Editing Research: The author editing approach to providing effective support to writers of research

V. Matarese (Information Today, 2016), 244pp, $49.50 (pbk)
ISBN 978 15 73875 31 8

Reviewed by Penny Howe

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Matarese, who is herself an authors’ editor, has written an excellent analysis of the evolution, purpose and value of author editing. (Editors who work directly with academic researchers, helping to make their draft manuscripts suitable for publication in peer-reviewed journals, refer to themselves as ‘authors’ editors.’) Her book is ‘meant to serve as a guide to persons interested in a career in author editing and to administrators setting up an in-house editing service’. Her focus is on writing research papers for submission to peer-reviewed journals, and she draws on other published material that discusses the role, as well as qualitative research of her own, from discussions with other authors’ editors from a range of backgrounds.

I was interested to learn that, in 2014, about 2.5 million articles were published by over 28,000 scholarly peer-reviewed journals in English and 6000 in other languages. The first chapter of this book outlines the reasons for a growing demand that authors have their papers edited professionally before submission to a journal. These include the large proportion of researchers writing in English as an additional language, who tend, inevitably, to focus on grammatically correct writing, with less emphasis on presenting a coherent logical argument that takes account of the reader’s need and potential gaps in their knowledge. The author also highlights increasing difficulty for inexperienced researchers in receiving effective mentoring from more experienced colleagues, and the fact that many journals either do not copy-edit at all or outsource their copy-editing overseas, to companies that use highly rule-based or automated methods.

Matarese highlights the confusion among researchers about the different types of editing: many simply use the blanket term ‘proofreading’, with little understanding of the different levels of intervention possible or desirable at different stages. There is an excellent description of five levels of intervention, from the most superficial to the most interventional: proofreading, copy-editing, language editing, substantive editing and developmental editing, though Matarese suggests these may be more useful for marketing than for discussion with an author, as it is essential to ascertain what the author expects and to negotiate what can and can’t be done for their budget.

While experienced writers will submit directly to a journal for peer review and publication, many less-experienced writers, including those writing in English as an additional language, will benefit enormously from the input of an experienced authors’ editor. Matarese clarifies the role of an authors’ editor, who works directly with the author(s) of a paper before submission, or after peer review, but before the paper is accepted for publication. The authors’ editor often has research experience of their own, and can play a significant role in improving the structure, logical argument, style, tone, accuracy and referencing, in addition to a paper’s grammatical correctness, as well as ensuring it is appropriate for its field and a specific journal, in order to optimise the chances of its being accepted for publication. Authors’ editors may work freelance or in house or in a research department, but, as Matarese emphasises, it is not an ‘entry-level’ role, and a good authors’ editor will usually have a breadth of prior experience in research, writing and/or editing. Matarese highlights the importance of dialogue with the author, in order to ensure that major changes to the text are the author’s and not the editor’s; there can be a fine line between editing and rewriting or ‘ghostwriting’, and it is not the authors’ editor’s job to cover up plagiarism.

As an editor myself who frequently works with authors directly but also undertakes technical and developmental editing for publishers, I enjoyed reading the book and could identify with most of the potential issues discussed. While it provides a very thorough history and account of the work of an authors’ editor, I wondered whether, for would-be authors’ editors, the book might have benefited from a few summaries or checklists of the qualities needed and the processes and pitfalls of editing for authors. The information is in there, but it’s hard to pick out at a glance. However, given that, as Matarese points out, authors’ editors probably already have plenty of experience. I think the book is an excellent qualitative presentation of the current scene for authors’ editors, and is well worth reading, if only to confirm to yourself that you are doing a good job when working directly with authors on their research papers.

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