Dealing with diverse and conflicting feedback

Authors often seek or gain feedback from many sources when writing something important. The feedback could be from co-authors, colleagues, clients, supervisors, reviewers, examiners or editors. The feedback can also be in many forms from correcting errors and specific wording changes to broader comments about direction, arguments, emphasis or content. But how to handle diverse and conflicting feedback to finalise the writing?

All feedback is useful but it can be impossible to address all feedback in the one document.

  • Be clear about the overall purpose and audience, and any specific requirements of the writing.
  • Focus on the most important elements, particularly if there is a word limit, space constraint or deadline.
  • Consider what feedback can be addressed most easily and quickly, particularly if there is a deadline.
  • Consider when feedback can be addressed – now or in later versions.
  • Consider who is providing the feedback, and why.
  • Explain how and why feedback has been addressed or not. There may be a formal mechanism for this such as a response to reviewers or examiners.
  • Recognise and accept you can’t always meet all the needs of everyone involved.

Editors can help writers evaluate feedback and focus on the reader and purpose.

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Elsevier’s tips for turning your thesis into an article

Scientific publisher Elsevier has recently relaunched its free e-learning platform as Researcher Academy. Yes, it’s free with great resources for researchers, particularly on getting published.

One of their new resources is a webinar on How to turn your thesis into an article. Watch the one hour video or read the two-page tips summary here.

The most obvious difference between a thesis and an article is length – a thesis is much longer than a journal article. But where to cut the words? It’s not just a matter of selecting a few paragraphs from your thesis to cut and paste into an article. You will have to write concise new material. Think about your key messages and what you want to emphasise. There is likely to be more than one publishable paper in a thesis.

Elsevier’s 8 tips are:

  1. Identify the appropriate target journal.
  2. Shorten the length of your thesis.
  3. Reformat the introduction as an abstract.
  4. Modify the introduction.
  5. Tighten the methods section.
  6. Report main findings in results.
  7. Ensure discussion is clear and concise.
  8. Limit number of references.

These tips assume the traditional thesis format, but thesis by publication is increasing in popularity. In this new format, a thesis may present several articles published during the candidature, with a synthesising introduction and conclusion.

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Getting a grant – how editors can help

Being successful in a grant or award application means relying on someone else to make an important decision. And when relying on others to judge your work, it helps to know and meet their criteria as closely as possible.

Make it easy for grant assessors by meeting their requirements in several areas.

  • Content: provide the content asked for at the right level of detail, and use any suggested headings.
  • Length: be aware of word count limits for specific sections, or even character counts.
  • Format: provide information in the format required, which may be attachments, tables, budgets, plans or photos.
  • Deadline: be aware of the submission process, allow time to complete all the steps of the process, and submit by the deadline.

Other tips

  • Allow plenty of time to read the requirements, prepare a draft application and review it.
  • Ask people who have successfully applied for the grant or award for tips.
  • Learn from feedback, either generic or specific, on previous applications.

Sometimes instructions can be very long and detailed, added to over time to address common issues or mistakes often made, and it can be easy to overlook specific requirements. An editor can increase your chances of success by reading the grant requirements and your draft response, highlighting unmet requirements and suggesting improvements. Editing can be an excellent return on investment for grant, award and job applications.

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The working life of an editor – read all about it

Despite the valuable work of editors, they often don’t have a high profile. While newspaper or magazine editors can be well known names, editors who do substantive editing, copyediting and proofreading can be almost invisible. The cover designer of a book may get more recognition than the book’s editor. Editors work closely with authors of both fiction and non-fiction to improve their work to better meet the needs of readers.

To learn more about the working life of an editor, check these four books: three are autobiographies or memoirs and one is a biography.

  • Under Cover (2015) by Craig Munro, editor at University of Queensland Press
  • The Word Detective: A Life in Words (2016) by John Simpson, editor of Oxford English Dictionary
  • The Subversive Copy Editor (2016, 2nd edition) by Carol Fisher Saller, Q&A editor for Chicago Manual of Style at University of Chicago Press
  • Max Perkins: Editor of Genius (1978, re-released 2016) by A. Scott Berg about editor Max Perkins of American publishing house Scribner’s. Winner of the National Book Award for Biography (US), it is the basis of the film Genius (2016) starring Colin Firth.

