Objective: To propose a “problem–solution” structure for author queries that aim for clarification of ambiguities or correction of errors. To show how longer “narrative” queries can be restructured to assure faster resolution during short journal production cycles.
Mary Ellen Kerans has taught English for specific purposes in the health sciences and is now mainly a freelance translator and author’s editor in Barcelona, Spain. A main interest of hers is bilingual journal publication and copyediting processes for journals receiving mainly articles from non-native-English writers.
Background: Editorial querying practices vary according to such factors as a translator/editor’s preferences and skill with computers, the purpose of querying (extensive vs. limited revision), and the perception of the translator/editor’s role (closed or open, superficial or deep). Queries, along with suggestions and criticism, also feature in the letter that journal gatekeeping editors send to authors to communicate the results of peer review.
New problems: Such systems aim to elicit an author’s careful revision. They are not suited to situations when rapid editing or translation of a manuscript is needed, such as in modern journal production cycles. Our journal translation team needed a more efficient system for obtaining information and for documenting authors’ permission to correct errors detected in page proofs during the translation process. The new system could not encourage author revision at the final stage of the publication cycle or lead to time-consuming dialog with authors.
Solution: We adapted an engineering genre (the situation–problem–solution–evaluation report) to create an e-mail query structure with four moves: 1) situation, 2) problem, 3) solution, and 4) request for action (evaluation of the solution or provision of explicit information). This format has guided rapid-turnaround, information-rich e-mailing with authors. It has generated no conflict over the several years it has been used and it has been extrapolated to journal copyediting of manuscripts by authors who are not native speakers of English and author’s editing when substantive revision is not a goal.