Open Access News

News from the open access movement

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Measuring the "added value" of copy editing

Alma Swan, What a difference a publisher makes, Optimal Scholarship, July 7, 2007.  Excerpt;

How important, how much, how good? Sometimes it’s needed and sometimes it’s not. Sometimes it's not even provided. Does it matter? Copy editing, that’s what I’m talking about. It’s a special little focus of interest at the moment because publishers claim it as an important area of added value and want to demonstrate how much they contribute to the integrity of scholarly literature through providing it, while the proponents of self-archiving counter-claim that the author’s final version of an article – the one which contains all the changes advised or required by the peer review process – is a perfectly adequate version to be deposited in a digital repository for open access purposes....

[A] couple of studies have been published recently that have examined the differences between published and author-final versions of articles. Wates and Campbell looked at copy editing changes carried out on a set of science, humanities and social science articles at Blackwell Publishing (as was) and reported that the biggest category of corrections by the publisher was concerned with the references (42.7% of all copy editing changes), the next biggest category (34.5%) was concerned with minor syntactical or grammatical changes and a small proportion (5.5%) of changes corrected author ‘errors that might otherwise have led to misunderstanding or misinterpretation’.

In the other study, Goodman, Dowson and Yaremchuk looked at journals in biology and social sciences and found that publishers had corrected numerous small errors that affected readability, that there were a number of differences between author-final and published versions that were ‘confusing’ and that sometimes the publisher version and sometimes the author version was the more confusing. They also found that in two cases the publisher had omitted data ‘necessary to evaluate the validity of the conclusions’: introduced an error during copy editing, in other words....

So, where do these studies leave us? Somewhat confused, I’d say. Does copy editing add significant value? Does it add insignificant value? Does it even plague an article by introducing errors that weren’t there before? Is the author’s final version adequate for scholarly purposes? 'Yes' seems to be a possible answer to all these questions....

Note: thanks to the authors of the two studies cited above for self-archiving them somewhere so that I could read them in full.