Editing can be scary! Here are some author suggestions to keep in mind.
Editors in every field struggle with how deeply to edit a manuscript. In essence: how much editing is too much editing? Do the author’s expectations match the editor’s expectations on what needs to be done to the manuscript? Marc D. Street, Dennis P. Bozeman, and J. Michael Whitfield study this question from the view of the research author and how the author perceives certain editing strategies or phrases.
In their article, “Author Perceptions of Positive and Negative Editor Behaviors in the Manuscript Review Process,” Marc D. Street, Dennis P. Bozeman, and J. Michael Whitfield used indexed composite scores from mailers they sent to authors published in the Academy of Management Journal, the Academy of Management Review, and the Journal of Management (Street, Bozeman, and Whitfield 1998). In the mailers, the participants were asked to rank editing behaviors in terms of importance and frequency.
Some of the negative items—irritants to authors—that ranked highest in importance by the respondents included
- “editors not policing blatantly inappropriate, unprofessional reviewer behaviors”
- “editors not intervening in situations involving conflicting reviewer advice”
- “editors intentionally selecting reviewers who are likely to review in the direction of the editor’s preference(s)”
- and “editors deciding that, after responsive revisions, a paper does not make a contribution or does not address an important topic” (Street, Bozeman, and Whitfield 1998).
Most of these include editors dealing with reviewers, but there are many other negative actions an editor does that can hurt an author or their chance of publication. These are things we must avoid as editors in order to best represent the editing field and the writing of others.
However, the researchers were not simply looking for negative actions on the part of editors. They also had the respondents rank positive items in importance and frequency. The researchers sum the positive items up with this declaration: “Editors are being thorough when they offer constructive criticism and specific suggestions to authors on how to improve their manuscript and increase the probability of publication…” (Street, Bozeman, and Whitfield 1998). While authors have had issues working with editors, they ultimately understand the importance of editors in preparing their writing for publication.
Ultimately, there are many different editing approaches editors take, and each author is looking for a different result from their editor(s). It is important to communicate well with your author and know what they want and try to provide that. It’s important to be kind—the author has put a lot into their manuscript—but as an editor, you need to make the author’s work a reflection of their best self. It’s a fine line to walk, but you’re smart. Walk it by keeping your ultimate goal in mind.
To find more about making your editing better, read the full article:
Street, Marc D., Dennis P. Bozeman, and D. M. Whitfield. 1998. “Author Perceptions of Positive and Negative Editor Behaviors in the Manuscript Editing Process.” Journal of Social Behavior and Personality 13, no. 1 (January): 1–22. https://psycnet.apa.org/record/1998-04360-001.
—Megan Crook, Editing Research
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Find more research
Look at Abby Carr’s Editing Research article for insight into how editing has changed: “How Historical Prescriptivism Influences Modern Editing.”
Read the Editing Research article “Why Freelance Editors Shouldn’t Be Afraid of Working with Self-Publishing Authors” for more on editing.