Session 4: The Author/Editor Relationship

Prepared by Elsa Kapitan-White, Schlumberger Oilfield Marketing Services

Alison Weatherston convened this session. The five speakers in author/editor relationship session agreed that authors and editors are not automatically adversaries but must make an effort work together as a team to achieve publication goals.

Jack Parker spoke from his viewpoint of a geoscientist author at the Ontario Geological Survey. He recommended that authors and editors have a common goal of timely and cost-effective communication in a time of downsizing and budget cuts. This goal must also address other external factors, mainly new technical problems that crop up from digital processes and on-demand publication. Parker spoke from experience about cutting though the levels of bureaucracy to establish author/editor communication; he is a former chair of the OGS Publications Working Group formed by the OGS and Publication Services. As a forum for authors and editors to bring issues for discussion and possible solutions (or, at least, awareness), the Group was also charged with developing and maintaining submission standards to streamline the publication process.

Former director of publications at the American Geological Institute and now communications and publications consultant Julie Jackson of GeoWorks has identified an inherent problem in author/editor relationships as the perception of the editor as the "bearer of bad news," which is all the more likely when an author has had a previous unpleasant or adversarial relationship with an editor. Differences can also arise from expectations of the other's role. Julie listed two sets of "Ten Commandments" guidelines for authors and editors that can help foster effective author/editor relationships and result in superior publications that are on time and on budget. (As published in the Summer 1996 issue of Blueline, the two sets of commandments for authors and for editors are excerpted from the 5th edition of Geowriting, a guide to writing, editing, and printing in earth science that was conceived and edited by AESE members).

As a two-person team that effectively operates as freelancers to assist overloaded state offices of the U.S. Geological Survey, Technical Publications Editors Mike Eberle and Betty B. Palcsak surveyed their "customers" (both editors and authors) about three broad concerns: experiences with author/editor relationships, annoying attitudes or characteristics of authors/editors, and specific recommendations for a cordial relationship. The responses from 16 authors and 13 editors and their review of the literature found many common themes. Mike identified four summary points for editors: (1) talk early and often and do not rely on just written communications, (2) be authoritative (not authoritarian) and cite established sources for editorial suggestions, (3) be open minded and avoid inflicting personal preferences, and (4) respect the author's time and deadlines.

Diane Schnabel of Curtis Enterprises shared her perspective as an editor in the "commercial arena," outside the strictly scientific venue. She has found that editing for small business entrepreneurs demands a wide range of skills beyond routine editing. She made the following recommendations: editors should be prepared to work anywhere, anytime, and especially on site because this is perceived as not disrupting the client's work flow (entrepreneurs usually have healthy egos). On-site editors should bring all their supplies and dress appropriately instead of too casually. All concerned with a project should be met with and asked specific questions: what purpose does this writing serve? who is the audience and at what reading level? schedule? who answers my questions? is the material on computer? how many copies are required and how will they be reproduced? The on-site working area should not have furniture "barriers" that discourage communication. Projects should be organized by a task list, including such items as making the material concise, using lists liberally, consigning necessary clutter to appendices, cropping pictures ruthlessly, and providing a glossary or list of definitions. Schnabel further recommended that because time is a precious commodity, the editor should assume that there'll never be a second editorial pass. And she advised, "learn to let things go," while praising liberally!

Noting that author/editor relationships existed before the printed page, Dr. Paul Copper, Professor of Geology at Laurentian University, discussed concerns in sorting out the authorship of scientific works, as summarized in a policy of the Canadian Journal of Earth Sciences complied by Chief Editor Dave Piper. Problems can arise because authorship doesn't emerge until the project is committed to paper. Authorship includes each author providing a significant contribution to the project, reading and agreeing to the paper, and being willing to defend it. Excluded as authors are those whose sole role is finding funding for a project, "honorary" authors, or participants in a project who provided only a specific piece of information or executed only a minor, subsidiary task. The first author usually did the bulk of the writing or can be the scientist who played the most significant intellectual role. For mutually equivalent contributions, the authors must decide whether to alphabetize their names or present them randomly, and this convention should be mentioned in the paper. It is otherwise assumed that multiple authors are listed least contribution last. Piper also called for mutual respect among authors and to the scientific community. Authors are responsible for avoiding submitting trivial papers and for providing work that has significance, is well written, and is complete. Other considerations mentioned are that a university holds the copyright to a thesis and that data sources should be thoroughly acknowledged.

The session was then opened to comments from the audience. Bob Davie (Ontario Geological Survey) noted that the OGS Editorial Guide, which was distributed at the meeting, was reviewed by the OGS Publications Working Group. His advice from participating with the Group was for authors and editors to "pick your battles" and focus on the important things.

Duncan Heron (Duke University) noted that the author/editor relationship covers three different areas: the critical (peer) reviewer, copy editor, and managing or general editor. The speakers agreed that it is incumbent on the critical reviewer to not grind out "courtesy" reviews and that the managing editor is charged with making final publication decisions. Bob Fraser (UGSG) similarly identified two editorial environments: government and journals. Editors in both spheres must demonstrate that their work is value-added and not just an irritation and expense. Fred Spilhaus (American Geophysical Union) concurred that the common goal remains getting out information.

Discussion then turned to non-English-speaking authors. Copper urged that editors consider leaving an author's idiosyncrasies intact in certain projects. Making only minor grammatical corrections leaves the reader the task of understanding the contents. Brian Hitchon (Geoscience Publishing Ltd.) said that despite the difficulties of fractured English, it is well worth the extra effort to get papers from some countries.