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Recently, I submitted a paper to a maths journal (which is a decent journal with a solid editorial board). It was eventually accepted after making some revisions suggested by the referees, at which point I uploaded my final submission. This final submission was then edited by a copy editor at the journal; as well as the usual cosmetic changes in ensuring that my papered adhered to the cosmetic style of the journal, the copy editor also made several grammatical changes. I then was given an opportunity to read through this edited version and suggest any final corrections before my paper is uploaded to the journal's website.

This, of course, is all fairly standard practice. However, many of the grammatical changes made by the copy editor were incorrect. Of course, I noted this in my comments, so I hope these changes will be reverted before the paper is published.

It is appropriate for me to take further action in notifying the journal (e.g. a member of the editorial board) that a copy editor is repeatedly introducing errors?

This of course seems a little petty. On the other hand, these same grammatical errors occur repeatedly throughout papers in this journal (at least in recent papers published online), and I'm sure that I'm not the only reader who finds these mistakes irritating.


In case anyone is curious about the errors, the most common mistake is that the copy editor repeatedly replaced with a comma my usage of a semicolon before an independent clause, especially such a clause in the imperative mood: an example would be something like "This can be proved via the method of Gauss, see [1]". Other such comma splices were introduced - all by replacing semicolons with commas.

Additional grammatical mistakes were introduced that were clearly incorrect: for example, I perhaps overuse the phrase "Note that", and this was pruned on a couple of occasions by the copy editor, but in more than one case, the rest of the sentence wasn't edited to ensure that it still made sense.

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    Just for reference, what is an example of a sentence that becomes incorrect if you remove "note that"? – Federico Poloni Nov 6 '17 at 18:04
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    Moreover, if you say that "these same grammatical errors occur repeatedly throughout papers in this journal (at least in recent papers published online)", then this sounds like a matter of house style. You may feel that they are in error, and you may be right, but browsing through both Fowler and various entries on Language Log suggests that more things are merely foklore codifications than one might have first thought. (From a handful of dealings with the copy-editors used by the AMS, they really don't like semicolons.) Therefore ... – Yemon Choi Nov 6 '17 at 18:22
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    @FedericoPolino: I had written "Note in this case that...", and the copy editor replaced this with "In this case that...", so that the whole sentence became a dependent clause. – Peter Humphries Nov 6 '17 at 18:31
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    @Yemon Choi: You mean this? ---- (from p. 193 of this paper) Speaking Russian at home, Besicovitch's command of English remained stationary from his early days in Cambridge. For him the definite article was superfluous. A story is told that during one of his lectures an undergraduate tittered at some distortion of English idiom. "Gentlemen", said Besicovitch, "there are fifty million Englishmen speak English you speak; there are five hundred million Russians speak English I speak." There was no further tittering. – Dave L Renfro Nov 6 '17 at 19:10
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    No. Pity the poor underpaid copyeditor and just make your corrections. – aparente001 Nov 7 '17 at 4:47
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I can't give you a yes / no answer, but I can say what's likely to happen if you choose to complain.

If you choose to complain to the publisher: chances are they'll ask for some examples of poor copyediting and form their own opinion. If they agree with you, they might change the copyeditor (if it's outsourced) or provide him or her with the negative review and pointers (if it's an in-house employee). If they don't agree with you then probably nothing will happen other than giving you a vague "we are aware of the issue" response.

If you choose to complain to a member of the editorial board then:

  1. It's possible the editor will say "this is none of my business, approach the publisher", or forward to the publisher "I received this complaint, what do you think" (in which case, see the second paragraph).
  2. It's also possible (but in my opinion less likely) that the editor will take things seriously, in which case he or she will contact the publisher. Again, see second paragraph, except this time the publisher is also dealing with an unhappy editorial board member and so would be more inclined to make changes.

Finally if you choose to just make your corrections then your corrections get implemented and everyone just moves on to the next paper.

Having said all that, I gotta say, I don't see any difference between "This can be proved via the method of Gauss, see [1]" and "This can be proved via the method of Gauss; see [1]". Both simply say that the reader can find the proof in reference 1. It looks to me like an unnecessary correction, but it isn't per se wrong. I checked with another editor and he found both OK too. If you can confidently say that one of them is wrong, you have a level of English mastery that most other native speakers aren't even aware of.

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    Copyediting isn't only about meaning; it's about getting the details, like punctuation, right. Copyeditors aren't "most other native speakers." They're supposed to master English mechanics. Entire chapters have been written about commas versus semicolons, and the poster is correct in this case. – Eggy Jun 2 '18 at 20:13
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Publishers typically have a house "style" to which they adhere. Therefore, minor corrections that otherwise do not change the meaning are likely not an issue.

However, if the edit were to change the meaning of a part of your article, or represents an unintended error, then you should definitely protest. I have only once had to make a complaint to a publisher, but that was because they introduced significant errors in the mathematics in my paper, completely changing the meaning of the paper. In such cases, you should definitely notify someone about the problem, because they are significant enough to warrant a corrigendum if they weren't fixed at the proof stage.

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"In this case that..." is clearly incorrect. The copyeditor is correct in thinking that "Note that" is usually superfluous. I'm guessing that here the copyeditor was simply sloppy.

Regarding your Gauss example, I think both the comma and semicolon are incorrect. "See [1]" is a parenthetical remark and a citation, so it should be in parentheses, no?

But you're right, the comma before "see" is quite incorrect. As you say, in English a comma can't separate two independent clauses.

At least 90% of copyediting is bound by clear rules. Perhaps 5% of changes are optional, and the remaining 5% are left to the editor's discretion because no style manual covers the question. I've never encountered a house style that broke hard-and-fast rules of the English language, so this doesn't seem like a problem with house style but rather the copyeditor's competence.

I think it would be appropriate to contact the journal about this problem. The copyeditor is paid to do a task competently. If that's not what's happening, the journal should know about it. I wouldn't want my article to be published in worse shape than when I submitted it. That will reflect poorly on you, not the copyeditor.

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