Let's suppose my paper is about icebergs. The paper is accepted to a quite well known journal on a broader topic. The copy editor has changed the word "iceberg" to "ice-berg" everywhere in the paper. I have requested twice that the hyphen be removed, and the copyeditor has disagreed.

A clear majority of scientists in my field use the spelling "iceberg" but there is a minority which uses "ice-berg" in their published papers. It is easy to produce several lines of evidence that this is true.

How should I respond to this situation? My primary concern is that I want my paper to be easy to find. I do not think people are searching for papers using the term "ice-berg."

Update: As suggested by the answers below, I tried to contact the editor. After waiting a while and getting no response, I tried again. And I waited, and tried a third time. Subsequently and without explanation, the copy editor made the requested changes. Overall, I had to check five proofs. In summary, I was successful but I am not sure why.

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    Is the editor giving any explanation or reference on why he decided for this spelling? How is it spelled in other papers of the same journal/conference?
    – J-Kun
    Commented Jul 10, 2019 at 10:54
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    I had THE same issue with a highly reputed journal in materials science. I had to 1) involve the EiCs, and 2) provide 6-7 papers that were highly cited (and used the term without hyphen) for the EiCs to agree. Fyi, this was an Elsevier journal.
    – The Guy
    Commented Jul 10, 2019 at 11:40
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    I so love that the title of this says "copyediting" and the tag says "copy-editing"... pure gold :D
    – Lot
    Commented Jul 10, 2019 at 21:32
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    Also see Donald Knuth's Email (let's drop the hyphen). Knuth is a legend in Computer Science with an amazing CV. When he asked for the hyphen to be dropped it was like word coming down from the mountain.
    – user18370
    Commented Jul 11, 2019 at 5:13
  • 4
    I hope your next paper is about icebergs in the vicinity of pen-island.
    – Strawberry
    Commented Jul 11, 2019 at 13:19

7 Answers 7


Putting style above content and reducing the ability to find the paper does not help anybody. My experience with copy editors is that they make and introduce far more errors and problems than they solve.

Anyway, I would discuss this with the editor that accepted your paper and give him/her the scientific reasons. This might help more than discussing the issue with the copy editor.

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    This reminds of the time that a copy editor changed "1 degree of freedom" to "1° of freedom" and I only noticed when the paper was already published. :(
    – jkej
    Commented Jul 11, 2019 at 7:23
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    @jkej °F redefined.
    – Chieron
    Commented Jul 11, 2019 at 14:11
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    @jkej "1° of Freedom" sounds so... American. Doesn't help that °F has connotations of America as well :) Commented Jul 11, 2019 at 15:27
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    @Mehrdad the unit of freedom is designated by the 🦅 symbol.
    – barbecue
    Commented Jul 11, 2019 at 22:56
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    I once wrote about typesetting and mentioned that in some fonts the symbols for ell and eye lI are difficult to distinguish - giving graphic examples. And the copyeditor changed the font because the l and I where difficult to distinguish. Commented Jul 12, 2019 at 5:31

I have had this issue in the past. As a first step, look through past issues of the journal and see if they consistently apply their style guide. If they don't, provide them a few references to their articles that use your preferred version. If they consistently apply the style, your battle will be harder. Go through the articles in your reference section show them that your usage is preferred. Finally, provide them references to highly cited articles in other journals that show your usage.


Personally, I'd push-back on the copy editor's choice of "ice-berg". If you're unable to convince the copy editor, then as other's have mentioned, speak with, or exchange email with, the editor for your submission, if that's a different person than the copy editor. If you don't get satisfaction from the editor, you can raise the issue with the publication's Editor in Chief. Obviously, your final recourse is to withdraw your paper. Only you can determine how much of an issue this is for you and how far down that road you want to go.

In discussions, I usually find that it's important to have evidence to back up your choice.1 It would be good to have a sampling of papers in your area showing which version of "iceberg" vs. "ice-berg" is predominately used. I also find that for this sort of discussion, it's often convincing to use information from Google Book's Ngram Viewer (info).

For "iceberg" vs. "ice-berg", Google Book's Ngram Viewer shows that "iceberg" was used 344 times more often than "ice-berg" in 2008, and has been the dramatically predominant form, at least in Google Book's corpus, for more than 200 years:

Google Book's Ngram Viewer showing that "iceberg" is currently used 344 times more often than "ice-berg"

You can also look "iceberg" up in various dictionaries. All of the ones I checked didn't even give examples of the hyphenated version.

1. Something just being your preference is also valid, but that's not the case for this issue.


Don't worry about it. If your paper is on a topic suitable for the ArXiv, just use your preferred spelling in the ArXiv version, which is more likely to be found by google search anyway. This way people are likely to find your article regardless of which spelling variant of the keyword they use.

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    Upvoting, since anyone submitting to a journal good enough to provide copy editing should have the reasoning skills to understand whether this answer applies to their field or not.
    – user2699
    Commented Jul 11, 2019 at 13:51

You might consider voicing your concern to a member of the editorial board -- probably whoever handled your paper.

If they agree with you, then they will probably contact the journal on your behalf and request that your preferred spelling be allowed to stand. Conversely, if they think that your concerns are unwarranted or unnecessary, then you should probably drop the matter.

  • Sounds good, but didn't work because they didn't answer. Commented Aug 14, 2019 at 11:39

I suggest not worrying about it. First, even if a clear majority of the scientists in your field prefer "iceberg", the journal still has to stick to its own style. Second, it's not like people will confuse "iceberg" with "ice-berg".

If it really bothers you, then there's no point arguing with the copyeditor - they don't control the journal's style. You will have to convince the editorial board. Contact the editor who accepted your paper; he/she should know what to do.


I strongly advise allowing the journal their style, since you already put up an argument.

A physics journal change $K$-theory to K theory in one of my papers. I investigated, and found the same publisher did the same thing to a Fields medalist. At that point I figured I had a funny story to tell and let it go.


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