On Academic Journals

I work part-time at an academic journal as a copy-editor.  I thought I might share with you the steps to publication after an article has been peer-reviewed and accepted by the journal. 

We have a production schedule that is set at the beginning of the year.  We publish four issues a year, which leaves three months per issue to edit and format the articles.  Multiple eyes go over every article, and yet inevitably some tiny inconsistency is found just as the issue is going off to press.  Such is perfectionism.

We read through the article first, getting a sense of what needs to be done and what challenges we might encounter.  Then we compile a bibliography based on the author’s footnotes and bring every text the author cited to the office.  We check every single reference for inconsistencies and to double check page and/or line numbers.  We also need the text at hand so that we can format article to be consistent with the Chicago Manuel of Style.
Every discipline has its own style guide; literary studies tends to stick to MLA and Chicago.  When I was an undergrad, we tended to use MLA frequently.  Now it seems that everywhere I turn journals are requesting Chicago, which is helpful because I have become quite fond of the big orange book.

We have another copy-editor look the article over, and then the article is sent to our editors to review.  No matter how closely I may have worked with an article, they will take a fine tooth comb and find all the small details that I couldn’t see.  We all have blind spots in our own and in others writing.  Quick take-home lesson: have as many people read your work as possible because everyone will find different mistakes.

The article is sent back to the author for their final approval, and then it is passed on down the line for formatting and layout.  It can take two years for an article to finally appear in print due to production schedules and where the article sits in the queue.  If you’re an author waiting for an article to appear, keep in mind that every day that you’re waiting is another day that the editors are using to make your article shiny and purdy.
Once you’ve been a copy-editor, you start to notice things in your own writing.  I notice em- and en-dashes with regularity, and certain confusing rules (thats and whiches, for example) start to make sense, even if I do still mess up on occasion.  It also makes me appreciate the length of time between submission and publication. 

Keep writing, my friends.


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