Boden to use numbered sections in her two volume history of cognitive science.Even the AAAI does not allow numbered sections in its conference and workshop publications, alas. (Note 2016: This may now be out of date.)
Compare: Why did you shout "Stop at once!" ? The exclamation mark is part of the content of what is quoted and goes inside. The question mark is not, and goes outside.
Likewise this is sensible
Is his name "Tom", "Tommy" or "Thomas"?whereas this is illogical:
Is his name "Tom," "Tommy" or "Thomas?"What is right for a novel full of quoted verbal interactions is not right for a scientific or philosophical article where a quoted item, such as ",", or a phrase, such as "or a phrase", is as much an indivisible unit as a word. Would you put periods or commas before the last letter of a word? The logic of the brain-clamped rule about quotations would have required me to use the following absurd form instead of what I wrote above:
... a quoted item, such as ",," or a phrase, such as "or a phrase," ...In Jack Lynch's guide it is clear that he understands that the standard usage is illogical, but recommends sticking with it because "it's what publishers expect". Well, since that's the only reason, it's time we started educating publishers so that we can teach our children and our students to think and write logically instead of blindly following arbitrary rules.
NOTE ADDED 28 Jul 2012: The Secular Web
I was surprised and disappointed to find that a web site as rational and liberated as The Secular Web owned and operated by Internet Infidels, Inc. insists on enforcing such an irrational punctuation convention (apparently on the sole grounds that that's the American way to do things). See http://www.infidels.org/infidels/errors.html
They also have a rule forbidding hyphens after various prefixes including 'meta'. That kind of (religious?) rigidity is out of place in a world where there are already some established conventions. For example one of my PhD students invented a concept of "meta-management" and people searching for references using the hyphen will get fewer miss-hits than those searching without the hyphen.
Likewise, I've invented a concept
and I use the hyphen to prevent misinterpretation of the term as if it were
"metamorpho-genesis", or "metamorph-ogenesis", i.e. something to do with
creation, or emergence of something called "metamorph". If anyone from The
Secular Web reads this I hope they will reconsider their rigidity. (I wholly
endorse their main aims, however: see my
I don't object to people who want to insert the spurious comma in their own
writings, but trying to make others do it is unjustifiably dictatorial.
These are not merely transatlantic disagreements. For example, I found a mostly excellent style guide at the University of Guelph (in Canada) here, which makes many of the same points as I am making, though they do recommend the illogical rule about inserting commas and periods before closing quotation marks, while requiring semi-colons and colons to go after. WHY???
Why do for quotation marks what they would never dream of doing for brackets?
"Tom, Dick, and Harry" and "Tom, Dick, or Harry" versus "Tom, Dick and Harry" and "Tom, Dick or Harry".My own view is that in most contexts it does not matter which is used; and bothering to insist on uniformity on this is a waste of human energy and brain power. However, there are some contexts where the comma helps to reduce ambiguity, e.g. where the items listed are represented not by individual words but by phrases, e.g. in this sentence:
It makes a difference whether items are sorted according to whether they are big or small, red or yellow, or fat or thin.The last comma (an Oxford comma) helps to make it easier to parse that sentence and no matter how many style guides or pedants stipulate that it should be removed, I will go on using it.
For more on this see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Serial_comma. http://www.askoxford.com/asktheexperts/faq/aboutother/oxfordcomma which states:
"Some people do not realize that the Oxford comma is acceptable, possibly because they were brought up with the supposed rule (which Fowler would call a 'superstition') about putting punctuation marks before and."
There are some occasions when you wish to refer not to the paper, but to the author. For example, Turing (1950) refuted many objections to the possibility of AI. It was the man, not his paper, that refuted the objections. So we could say that some researchers did not understand the refutations by Turing (1950). In these examples we are referring to the person and parenthetically pointing to the publication in which the work was done. Then it is appropriate to use 'by'. When we are referring not to the person, but to the publication, it is normally appropriate to use 'in'. Of course we can talk about the effects of the paper, and then use 'by', e.g. many readers were misled by Turing (1950) because they did not read it (NB: 'it', not 'him') carefully.
Intelligent readers will be able to tell whether you are referring to the paper or the author(s). It is ridiculous to assume that all references are to authors.
