Time to completion

Two to  six weeks after a positive publication decision.


Managing editor with the assistance of the Academic editors

Action required

  1. Suggest improvements for purposes of style and clarity
  2. Ensure submission conforms to journal style in every detail.

Background and further details

Copy-editing happens after an article has been accepted finally by the editorial team for publication. This means after all substantive, domain-specific revisions requested by the editors and referees have been made and approved by the editors.

Copy-editing has two goals:

  1. Ensure the article is as clear as possible in its argument and language.
  2. Prepare the article typographically and structurally for proofing and final publication.

Both of these processes usually involve the copy-editor proposing changes and the author approving, rejecting, or proposing alternate copy. Generally we accept the author’s approval, rejection, or modification of our copy-edits, unless they

  • change the intellectual nature of the argument or evidence of the article significantly from that the editorial team approved for publication (authorial modifications that change a negative argument into a positive one).
  • significantly violate the journal’s preferred style (e.g. by rejecting author-year citation styles for a journal that requires this format).
  • significantly worsen the clarity or coherence of the article.

When the author’s rejection or modification of a proposed copy edit fall into one of these three categories, the journal’s editorial team should be contacts.

How to copy edit

Individual copy-editors will work in different ways. You will need to find your own way of working.

If you do not already have a preferred way of working, the following may represent a useful start:

  1. Read the article through once, focussing on content, argument, and clarity: where do you find things difficult to follow? Can you think of better ways of saying the same thing? Are there structural issues you might be able to improve? Do you see obvious formatting errors or problems? Typos? Keep notes, but try to avoid rewriting or commenting heavily on the text at this point.
  2. Turn on “record changes” (or similar”) in your work processor of choice and go through the article again, correcting typos and formatting errors, making queries about things you don’t understand and attempting to improve syntax, word choice, and organisation wherever you can.
  3. When you are copy-editing, you job is not to substitute your own voice for that of the author, but to instead help the author write the very best paper they can. You are being helpful if you are being concrete, but you should always be aware that you may not have understood things correctly and your way of doing things may not be best or to the author’s taste. When making queries about passages you don’t understand or find unclear, for example, try to be concrete about what you think the author means by proposing specific language (e.g. “I don’t understand this passage. When you write “the text you don’t understand” Do you mean “some text that could be dropped in exactly if your correction is accepted”?”) That being said, don’t be too bashful: if you think you can improve something, make a suggestion to the author by typing it in: the author can reject things he or she doesn’t like.
  4. If you are proposing major changes or a lot of substantive changes, you may want to pass the submission on to the author for answers, suggestions, and approvals; in this case, you will probably need a second round as you refine the author’s suggestions and to make more typographical queries and suggestions.
  5. Once there are no real substantive edits remaining, read through the submission extremely carefully with an idea to finalising the typographic and style details:
    1. Check that the work cited list is formatted and punctuated consistently and in conformance to your journals stylesheet. Pay particular attention to punctuation (especially the use of periods and commas), capitalisation (especially sentence vs. title case), and the use of italics vs. roman slants.
    2. Check that the headings throughout the list are consistently capitalised and in accordance with the journal style. Again, pay attention to consistency of capitalisation and punctuation (final period? No final punctuation?)
    3. Check that book titles, foreign languages, URLs, code snippets, quotations are presented/encoded consistently throughout the submission.
    4. Check that quotation marks and apostrophes are used consistently throughout the submission. Pay especial attention to “smart” vs. “dumb” quotation marks and apostrophes (i.e. check that you are consistent in your use either of “inverted comma” type quotation marks and apostrophes or “straight” quotation marks and apostrophes. Also check that you are consistent in your use of single vs. double quotation marks. Quotation marks usually alternate with depth: double quotation marks are used to begin; quotations within quotations are single quoted; quotations within quotations within quotations are single; and so on. Also be careful that the same quotation pattern is used for quotations, “scare quotes,” and all other circumstances.
    5. Formatting: make sure all paragraphs are formatted the same way, that there are no extra lines or double spaces.
  6. Remember especially that when this process is over, you should understand everything in the submission and you should have no queries for the author remaining. If you have any doubt about anything in the submission, you should not be afraid to ask now.

Leave a Reply