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You worked on your manuscript and its language for a year and a half, carefully choosing every word; what is there left to do for the journal's copyeditors after acceptance? What is the point of copyediting your manuscript?

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    You seem to assume that everyone else has submitted absolutely perfect papers as well. After you have reviewed a few, you may come to a different perspective. – Jon Custer Oct 3 at 13:28
  • Great point! But my concern is, do they always feel that they need to change things? – Philosopher of science Oct 3 at 13:34
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    I don't really recall any journal messing much with my words, except perhaps the occasional British vs American spellings... – Jon Custer Oct 3 at 13:43
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The writer of a document is often the worst person to verify its wording. There are two reasons for this.

Often, when we write something we have a certain mind set. But we aren't perfect, so we occasionally make mistakes. Then, when we revisit it, we make the same mistake again, "seeing" on the page what we thought we wrote, rather than what we actually wrote.

Second, and more important, the author of a manuscript has a lot of background knowledge that they bring to bear on the subject that isn't actually written in the document. The reader, on the other hand, may not share this background, and usually won't to the same degree.

An informed copyeditor can correct for both of these situations.

I've learned that I can't really reliably proof my own writing and make both of the above "errors".

But copy editors don't just make changes without the advice of the original author. They provide a new version and the author gets to approve, reject, or improve the "corrections". It is a very valuable service.

But even just in the use of language. A good editor can improve the presentation of ideas by improving the structure of complex sentences and suggesting where the statements made could be confusing to a reader.

It does require some subject level knowledge to do it well, of course.

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I worked for a year and a half on a paper and I dare say it was in good shape. Nevertheless the copy-editor found two embarrassing mistakes. In this case the copy-editor constitutes just another barrier for mistakes which tend to be invisible to the author after some time.

From a technical perspective one also has to consider the workflow of the respective journal. Some publishers use LaTeX to typeset their articles, some use other tools. In most cases (in my field), Microsoft Word documents and LaTeX are accepted. As a consequence, converting text and graphics may be necessary. In particular, assuring the graphics quality is quite an issue (I would guess).

Finally, as Jon Custer already stated: There are submitted and accepted manuscripts with quite some quality issues ranging from typos to inconsistencies in typesetting. If your submitted manuscripts are in better shape, good job :-)

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    converting text and graphics may be necessary --- no, it is not necessary. Journal publishers care too much about appearance. Personally, I don't mind if some articles published in a journal look slightly different from the others. – Federico Poloni Oct 3 at 14:52
  • @Federico Poloni Well if the author submits a Word document and the journal is typeset in Adobe Suite there must be some conversion in file format, right? – carlosvalderrama Oct 3 at 15:20
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    No. We don't need this kind of typesetting. Take the Arxiv as an example: everyone submits their papers in the format that they prefer. They don't look all the same, but they are perfectly usable and no one cares. We researchers are used to seeing papers that look different from one another. Journals can just take the author's files, add some basic proofreading and formatting, and stop charging ridiculous money for "high quality typesetting". Even if they take what we provide, print it to pdf, and concatenate the pdfs, it's perfectly usable. I don't care if it looks like a high-school journal. – Federico Poloni Oct 3 at 16:07
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    @FedericoPoloni, hmmm. Typesetting is very different from copy-editing. The former is a technical process (and can, itself, introduce error). The latter is an intellectual process that seeks to reduce error. – Buffy Oct 3 at 16:43
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    The previous version of the answer also addressed issues with typesetting, which I assumed to belong to the the chores of the copy-editor. This part can be ignored. – carlosvalderrama Oct 3 at 22:10
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Here're some things a copyeditor can do to the text of this page:

You worked on your manuscript and its language for a year and a half, carefully choosing every word; what is there left to do for the journal's copyeditors after acceptance? Why is their work productive?

This phrase is awkward since almost any work is "productive". Why is their work productive -> What is the point of having copyeditors?

Often, when we write something we have a certain mind set. But we aren't perfect, so we occasionally make mistakes. Then, when we revisit it, we make the same mistake again, "seeing" on the page what we thought we wrote, rather than what we actually wrote.

mind set -> mindset

I've learned that I can't really reliably proof my own writing and make both of the above "errors".

This sentence is ambiguous; it makes it sound like the author can't reliably make both of the above errors. ... I can't really reliably proof my own writing; I make both of the above "errors".

In particular, assuring the graphics quality is quite an issue (I would guess).

...ensuring the quality of the graphics ...

I think I can honestly say I've never seen a journal article which didn't need at least some changes during copyediting.

  • Touché. But I've read some anecdotes of copyediting work being counterproductive. – Philosopher of science Oct 3 at 23:55
  • @Philosopherofscience it certainly can, but I venture that copyediting is helpful much more often than it is counterproductive. – Allure Oct 4 at 1:52
  • I've edited my original question inspired by your comment. – Philosopher of science Oct 4 at 15:28
  • I know I was being a little cocky. I will let you know if the copyeditor founds problems with my article. – Philosopher of science Oct 5 at 2:06

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