As a reader I hate being forced to do that, so I do not wish to inflict that pain on readers of what I write. If a publisher will not allow notes at the bottom of a page I'll simply rewrite the material so that all the notes are inline, e.g. using parentheses where appropriate. That will often interrupt the flow of the text, but no more than being required to go searching for the end of a chapter or article.
It is sensible to put commas before and after "for example" when the phrase is parenthetical, implying that what has just been mentioned is an example of something general, as in my previous paragraph. However there is no logic in inserting a comma after "for example" when it introduces an example, for example in this sentence, or in cases where "such as" could be substituted, which would not be used with a following comma, e.g.
Nasty things can happen as you open a car door in order to get out, such as a cyclist that you had not seen coming crashing into it.
An exception (i.e. a context where a comma is appropriate) is the use of "For example" to start a new sentence, where the comma marks the real beginning of the sentence and the "For example" is isolated as a pointer to something mentioned earlier that is now going to be exemplified. For example, I did that in one of my sentences about Turing, above, and again in this sentence.
Following that style rule blindly has the very bad consequence of blurring the distinction between
(a) parenthetical uses of 'for example' referring backwards, and
(b) the more common use referring forwards, i.e. introducing one or more examples.
In the latter case it is as illogical to insert a comma after 'e.g.' or 'for example' as it would be to insert it after a preposition or relative pronoun introducing a phrase, or after a verb or participle introducing one or more objects. For instance:
'on the table', NOT 'on, the table' 'where you were' NOT 'where, you are' 'containing eggs and beans' NOT 'containing, eggs and beans' 'including prime numbers' NOT 'including, prime numbers' likewise 'e.g. apples and pairs' NOT 'e.g., apples and pairs'
Similar comments can be made about always adding a comma after 'i.e.' or 'that is':
'i.e. leave it out' NOT 'i.e., leave it out'Many copy-editors seem to have been so brain-washed by the rigid training they have to go through, or so rigidly instructed by their employers, that they cannot understand the differences between these uses of the phrase, and so they blindly insert the unwanted commas all over the place. (I am pleased to acknowledge that some of them are willing to accept my argument about the illogicality of that strategy, like the MDPI copy-editor referenced above.)
An example of the insertion of a comma adding an unwanted ambiguity to my text is the change from this:
This is a mixture of good and bad: the good is the description of what is going on in a human-like virtual machine, for example during certain kinds of perception.to this:
This is a mixture of good and bad: the good is the description of what is going on in a human-like virtual machine, for example, during certain kinds of perception.Is the example the virtual machine or the process of perception? Leaving out the second comma makes the answer unambiguous.
But insisting on my calling them "chapters" rather than "papers" is arbitrary and unjustified, where either the papers are reprinted in a book, having been written separately or were written separately for a book by different authors, who could just as well have published them separately.
Unfortunately, some puritanical publishers want to ban the use of these devices, such as using italics for emphasis or other purposes.
Of course we all know about cases where the use of italics is excessive and irritating. But there is nothing wrong with occasionally using italics, for instance to identify points of contrast in a pair of alternatives (as I have just done) or to make an important principle or slogan stand out, for instance the principle that copy-editors should aim at minimal intervention, or something like: If you don't have to do it then don't do it.
Despite average IQs in the mid-1950s, adolescents and adultsIt made no sense to me until I guessed that the author probably wrote:
Despite average IQs in the mid-50s, adolescents and adults
and some rule-driven copy-editor with no understanding of the content assumed that was an abbreviated reference to a date rather than an IQ score, and moronically expanded the date, as dictated by some house rule.
I don't blame the author for not spotting the error at proof stage: I blame a system that allows ignorant copy-editors to have a go at messing up academic papers when they have no understanding of the subject matter, and thereby wasting huge amounts of time of authors having to pick through all the changes in order to undo the mistakes -- which can sometimes be hard to spot. Not all brilliant writers are brilliant proof-readers.
I knew, from my own experience of learning and doing mathematics, that that was false: ... ... find it obvious that that must create a list with the original elements in the original order
But mostly I forget and in fact the distinction is mostly ignored by writers and speakers in and out of academe, and actually has no historical justification according to both Jack Lynch's web site and Paul Brians' web site.
