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Academic and research editing: The essentials

A very successful workshop

by Lorraine Page, Training Officer

An editor who feels their job is simply to correct the grammar may make something incorrect or may miss something that is factually incorrect. When EdsQ member Dr Laurel Mackinnon nonchalantly made this point in a roomful of editors at her Brisbane workshop in August, there was an audible intake of breath and an unspoken question: how do I know this is the case, and how can I avoid it?

Speaking from 20 years of experience as a medical and science writer and editor, Laurel reassured us that if the academic editor focuses on every word, without disregarding the scientific forest around it, and bones up* beforehand on the subject being edited, falling down sinkholes such as this can be avoided.

This and other truisms were scattered like gold dust throughout a day that walked participants through a comprehensive workbook and practical exercises compiled by Laurel.

Opportunities for editors
Those who had hoped to dip their toe into academic editing or were seeking certainty that they were on the right track in their work were left in no doubt that there are plenty of opportunities out there for academic editors. Research is constantly fuelled by the need for academics to write about their work to keep their jobs, for financial reward, or because new knowledge isn't new until it's recognised and valued.

Someone has to edit those two million research articles that are published by more than 30,000 scholarly journals every year, and English is the lingua franca for science and research communications, so it may as well be you!

If you are a professional member of IPEd, adding your name to the Editors Directory is an obvious starting point for putting your skills out there. Editors can also make their own enquiries through editing companies, publishers, governments, universities, NGO research units and even specific journals.

An enquiring mind
Since learning never stops in the scientific world, it pays for an academic editor to have an enquiring mind. Even now, Laurel says she's still building a list of terms, as her work is peppered with very specific technical language.

Throughout the workshop, the importance of understanding and following the journal submission and review process, and having the knowledge and skills to edit research documents in different disciplines, could not be overstated.

Laurel's workbook, which included material for further reading, examples of clear and succinct writing, correct use of tense, different referencing systems and style guides, was worth its weight in gold. Much of this information was put to the test during sample exercises in structuring and formatting according to journal instructions, and editing an abstract.

Diplomacy and clear service expectations are invaluable, Laurel says, when working with authors who are not native English speakers; and editors should check everything – never presume a client has used the correct spelling of a technical term.

As academic editing is very much a collaborative process, the workshop addressed the relationship between editor and client, where the protections are for editors and where the responsibilities lie for students.

Guidelines for editing research theses
Editors were brought up to speed regarding IPEd's revised Guidelines for editing research theses that limit an editor's work to copyediting and proofreading; decisions about content, logic, structure, interpretation and completeness are the responsibility of the student and supervisor. Substantive editing is off limits, but pointing out 'inconsistencies' in style, language, presentation, format and idiom to a student is not.

As chair of IPEd's Standing Committee on Academic Editing, Laurel is closely following the federal government's proposed cheating legislation, the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency Amendment (Prohibiting Academic Cheating Services) Bill 2019.

When introduced into Parliament, the Bill will reinforce the necessity for editors to have supervisor permission for any editing services provided to postgraduate students. Read a summary of the proposed legislation here.

*bone up: bone up, colloquial (sometimes followed by on) to study hard; acquire information (Macquarie Dictionary Online, 2019, Macquarie Dictionary Publishers, an imprint of Pan Macmillan Australia Pty Ltd, www.macquariedictionary.com.au)


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