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One Way to Copy-edit a Research Paper

Although it is easy enough to tell whether a document has been copy-edited well, there is no single way to copy-edit a document, and the same result can be arrived at by different means. In this blog post, I describe the process I follow, with the hope that others will suggest improvements and describe how they go about the job so that we all may learn a thing or two. I assume that the author of the paper has told me the journal to which the paper is to be submitted. I work on *.doc or *.docx files sent by the author and use the ‘track changes’ feature.

I typically undertake three rounds of copy editing: a quick initial round for an overview and formatting, a detailed round, and a re-check round (with PerfectIt).

Initial round: Before starting work on the author’s file, I look up the instructions to authors of the target journal and download, if possible, a recent paper from that journal. I examine the downloaded paper and note how it is formatted: the title (left aligned or centred, in sentence case or title case, bold or normal), names of authors and their affiliations (whether the institutional address is given in full), the footnote markers used (letters or numbers), how the ‘corresponding author’ is labelled, and so on. I also note the style used for headings (whether it is Abstract or ABSTRACT, whether the text begins on the same line after that heading or on a fresh line, whether the journal uses keywords or key words, how they are arranged and punctuated, and so on; whether the headings are numbered (if so, whether the number is followed by a dot); the typography of headings (centred, left aligned, bold, italics, etc. and how the different levels are signalled), and whether the line that follows a heading is indented or not, and so on.

For figures, I note whether it is Fig. or Figure and in figure captions, whether the word is set in bold or normal; followed by a colon, a full stop or space; in title case or sentence case, terminal punctuation of any, and the labelling of figures within a figure (Fig. 1a or Fig. 1A, and so on). For tables, again, I note similar details.

For citations, I check whether the paper uses numbered citations or author–date citations and the associated details: punctuation, sequence of multiple citations (alphabetical, chronological, etc.), et al. or et al., after how many names, and so on.

All these are mechanical details but as I then work on the author’s file – always a copy, saved by appending to the filename an underscore and my initials – to bring it in line with the journal’s style, the task also helps me to know a little about the contents of the paper, albeit subconsciously. I also select the entire text (ctrl + A) and set the proofing language to English UK or US as required and do a find-and-replace routine to get rid of extra spaces between words. I then switch on track changes and, after a couple of sentences, change to ‘No Markup’.

Detailed round: I then begin by editing the title and the abstract, which tells me more about the contents of the paper, followed by the rest of the paper. This is the most time-consuming work and involves reading the text for its meaning; checking for spelling, grammar, punctuation, usage, and style; eliminating repetition; re-writing the text where required to make it clear and concise; and so on—the heart of copy editing as it were. I insert comments where required, highlight the mention of each figure and table in green, and highlight in yellow changes that I am reasonably sure about but would nevertheless like the author to note. The same process is repeated for all the figures and all the tables. For a blog for copy editors, this part does not need further elaboration.

Re-check round: After a cooling-off period, which I spend working on another paper, I begin the last round. Often, I find that the redundant text that was meant to be deleted after re-writing is still there. Sometimes, a word is missing (I meant to insert it but did not); I may have overlooked some minor changes related to citations; some headings require minor formatting changes; and so on. I fix all these lacunae in the re-check round. I then copy the file to another folder, open the copy, accept all changes, and then run PerfectIt, noting down the suggestions where required. I then open the working file, make the required changes if any after consulting the notes I made while using PerfectIt, then run a spell-check, and do one more find-and-replace to get rid of multiple spaces.

Incidentally, I find that while spell-checking, it helps to click ‘Ignore all’ whenever the checker stops at names of authors in citations; if the checker stops thereafter at what looks to be the same name, it means a minor change in spelling; similarly, if it stops at a new name under references, it means the reference probably does not have a matching citation in the text.

And then the joyous moment of sending off the file to the author: I usually send the author two versions, a version of record (so that the author can see every change) and another with ‘all changes accepted’, which I urge the author to use for further work.

Tedious? Well, yes, but then copy editors have no business to complain – for the same reason that sales people have no business to complain about travel, I suppose.

Yateendra Joshi has been editing technical documents for nearly 30 years, a career change he made after working for a decade as a scientist with the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (1978–88). He was with TERI (The Energy and Resources Institute) in New Delhi for 15 years, moved to Pune to work with WISE (World Institute of Sustainable Energy) in 2005, and has been on his own since 2007, dividing his time between freelance copy-editing and teaching.

Copy-edited more than 400 papers in the past few years for an international agency. Accredited editor with Diplomate status certified by the Board of Editors in Life Sciences, USA . Diplomate status is awarded only to those who demonstrate exceptional editorial proficiency (currently, only 30 editors worldwide have the diplomate status, and Yateendra is the only one in India).

Awarded Grade A in the Certificate in Advanced English (CAE) examination conducted by Cambridge English Language Assessment, Cambridge University: this is equivalent to Level C2, the highest of the six levels specified in the Common European Framework of Reference for language assessment.

Participated in several international conferences of EASE, the European Association of Science Editors: Oxford, Helsinki, Tours (France), and Tallinn (Estonia).

Member, Editing Office, Atomium Culture, Brussels

Member, Editorial Board, Information Design Journal

Was an invited Editorial Fellow at the World Resources Institute, Washington, DC.

Worked for a year as Senior Editor at ICRISAT, Hyderabad.

Currently Associate Fellow, Communication Research Institute, Canberra; has been, at one time or another, a member of

# Society for Technical Communication, USA # Council of Science Editors, USA, and # International Institute of Information Design, Austria.

Was a member of the committee of experts constituted by IGNOU, the Indira Gandhi National Open University, New Delhi, to advise IGNOU on the diploma course in publishing.

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