So please, copy editors, don't waste your time and mine by changing occurrences of 'which' to 'that'. It risks causing a change in meaning because I really did intend the 'which' clause to be parenthetical, even if you could not understand that. Remember: academics write to communicate with people interested in or working in the field, not to please pedantic copy-editors who don't understand the text because their interests lie elsewhere.
For example, in English, common nouns like "house" and "method" can be used either to refer to a common *type* or else to categorise *instances* of that type. In the latter context they are pluralised when there's more than one instance referred to, e.g. "three houses", "five methods".
When such words are used in a sentence referring to the type, or category, there is one type (e.g. "house") but there may be several subtypes. So I can refer to three types of house: i.e. the (single) type "house" has, among others, three subtypes, namely bungalow, cottage, semi-detached, etc...
Unfortunately, the editor has replaced many, but not all, of my singular uses of a type word in such contexts with plural versions, producing what is strictly gibberish (though it may be common in sloppy colloquial English). For example, where I had written:
e.g. types of plant, types of animal, types of reproduction, ...the edited text was changed to
e.g. types of plants, types of animals, types of reproduction,So why not "types of reproductions" ?? That would obviously be wrong, and for the same reason the earlier plurals are wrong, but not so obviously.
Another example of this phenomenon:
A well educated biologist describing an organism with six eyes, two facing
forward, two facing sideways, and two facing upwards, with different structures
and different functions would write "The organism has three types of eye, two of
each type" not "The organism has three types of eyes, two of each type".
[My wife, who taught biology for many years agreed, after pausing to think about it.]
Similarly, a hybrid car engine has two types of engine, not two types of engines.
The reduced search space contains fewer samples from the original possibilities,The editor changed this to
The reduced search space contains fewer samples than the original possibilities,clearly failing to understand the concept of samples chosen *from* a set.
This sort of spurious "improvement" occurs all over the place. I can't guarantee that I'll find and correct them all when proof reading, especially when I am not given the new version in a format that can be directly compared with my original text source (usually latex).
Everyone understands what you mean whether you say 'The bird flew towards its
nest' or 'The bird flew toward its nest'. Why waste my and your time bothering
with changing the text when it makes no real difference? I am glad to see that
Jack Lynch agrees as does Paul Brians.
Production and checking of bibliographies in academic articles wastes far too much valuable time and effort given how little they are used (especially now that alternative sources are far more easily available online, and accessing referenced items typically does not require all the details in the bibliography).
When last did you need to know the address of a publisher mentioned in a journal paper's bibliography???? Requiring people to chase up information that nobody will ever need is complete idiocy and a waste of our time. Moreover, such addresses can easily become out of date, since publishers move, or move some of their activities from one place to another, There are now far quicker and more reliable ways of gaining information about a publisher than looking at an entry in a printed bibliography. It's time to abandon the address requirement although it could remain as an option.
I suggest that before you enter into any relationship with them you should make your conditions and requirements very clear and if they will not agree then take your work to another publisher.
It's not just Oxford University Press. One of my colleagues told me that he had also had dreadful problems with Cambridge University Press copy-editing of a co-authored book full of highly technical content that was not understood at all by the copy-editor. There were so many errors and they were so serious that the authors threatened to withdraw the book unless they were allowed submit their own camera-ready version produced using Latex. Fortunately their commissioning editor was intelligent enough to agree, and sales of the book were so successful that it is now into its second edition and has even been translated into Chinese. Michael Huth, one of the authors, tells me that he has recently had good experiences with CUP copy-editors, who really understood the technical content of his work.
I've been asked to contribute to a book to be published by MIT press, and I am now wishing I had not agreed, because of the hassle it has caused me.
"Notes must be gathered at the end of the file; do not place the notes at the bottom of the page--that is, use endnotes, not footnotes."That is one of the requirements I find intolerable, as explained above, and this is causing problems in connection with the book I was asked to contribute to.
and also: "Use your word processor's automatic note inserting and numbering function, set for endnotes and not footnotes. Place all notes at the end of the file. In the published book, the notes will appear at the end of the volume."
"Place periods and commas inside closed quotation marks; place colons and semicolons outside" another illogical and objectionable requirement, as explained above.
