Tuesday, January 17, 2012

How to do editorial work on other people's papers

How much freedom should an editor have? And how much freedom are you ready to grant her?

I enjoy working as an editor (for the Rivista di Studi Sudasiatici, for the Coffee Break Conference proceedings, for my own project on quotations, etc.) and my papers are always read by someone else (be it the peer-reviewer of a journal or the editor of a volume), who usually heavily edits them. Generally speaking, I enjoy engaging with a careful reader, who might also strongly disagree with me. It makes me aware of possible rejoinders, forces me to sharpen my points and to clarify my thought.
What I do not like that much, by contrast, is
  • 1. when typographic things are discussed instead (just delete the extra space and don't bother me with that! Put the inverted commas as you prefer them, it has nothing to do with the content and you do not want each author to utter her opinion on it or you'll never end your volume).
  • 2. when the editor wants to write the paper himself or herself. I am happy to add, emend, clarify, but I cannot be forced to add a distinct chapter on X in contemporary philosophy just because I happened to use the word X while discussing something else.
Point 1 is, I believe, annoying but trivial. It is linked with the fact that many editors do not remember that form and content are distinct.
Point 2, by contrast, is crucial, especially for South Asian scholars. We often share so little background with our editors, that we might have completely different ideas about what should be in our articles. I am quite convinced that it is legitimate to speak of "Philosophy" while referring to Kumārila, Dharmakīrti, etc. Do I really have to make this point clear every time I write an article? Even a reference in a fn. might be too much if the article does not focus on philosophical subjects and just happens to use the word "philosophical texts". The same applies to translations (I cannot explain in every article the rationale behind each of the technical translations I adopt). Shall one write a methodological article to be published on one's web site and constantly updated where issues such as "Why I believe that Mīmāṃsā needs to be studied" and "Why do I believe that 'inhering cause' is not a suitable translation for samavāyikāraṇa" are dealt with? Or should one try to write only for suitable editors (if it is ever possible)?

What do you do?

On a related topic (how to refute a paper), you might read this post.


krishna said...

Hi Elisa,
you are right, the editor's work is really of a "fun-and-learn" kind. Of course, in it there is as much fun so much you can learn... at least this is my personal opinion.
However, in response - or, better, as an integration - to your point 1, I must say that in my humble experience (both as editor and as author) I've remarked in several occasions that what nowadays we call editing work is nothing but a formatting work, which does no longer concern the typographic aspects of the article, book, paper (or whatever), rather its "shape" (where to put the pagenumbers, which character for the title, etc.)
For instance, and just to take my case into account, in some published papers of mine the reader can find typos or oversights that went unnoticed to me and that I discovered only once the work was already issued... why didn't the editor adjust the spelling by him/herself? Or, at least, why didn't s/he report to me those mistakes? Who knows!
In the few occasions I edited something, I did all my best in order to not bore the authors with double-spaces, inverted commas, typos etc., and I corrected them by myself... it's not a hard work, not at all!
On your point 2, as you know, I agree wholeheartedly! And let me roar, together with you, that Indian philosophy IS philosophy!!

elisa freschi said...

:-) Thanks for the roaring, Krishna! Let us make the roaring loud enough to be audible by philosophers and indologists alike!

As for point 1, I think that the problem lies in the confusion between different functions. If the editor reads the article looking for conceptual difficulties, inverted commas to be removed, misspelling, page-numbers to be added, etc., ALL at the same time, s/he will fail to accomplish an accurate job. Ideally, the editor could just focus on the content, a proof-reader on the typos and the person who prepares the lay-out on page-numbers, italics, etc. Even if all these roles are done by just one single person (but usually they are at least two), s/he should do them separately, I think, in order to focus on one task at a time. If this does not happen, one ends up with unnoticed typos, as you say.

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