It's About Time

Ten Commandments for Authors
Ten Commandments for Editors

The creator of the comic strip Non Sequitur captured the complexity of the author-editor relationship in one frame. It shows Moses, the editor, gazing at a string of inscribed stone tablets and saying, “OK...I agree these 100 commandments clarify your point of view, but I’m going to have circulation problems, not to mention the public’s short attention span, so we’ll have to condense them wa-a-ay down.” Although we don’t know what that author-editor relationship was like, it appears that when Moses found a better way to express what the author wanted to say, the author recognized and accepted it. All editors and authors should be so fortunate!

Every editor I know has worked with an egocentric author, who resists any change. And, every author I know has worked with a self-righteous editor, who won’t or can’t justify the changes recommended. Predictably, each unpleasant or adversarial encounter reinforces in both a mind-set of author vs. editor. If courtesy and common sense prevailed in dealings between authors and editors, there would be no need for a session on the author-editor relationship at this year’s annual meeting.

The elements of a successful author-editor relationship are no different than those of any other partnership: courtesy, honesty, trust, respect, consideration, flexibility, tact, compromise, and humor. Whether you are the author or the editor, it’s in your best interest to make the partnership work. Keep in mind that without authors, editors would not exist, and without editors, most authors would not be able to get their work published. Their joint success on any project depends on working together to produce a superior article or publication for the intended audience and completing their respective tasks on time and within budget.

Taking a cue from Moses, I submit the following guidelines for fostering effective author-editor relationships.

Ten Commandments for Authors

1. Thou shalt abide by copyrights and shalt not steal or plagiarize.
2. Thou shalt avoid writing in passive voice and shalt not rely on spelling and grammar checkers as a substitute for careful writing and proofreading.
3. Thou shalt seek advice and review from colleagues before submitting a manuscript.
4. Thou shalt submit manuscripts that are complete, accurate, and well written.
5. Thou shalt advise each publisher when submitting a manuscript to more than one.
6. Thou shalt obtain permissions.
7. Thou shalt recognize the value of technical and editorial review and consider, with an open mind, comments from reviewers and suggested improvements from editors.
8. Thou shalt strive to meet editorial deadlines and keep your editor informed of schedule conflicts.
9. Thou shalt check proofs carefully and respond promptly to requests from your editor.
10. Thou shalt treat each editor as you would like to be treated.

Ten Commandments for Editors

1. Thou shalt promptly acknowledge receipt of manuscripts and respond to queries from authors.
2. Thou shalt check each manuscript for organization, grammar, punctuation, consistency, artwork, and captions.
3. Thou shalt restrain the urge to rewrite and shall edit for clarity without changing meaning or silencing the author’s voice.
4. Thou shalt check cited references in the text against a reference list or bibliography.
5. Thou shalt query points you don’t understand, be tactful when recommending editorial changes, and explain clearly how the changes would improve the manuscript.
6. Thou shalt respect the author’s concerns about changes you recommend and be flexible and judicious about implementing them.
7. Thou shalt give the author ample warning of deadlines and schedule changes.
8. Thou shalt make sure that all necessary permissions have been obtained and that they are properly worded in the text.
9. Thou shalt alert the author before returning a manuscript for final approval and allow reasonable turnaround time.
10. Thou shalt treat each author as you would like to be treated.

Authors and editors will find several of these guidelines and other practical information and advice in Geowriting, a guide to writing, editing, and printing in earth science, a book conceived and edited by AESE members (5th ed.; 1995; edited by Robert L. Bates, Marla Adkins-Heljeson, and Rex Buchanan; American Geological Institute).

--Julia Jackson

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