The end-of-year holidays are a great time for reading (as is the rest of the year). Hope there are books under your Christmas tree which have been carefully edited.

Under Cover

The Word Detective

The Subversive Copy Editor

Max Perkins: Editor of Genius

Using reference management software – garbage in, garbage out

Reference management software, such as Endnote or Mendeley, can make wrangling references for a thesis, journal article or research report much easier, but it doesn’t make the reference list perfect. If you make mistakes in data entry, your list will have errors in an example of garbage in, garbage out. Copying reference information from another published source doesn’t mean a reference list will be perfect either, if the original source has errors or missing information.

Common mistakes in data entry of references in software include:

  • entering corporate authors as individuals where the Australian Bureau of Statistics appears as Statistics, A.B. or World Health Organization appears as Organization, W.H. This is also a risk with government departments.
  • entering journal article titles, chapter titles or book titles in an inconsistent mix of lower case and initial capital letters
  • entering dates in a mix of Australian style (1 November 2017) or US style (November 1, 2017)
  • identifying a multi-part surname incorrectly
  • including asterisks or footnotes such as a or b as part of an author surname
  • omitting important information to help identify and find the reference such as publisher, location or volume number.

Many journals have templates available on their websites for authors to download to format references in their reference software according to the journal’s preferred style.

Always look at your software-generated reference list for a final common sense check and see my blog on How to check your own reference list.

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How to meet journal requirements when writing a paper

For researchers seeking to publish a paper in a journal, it is important to meet the requirements of the target journal. Meeting the requirements can speed up the review process and increase the likelihood of publication.

The first step in meeting the requirements is to find out what they are. Most journals have a website with a section on guidelines for authors which should include information on preparing a paper and the submission process. Read this section carefully. Then read it again. Then follow the guidelines.

As well as the relevance of the paper to the aims of the journal and the types of papers accepted such as empirical research or reviews, the requirements for a specific journal might include:

  • length of the title of the paper
  • length of the abstract
  • maximum total word count of the paper
  • type and format of headings and captions
  • US or British spelling
  • use of footnotes or endnotes (or not).

There may also be guidance on tables and figures such as the format, number allowed, the use of colour, and their location within the text or separately at the end of the paper.

Reference style is particularly important. Check the journal’s preferred reference style and apply it as closely as possible to both the in text references and the reference list. A template for the reference style may be available on the journal’s website to use in reference management software.

Looking at papers that have been published recently in the journal is a good way to check interpretation of the guidelines, including reference style, if insufficient information is provided.

Some journals are more flexible than others in their requirements for initial submission, and many copyedit and format papers to meet their own style once the paper is accepted.

An academic editor can be a second set of eyes to read the guidelines for authors, check the paper meets the guidelines, and advise on and fix any inconsistencies. The aim is to show respect for the journal and make it as easy as possible for the reader, in this case the journal editor and reviewers.

For a success story in meeting the requirements for Nature journal, see my recent blog.

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“An excellence of editors” – advancing the profession conference

I recently attended my first IPEd national editors conference, held in September in Brisbane. Thanks to the organisers, Editors Queensland, for their great work in producing a program to bring so many editors together from across the country for professional development.

There were several sessions on thesis editing including a workshop, two papers and a panel discussion which I was a member of, as well as informal discussion. There seemed to be agreement on the need to update the IPEd Guidelines for editing research theses, but views on the extent and direction of change varied. See my comments and suggestions to revise the Guidelines to better benefit editors, made to IPEd in November 2016.

Some conference sessions, including my participation in the panel discussion, are available as pay-to-view and conference proceedings will be available later in the year.

There was also much discussion on resources and business practices for freelance editors, some of which I will be including in my workshop on Improve your quoting practices on Friday 10 November 2017 for Editors NSW.

An “excellence” of editors was the winning collective noun chosen by audience acclamation, replacing the previous conference vote for a “cardigan” of editors. Yes, we like to be comfy when concentrating on excellence in editing.

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