How do we define the level of editing we should perform? Under pressures to reduce budgets and staffs and increase speeds of production, answering this question becomes both vexing and of pressing importance. All three speakers in this session agreed that we must first decide upon the intended audience and the type of publication before we can decide upon the level of editing required. Once we know for whom and for what purpose the publication is being produced, then we can evaluate how thoroughly the document needs to be edited.
Doug MacDonald spoke about government organizations coping with decreased staff and changing attitudes toward the editorial and review processes. Not all documents are given the same level of editorial review. Some manuscripts, such as open files and manuscripts being submitted to outside scientific journals, do not receive any editing and go to only one peer reviewer. Internal publications such as geological maps, reports, papers, and memoirs receive an editorial review and are sent to two peer reviewers. To compensate for the reduction in editorial review, the scientific reviewers are given detailed guidelines to follow, but errors still make it into print. Because of the limited number of reviewers available, poor reviewers cannot be avoided. Doug also touched upon the fact that technological developments have not saved much production time. With fewer people asked to do more work, finding time to learn how to use new technology is difficult. Although he and his fellow workers are learning to cope with the reduction in editing and reviewing, he worries they are losing the ability to do the work that their clients need.
Monica Gaiswinkler Easton discussed her concerns about where the environment of reducing costs and speeding up production is taking us. We have had to re-examine the traditional prepress stages of publishing, often reducing or eliminating some or all of these stages. When these decisions are made, it is important to understand the resulting effects and be prepared for them. More and more the editorial stage is being called into question by authors who wish to publish quickly and cheaply. Peer review also is being reduced, and it could be lost altogether along with the editorial stage if no effort is made to educate the scientific community about the importance of these processes. Although we must accept some reduction in the amount of editorial review we give publications, it should not be eliminated without careful consideration of the consequences, and without full knowledge by the authors and reviewers that the onus is now upon them to take more responsibility for the quality of the final product.
Tricia Auberle emphasized that the goal of editing is the clear communication of scientific concepts. Clarity of presentation is not natural to all authors, and, therefore, editing will always have its place, but the level of edit must be defined by an understanding of the function of the publication. For example, the Society for Sedimentary Geology has found it can publish topics of interest to smaller audiences by using camera-ready copy to reduce prepress costs. These publications are fully reviewed and edited, but are not proofread. Course notes are likewise published using author-prepared copy, but these are neither reviewed nor edited. A disclaimer appears with these publications pointing out the fact that editorial control has been reduced to facilitate rapid publication. Authors are provided with a style guide and a checklist to assist them in preparing camera-ready copy. As a new vehicle for publication, the Internet opens up new questions about monitoring, accountability, plagiarism, and copyright. At the same time we will be asking, What level of edit should be applied to these documents?
In a follow-up discussion, the question was asked, "With so many documents being produced with little or no editorial review, will there be editors available if the pendulum finally swings back from zero edit to more editorial control?" The question of how to defend the role of editors was also discussed. Publicizing the positive role of editors was mentioned, with the possibility of active outreach to scientists and students at large meetings and within the universities. Publishing houses and geological surveys have different editorial purposes and needs, and these should be defended differently. Also discussed was the importance of editorial work on papers by authors for whom English is a second language. With an increasingly global scientific community, editorial review remains important for producing a common-English-language product.