Monday, February 22, 2010

The Joys of Editing

There's an interesting editorial in last week's Nature about their editorial practices and choices:

Editorial. 2010. Nature's choices. Nature 463:850.

The editors try to explain some of the editorial processes and dispel some of the negative rumors about how they select papers to publish. As one who has dabbled in editing from time to time, I confess that I enjoyed seeing them squirm a bit.

The truth is that editing is not always fun. Well, it isn't fun if you take it seriously. I've written about the editorial process and peer review on numerous occasions, trying to explain the importance of editing and the need for humility on all sides. I still get criticized for my editorial practices and standards, mostly I think because people are not accustomed to taking correction with grace. It's too bad that human pride so often gets in the way of good writing and editing, but I suppose it's inevitable. If no one was ever offended by an editor's choices, if an editor just smiled and corrected typos, that editor probably isn't doing a good job.

The basic editorial process is pretty much the same. An editor gets a paper or abstract that has been submitted to a journal or conference or something like that. The editor's job is to improve the good submissions, try to salvage the not so good, and graciously reject the lousy.

What bothers me is when authors attack editors for trying to improve submissions. I don't mean to imply that this is always the case. Many authors are willing and happy to improve their work, but sometimes authors take things way too personally and start lashing out.

A little advice, from an editor and an author: First, if you think your editor or reviewers are treating your work unfairly, perhaps you need to work on writing your ideas clearly. Second, don't give in to the temptation to exaggerate the problem. It's easy to indulge in self-righteous condemnation, but that won't get the writing/editing process moving. Third, if the editor requires revisions, then the editor must see some merit in your work. It's very frustrating to send an author editorial instructions for a paper that I think is important, only to be denounced by the author. I guess there's a tendency to think that revisions mean the editor doesn't like the paper, but that's silly. If I didn't like the paper, I'd just reject it.

What are the joys of editing? Getting a really good paper, helping authors improve their work, and seeing the fruits of my labor improving the creation model. To all of you who have been gracious about working with me as an editor, THANK YOU! To editors who have helped me improve my own work, THANK YOU! To those who've denounced me, THANK YOU for reminding me that I'm doing a good job.