Strategies through the Maze
Authors seek the assistance of professional translation experts or academic editors in part because we can help them navigate the maze of demands made by different academic journals. Some of these demands are matters of disciplinary or geographic convention, and then there are some that simply seem like a matter of control: “Do it our way or else!”
No matter the rationale, our mission as professional editors and translators is to help ensure manuscripts conform to journal guidelines so that they can be assessed solely on their merits, without inappropriate formatting or incomprehensible language getting in their way. As someone who occasionally performs journal article editing, in addition to being a frequent journal reviewer and an article author, I’d like to offer some strategies for accomplishing this mission with minimal pain.
1) Read the style sheet, and all instructions to authors found on the journal website, before diving into the article for the first time. Print a copy of the style sheet if possible. One of the challenges that an academic editor faces is that journal style sheets often refer to and rely on more comprehensive manuals, such as the Chicago Manual of Style, the American Psychological Association Publication Manual, and the Oxford Guide to Style.
These resources can run to hundreds of pages and include detailed instructions on everything from comma placement to spelling and capitalization to the formatting of citations. What’s more, individual journals often depart from such standard references on particular points. If you are not familiar with the manual at hand, take a moment to skim it to get to know the contents.
Keep the guidelines in mind as you edit or translate the content. However, don’t spend too much energy focusing on style guidelines at this point.
2) Once the major work of shaping the manuscript is completed, return to the items on the style sheet. By this point you should be so familiar with the manuscript that another read-through of the style sheet will help you know where to focus your attention: Are hyphens and em-dashes used correctly? How about discipline-specific terminology? Do you need to substitute British spelling ("favour," "realise") for American usage ("favor," "realize")?
3) Go through the manuscript again to edit for these formatting issues. Running a Find/Replace search is a helpful way to begin. Keep a notepad next to the computer where you can mark down additional spots to return to as you notice them during this search.
4) Repeat steps 2-3 with a focus on citation style and bibliographic formatting. Even the most experienced writers and editors need to verify exactly where to put periods and commas, and exactly what to do with journal volume, issue, and page numbers, so don’t worry about trying to memorize every detail of different citation systems. Find the relevant examples by searching reliable sources linked from library websites, read over the guidelines, then dig into the manuscript and clean up any problems you find. Be especially careful with citation systems like Endnote and Zotero, which are good but not foolproof; double-check entries created with these
tools as well.
5) Make sure that all sources listed in the bibliography are actually referenced in the manuscript! Likewise, make sure all sources cited in the manuscript are listed in the bibliography or Works Cited list.
6) Where relevant, ensure that instructions to authors regarding accompanying documents are also carefully followed. The cover letter and declaration of competing interests need to be effectively written and error-free. The abstract and keywords should do a good job of summarizing the manuscript, while conforming to length requirements. Disregarding these elements may negate all the hard work that has gone into formatting the manuscript itself.
7) Sometimes, authors neglect to include all the sections of the manuscript that the journal requires; the article is there, but not the abstract, keywords, cover letter, or other sections. While you need not produce the missing material, let the author know in a comment which sections are lacking and where they should appear in the final version.
The goal of all this work is to let the content of the manuscript shine without vexing the editor. Editors are ultimately responsible for ensuring that articles published in their journals are pristine and error-free. Editors often reject sloppy manuscripts because they suspect careless authors will have difficulties working within the subsequent stages of revision and page-proofing. Few editors wish to risk having an unpolished or error-filled text go to press. It is incumbent upon those of us hired by authors to be meticulous with manuscript formatting.
Play some music in the background as you do this painstaking work and let yourself enjoy the academic paper editing process!Format my article!