In academic circles, it’s a familiar scenario: authors, who have dedicated years to becoming experts in their respective fields, often find themselves in a position where their work is subject to editing, a process they may not have willingly chosen. The author eagerly awaits feedback, only to receive the document back covered in red lines. Panic sets in, and they may feel a surge of defensiveness toward the editor who seemingly dissected their carefully crafted text. At this moment, the editorial process turns adversarial, inadvertently pitting the author against the editor. Ironically, this clash can even occur when the author is well aware of the value that a meticulous editing process can bring to their text.
This post is specifically tailored for authors who confront this common scenario, aiming to provide them with valuable strategies to navigate the editing process, especially when it’s not their preferred professional activity.
We Are All Experts
It’s important for authors to keep in mind that their editors are also experts in their own field. Authors, as subject matter experts, have invested years in their research (and writing) to reach their current positions. The academic journey involves dedicated exploration and in-depth knowledge acquisition within a particular field. Conversely, editors possess expertise in language and style, having dedicated years to mastering style rules, linguistic intricacies, and the art of effective communication. They are well-versed in the nuances that make academic writing clear, concise, and impactful.
Academic authors and editors, though specializing in different areas, share a common goal: to enhance the quality and reach of scholarly work. Authors create the content, drawing from their deep reservoir of knowledge and insights, while editors contribute by refining the language and structure to ensure that the message is effectively communicated to the intended audience. The editorial process, therefore, should be viewed as a collaboration rather than a confrontation.
Communication Is Key
Effective communication between authors and editors is vital to a successful editorial process. Authors should openly express their apprehensions about the editorial process, particularly if they feel uncomfortable having their work edited—this might be conveyed to the editor directly or through an intermediary like a managing editor at a press. Direct communication with the editor provides an avenue to convey concerns, preferences, and expectations regarding the editing process.
When communicating with the editor, it’s important to maintain a respectful and professional tone. Authors can acknowledge their reservations while emphasizing their dedication to maintaining the integrity and core ideas of their work. Articulating the reasons behind their apprehensions can provide editors with valuable insights into the author’s perspective, enabling them to tailor their approach accordingly.
Furthermore, authors should carefully craft their responses to the editor’s queries and suggestions. Clear and constructive responses demonstrate a collaborative spirit and a commitment to improving the manuscript. Authors should view this as an opportunity to engage in a productive dialogue, seeking to find common ground and enhance the overall quality of the work.
It’s Not Personal
Editors play a crucial role in the publication process by ensuring that academic works adhere to the required standards of language, style, and formatting. However, it’s essential for authors to understand that an editor’s objective is not to undermine the author’s work or alter its fundamental meaning. Instead, editors strive to help authors communicate their ideas more effectively and cohesively.
Editors, particularly those in academic journals and presses, often adhere to specific style guides and guidelines set by the publication. These guidelines ensure consistency and uniformity across the published material. Consequently, edits related to grammar, punctuation, formatting, and style are made to align the manuscript with these standards and to enhance readability for the broader audience.
In cases where an author feels that the editor’s changes have unintentionally altered the intended meaning, it’s important to approach the situation with a collaborative mindset. Polite and clear communication can help address any discrepancies and facilitate revisions that align with the author’s original intent, thereby enhancing clarity and coherence within the manuscript.
We Have the Same Goal
The editorial process in academic publishing is a critical stage that contributes to the overall quality and impact of a piece of work. Authors and editors are fundamentally on the same team, working toward the common goal of effectively engaging audiences and achieving successful publication. Authors invest significant effort in generating valuable content and crafting an initial draft, while editors bring their expertise to refine and shape the work into its best possible version.
By recognizing the shared objective and embracing a collaborative approach, authors and editors can cultivate a working relationship that is conducive to achieving publication success. Open dialogue, respectful communication, and a focus on the manuscript’s quality can lead to a smoother and more fruitful editing process. Ultimately, this collaboration enhances the dissemination of research and ideas, benefiting the academic community and (hopefully) society at large.
Navigating the editorial process in academic publishing, especially when an author has reservations about being edited, can be challenging. However, by acknowledging the expertise of both authors and editors, fostering clear communication, understanding that edits are not personal, and aligning with a common goal, a more constructive and fruitful editorial experience can be achieved.
Balancing the collaborative efforts of both parties can lead to enhanced quality and broader dissemination of research and ideas, ultimately benefiting the academic community and readers at large. Embracing this collaborative spirit ultimately enhances the reach and impact of academic work, ensuring its contribution to knowledge and progress.
About the author
Cara Jordan is chief editor and president at Flatpage. She has spent her career editing academic and artists' writings, primarily as a developmental editor and copyeditor. She received her PhD in art history from the Graduate Center, CUNY.