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(It is important to note that the articles are generally written by people for whom English is not their first language)

I recently got my first article to edit, and realized very quickly how uncertain I was about how detailed I was supposed to be in my editing. The article was very wooden though and required a lot of editing to hold a professional English tone (to no fault of the author's, since English was not his first language). I am very good at editing and so had to settle on just going with what made sense to me, but I am wondering if there is a consensus or specific set of rules to follow.

For instance, I always use the word 'one' to denote an inclusive general view in my essays (ie, "If one accepts the premise of John Doe, then yada yada yada...), but this author continually used 'we', which seemed odd to me. I couldn't tell if it was something that needed editing, or was an intentional stylistic choice. I decided to be conservative there and left all the 'we's, but would really appreciate some input.

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    You are employed by a journal. Ask them what they want? – ff524 Jul 20 '16 at 5:29
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    In my field at least, "we" is not unusual. But you should really read past issues of the journal you are editing for to get a sense of its style. – ff524 Jul 20 '16 at 5:31
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    Kudos to OP for asking this question here. We need more copyeditors trying to understand what they copyedit. My advice for understanding a little bit more of academic writing is to get a book about it. Mysteries such as we will be unravelled. – dgraziotin Jul 20 '16 at 7:53
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    " I always use the word 'one' ... this author ... used 'we', which seemed odd to me:" Are you employed to impose your personal style preferences on every paper you edit, or to work to a particular style guide (either a public one like CMS or an in-house document)? It's hard to imagine why consistent use of either "one" or "we" in a paper would make any difference to the users of the journal, regardless of your personal preference. – alephzero Jul 20 '16 at 11:50
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    @SnakeDoc : maybe not in your field, but the "royal we" is pretty typical in a lot of science & technical papers. – Joe Jul 20 '16 at 19:55
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I think a reasonable rule to follow when editing an accepted manuscript prior to publication is to make the minimum changes required to conform with proper grammar as well as whatever style guide your publication uses. (The latter might include, for instance, citation formats as well as the use of British versus American English for spelling.)

If there is ambiguity in editing possibilities, I would propose the change to the authors, but also, if possible, flag it as an "author query" to ensure that the change is viewed and a consensus reached.

  • I would propose the change to the authors Should the editor be involved in this case? – scaaahu Jul 20 '16 at 5:35
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    @scaaahu: No. This is handled at the proof stage, so editors are not required. It would usually be handled with a note in the proof saying something like: "The authors' intent was not clear. Should this be written as (version 1) or (version 2)?" – aeismail Jul 20 '16 at 5:38
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While editing wrong English is a really good thing to do, and I do really like it when someone does it to me ( so I can learn how to do it better in the future) this has an important problem in research articles: You may, accidentally, modify what they author meant to say.

I don' know what you are supposed to do, but if you end up deciding to change wording in the article, I suggest you notify the authors you have done this and ask for review. Don't just tell them "this is the last version prior to publishing, is it ok?" but notify them that you reworded different sections of the article.

If you are going to go ahead of this I suggest you make 2 files. One with all the required formatting modifications and then another one built on this last one, with all the wording changes. Ask the authors which one they prefer.

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