Earlier this year I had a paper accepted to a well-recognized journal in a particular (humanities) subfield. I finally received proofs of the article, and was (more than a bit) upset at the edits. A lot of the changes were at the sentence level: phrasing, punctuation, word choice.

These edits often 1) obscured my intended meaning (e.g. turned ONE grammatically correct sentence into TWO sentences that, because of the addition of a weird transition phrase, no longer says what I intended), and/or 2) over-simplified or diminished the prose (e.g. adding "to be" constructions, adding awkward and unnecessary "ultimately"s, "for example," etc.).

So, how should I respond? Ultimately, I'd like to have 95% of the changes reversed. I would be mortified to publish the piece in its current state.

I've published several times and never had this issue - usually edits are small (more proofreading than anything). Because I was sent PDFs, the process of sending back my "corrections" will be arduous (on some pages every sentence now needs fixing). I don't want to alienate the journal or the staff member who made the edits.

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    The answers thus far are from people who apparently are unfamiliar with the humanities publication process (including me), so treat them with some skepticism. Nov 23, 2019 at 23:24
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    I like Giles Coren's take on this: theguardian.com/media/2008/jul/23/mediamonkey
    – Strawberry
    Nov 25, 2019 at 9:19
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    You've come to the right place to ask this question. People are always editing others' questions here and messing up the meaning.
    – Jennifer
    Nov 25, 2019 at 16:15
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    The journal production office (not the editor) has sent you the page proofs for one reason, and that is for you to check wether they have messed up anything.
    – Karl
    Nov 26, 2019 at 0:47
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    @candied_orange since you ignored my explicit question and, instead nit picked my poor use of the word “final” I assume you’ve not published a journal paper. At this stage of the process, merely sending a correct version of the text is not what is required. Having said that, it may be the most effective way to proceed: effectively, this would be saying “You mangled the text so badly that we’re going to have to start again. Throw away all your typesetting work, and typeset this.” Nov 26, 2019 at 16:37

6 Answers 6


I finally received proofs of the article, and was (more than a bit) upset at the edits.

How to respond? Do not respond while upset. Wait until you can respond in a calm way.

This is a perfectly normal occurrence. Remember the journal relies on getting your work for free in order to get subscription fees to pay its expenses. They need you more than you need them. Do not hesitate to ask for anything that will help your publication improve.


I agree with @Buffy that the changes are probably from a copy editor.

I disagree some about requesting just the minimal changes that "affect the meaning". This is a humanities paper, so style may matter much more than in a math/cs/science paper where one could argue that "correct" is sufficient.

Write a polite(!) letter to the editor asking about rejecting many of the changes since you think they often change the meaning. Perhaps include a few examples. Then you'll have to do what the editor suggests in order to publish in this journal.


Write a response to the production staff that spells out which changes you'd like to revert. Feel free to use text if you can't indicate it on a PDF, e.g. "Page 2 column 1 paragraph 3, change 'write' to 'written'". If it goes as high as 95%, then just say use the original file but indicate the 5% of changes that you want to keep. That said, I'm skeptical it reaches 95% - that's 19 out of every 20 changes - and there's a good chance you didn't notice all the changes that were made.

The copyeditor is not likely to fight you over these changes - after all, they know that you understand the intended meaning better than them. In fact chances are the production staff will simply implement your requested changes and move on to the next paper. Don't get angry. It's kind of pointless, and if they're already going to revert the changes, it'll lead to the same result anyway.

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    This answer agrees with my (limited) experience. I once had to revert a lot of the copy editor's changes in a paper, and the journal complied. The only bad thing that happened was that a co-author also wrote to the editor without first calming down sufficiently. Nov 24, 2019 at 2:50
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    If OP didn't notice all the changes that were made, that reflects even worse on the journal. Any journal that's going to make non-trivial copy edits should make sure they send a proof with the changes clearly marked. Nov 25, 2019 at 8:55
  • @EspeciallyLime I'm referring to trivial changes which many people never notice. Hence the 95% rate is difficult to believe - I'd guess there were trivial changes made that the OP simply never noticed.
    – Allure
    Nov 25, 2019 at 9:11
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    That's why the @EspeciallyLime said the journal should send a proof with the changes highlighted so you can go through them one at a time. For an article written in LaTeX, for example, you could do it yourself, e.g. diff the original vs. copy-edited LaTeX source to find every difference. (Or use GUI text diff tools which at this point are very good, because programmers and sysadmins need to do this for source code and config files all the time.) But for other formats like Word docs you're dependent on your software having such a feature. Nov 26, 2019 at 4:47
  • Newer versions of MS Word do have a solid built in comparison tool. It has a side by side mode similar to how diff tools for code files work, as well as IIRC a mode that can insert all the changes from the newer version into the older as tracked changes. Nov 26, 2019 at 15:55

This sounds like the work of a copy editor not the "editor" in charge of the paper. Such folks usually know the language pretty well, but not the subject matter. So, the errors they make are semantic in nature - pretty serious.

