Thread: Research

Improving what gets published: who’s improving texts as written communications?

Karen Shashok – Granada, Spain

Many types of editors can improve texts as written communications, but recent changes in publishing have contributed to confusion over who is currently doing the best job. Rather than determining who should be responsible, this exploratory study aimed to identify who actually is improving research articles as written communications.

The editorial policies, instructions to authors and guidelines for reviewers of journals in experimental, social and health science disciplines were analyzed to identify expectations and policies on writing quality. E-mail forums and journals about editing were searched for information about editorial quality. Case studies from translators and authors’ records were analyzed to identify who made improvements in research articles that were eventually published.

Preliminary findings suggest that the role of journal editors, peer reviewers and copyeditors as revisers and improvers of texts is decreasing, while the role of authors themselves and those who help them write, translate or edit their material is increasing. Publishers and editors warned that manuscripts with too many problems with “the English” could be rejected without review. There appears to be a trend for journals to decline to provide substantive editing, advising authors instead to obtain editing assistance before submitting their manuscript. Editors noted overlap between functions performed by different types of editors, and noted that quality seems to be declining. Editors who work with authors on texts before or after peer review perceive that feedback about the language and writing from gatekeepers is sometimes not helpful.

Practices differ among manuscripts, journals, disciplines and publishers, and definitions of quality vary. Authors who are proficient writers may provide most of the quality in written communication, and may need to resist unhelpful suggestions from editors and reviewers who are not skilled in text revision and manuscript editing. Texts by less proficient writers may be improved substantially by collaborative revision guided by the translator, author’s editor, peer reviewer or editor (or by all of these advisors). Because copyediting provided by the publisher may be inadequate, translators and authors’ editors recommend that authors polish their texts as much as possible before formal peer review and acceptance.

Karen Shashok is a translator and editorial consultant. She publishes and speaks regularly on topics related to English language communication in academic disciplines.