"The text must be in one of the major word-processing programs for the Mac or PC, preferably Microsoft Word.It looks to me as if they have never heard of Unix, Linux, Solaris or LaTeX.
Do not submit PDFs of your text; send only word-processing files."
"Your manuscript editor will return the edited manuscript to you as a protected Word file, along with a style sheet and guidelines for reviewing the editing and responding to queries."A bad point is that they can only do it as a protected Word file. Other publishers I have dealt with provide proofs in PDF format, which is much more likely to be platform independent.
All elements of the manuscript must be double spaced. This includes the text, notes, references, block quotations, figure legends, tables, and displays (the only exception is long tables; these may be single spaced).I cannot see any reason for requiring double spacing (which wastes paper, adds to postage costs, increases the bulk of a document that is being read while travelling, etc.) -- except out of date procedures that rely on using paper corrections. This does not seem to square with the above quotation about use of electronic proofs. Perhaps there is a reason for requiring double spacing that I have not thought of?
Use italics for words used as words (as in "it seemed that possible was the operative word"); ....This flies in the face of well established usage in some academic disciplines. Why not let academics do things the way they think best?
Note added 7 Sep 2008: I am glad to say that I learnt, by writing to one of the senior people on the editorial list at MIT Press that they do accept submissions in Latex. It's hard to discover that from their web site. That suggests that they are not keen on Latex.
Shimon Edelman has just had his book, Computing the Mind published by OUP.
They introduced serious errors AFTER the galley proof stage. See http://kybele.psych.cornell.edu/~edelman/Computing-the-Mind-corrigenda.html
However, I believe they allowed him to typeset it all using Latex. I wonder how many errors there would have been if it had been done the usual way?
Can any publisher be trusted to do the job properly?
I recently had bad experiences with a copy-editor working for Elsevier. I had
four invited contributions to a compilation they were supposed to publish in time for the Turing Centenary year.
I had previously thought that Elsevier's experience of scientific publishing had taught them the folly of rigidly applying ancient style rules based on preferences of literary folk a century ago, or more.
The awful errors they introduced, and the mess they made trying to fix things later drove the editor of the collection to take charge and re-do everything in latex (I believe). As a result publication has been delayed by well over a year and apparently several contributors have wasted many hours of their precious time on the mess made by Elsevier's copy-editors.
Maybe that's yet another reason to sign up to http://thecostofknowledge.com/
As in so many other cases a lot of changes had been made without being marked, so I had to set up a file-comparison process to identify them. Some were minor but annoying, and some irritating new inconsistencies were introduced.
Example: I had been inconsistent in comma-inserting style. But the copy editing had deleted some marginally useful commas and some important ones. Moreover, in some places where I deliberately left out commas they had been inserted. E.g. compare the discussion of commas after "e.g." above.
There were also cases where I had deliberately hyphenated "construction-kit" to make it easier for people to come across bits of my text using the hyphen in search engines. They were removed by the editor. But in some places where I had been inconsistent and there was no hyphen, the editor inserted a hyphen!!!.
Are copy-editors paid according to the number of changes they make?
I know I am not the only academic author who has had to waste many hours finding and correcting such errors produced by copy editors. Why do publishers go on allowing this? In part this spurious extra labour is what we are paying for when journals that should be freely available online because the research they report is all publicly funded are only available at great cost to teaching and research institutions.
People who are writing in a language in which they are not expert should be encouraged to work together with a copy-editor knowledgeable about the subject matter,who may or may not be a professional. The result should be a product of collaboration between author and copy-editor. Ideally help should come from an expert copy editor recommended by colleagues on the basis of past experience, rather one that happens to work for the publisher. On this basis an author might build up a productive working relationship with a particular editor, who is then used for all the author's work. This could be paid for by departmental funds or research grants. The cost might be much lower than the cost of all the time authors have to spend fixing badly edited publications plus the increased costs of journals. (Many of them have shareholders who get their share of course.)
Maintained by Aaron Sloman
Updated: 11 Nov 2013; 1 Sep 2016; 5 Jul 2018; 31 May 2020
4 Nov 2009; 13 Apr 2010; 28 Jul 2012; 2 Aug 2012; 1 Feb 2013;
Installed: Circa 2005?