Editing and finishing

What else do copy-editors look for?

“Often our authors are surprised to receive a long list of queries where: text is unclear; words omitted or misspelt; cross-references incorrect; bibliographical dates inconsistent; cross-references to tables, figures clearly incorrect; and so forth and so on. Often the most scholarly authors are the most willing to accept suggestions and grateful for them. The less capable, less so.”

“More time is usually taken up with grammatical corrections or changes in syntax, or in ensuring consistency in representing mathematical formulae. Marking up tables for the house style can also be time-consuming. On the return of corrected proofs there can be a remarkable variety of correction marks, differing from those used by UK publishers under the BSI recommendations. This can be a source of error or confusion if a magnifying-glass is not used.”

“I recently corrected the birth and death dates of Catherine the Great in one text. But most copy-editors now agree that it is the author’s responsibility to get the facts right. Copy-editors can’t afford to spend time on that.”

“Regularly academics mention someone obscure and spell the name of the person incorrectly. To become a professional journalist you have to check facts.”

“Often I don’t understand the science but I can grasp what is going on. I can spot errors. The author should have got it right but you can often pick it up. I know what to expect when looking at equations: why is this in the text and not in the equation? You have to know the style: characters of matrices go in bold italic; vectors are similar; elements are all in italic. We rely very much on authors to mark these [matrices and vectors] on the scripts. If they don’t mark them they can be quite difficult to pick up.”

“On a technical point, a great many would benefit from keeping an eye on the pronoun. It. They. He. Pronouns could often refer to three things so they end up referring to none. It’s good practice to go through the text and change every pronoun to what it (the pronoun) should refer to. Macaulay did this. He nearly always gives a name. He was criticised for it, but he responded by saying that one of the bugbears of writing was ‘the wandering pronoun’.”