My suggestion is that you correct the ones that need correcting; those that affect the meaning. But probably let the others go.

Write a report back to the editor (the real one) detailing each change and saying why. Leaving the minor ones go gives you a shorter report and more likelihood that they will be accepted.

I've had this happen too. But fight for the important ones primarily. A few more probably won't hurt, but 95% will probably get you on the wrong side of someone.

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    95% or not: it's OP's paper. OP should make their point politely, but firmly. I am tolerant for changes which are not wrong, albeit I am particular with the language of my articles. But I am in a technical field, and these guys write for humanities - style is so essential there that they even read preformulated sentences in their talks. Nov 24, 2019 at 0:04
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    I respectfully disagree with "But fight for the important ones primarily. A few more probably won't hurt, but 95% will probably get you on the wrong side of someone." Wrong is wrong. I don't think the poster should accept any incorrect changes. Nov 24, 2019 at 6:16
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    I agree with the other commenters. The OP should certainly consider if each change is an improvement or not, but they should ask for each one that is not an improvement to be reverted. Nov 24, 2019 at 17:46
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    I also agree with other commenters. The author is ultimately responsible for the content of any paper, including is presentation. Poor writing reflects badly on the author, not on the anonymous copy-editor. Yes, of course we can all use help with our writing, but it's not the copy editor's job (or intention) to "help" us.
    – JeffE
    Nov 24, 2019 at 18:59
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    @Buffy I'm sorry, but I can't wrap my head around the idea that insisting that the copy editor get out of the way could make the author seem uncooperative, as opposed to making the copy editor seem incompetent. Real editors are our research colleagues; they understand very well the importance of precise language. Ideally, you and the the real editor are both pushing back together. (That said, if you can't convince the real editor that the changes are necessary, they aren't; let it go.)
    – JeffE
    Nov 25, 2019 at 22:26

I've had the same experience when publishing a book: copy-editors who not only didn't add value, they actually made the text a lot worse.

This was a technical book, and it's understandable that they didn't realise that an XSLT stylesheet is one word, while a CSS style sheet is two. But before doing a global edit to use the same term throughout - a global edit that can't be easily reversed - they should have checked.

They also tried to apply an editorial policy about the use of pronouns (I, you, we). But I had been very careful in my choice of pronouns, using "I", for example, only where I was expressing a personal opinion or describing my personal experiences, and they destroyed all the nuances.

I managed to get all the harmful changes reversed but it was an enormous waste of everyone's time.


Unless the editor made a provably incorrect statement with their changes I do not do anything. Do not like it but the editor gets the last say. Push too hard and they may decide not to print what you submitted at all.

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    I once had a conversation with a newspaper reporter, and we surprised each other with the difference in the meaning of "editor" in our fields. Apparently, newspaper editors can alter a reporter's story pretty much at will; academic editors cannot. My experience is that, in academia, "the editor gets the last say" about things like the format, but the author gets the last say about the content. Nov 25, 2019 at 16:30
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    @AndreasBlass Indeed. A newspaper editor's job is to actually edit. Academic job titles often have little connection to the everyday meaning of the words they use: our editors don't edit, our doctors don't heal people, our lecturers spend a small fraction of their time lecturing, our assistant professors don't assist anyone, ... Nov 26, 2019 at 10:22
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    Have you genuinely ever had an editor change their mind and not publish your paper which they had previously accepted, because they disagreed with you on the editing?
    – Sneftel
    Nov 26, 2019 at 16:59
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    The OP said they would be "mortified" to publish in the current state. Never put your name to anything you don't want to back up. If given a choice between publishing something you don't agree with signed with your name, and not publishing, one should not publish what they don't agree with under their own name.
    – penelope
    Nov 28, 2019 at 16:00

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