|English Editing at Astronomy & Astrophysics|
Language editing: preliminary comments
Most papers in A&A have been written by non-native English speakers, and they will also be read by many non-native speakers, so seeking clarity is the main goal when the A&A language editors make suggestions for changes. Those authors with a limited experience of English are strongly recommended to find help in writing their papers, preferably from a native-speaking colleague if one is available. It is the policy of A&A to hold the authors responsible for a correct formulation of their text. A&A does offer help, but only after the scientific content of a manuscript has been judged to be sufficient for publication, so it should be understandable before it goes to a referee. That said, it is relatively seldom that a paper is sent back for preliminary revision due to language difficulties, which means that authors have been making considerable effort in this regard.
Basic English is rarely a problem, therefore, and the language editor's task is to make the expression clearer, to iron out ambiguities, and to suggest changes to help the author make the point more effectively. Papers are sent to language editors at the recommendation of either the referee or one of the Journal's editors. It is also important to know that not all papers are looked at by a language editor, which can explain some differences in usage between the articles actually published. There are also the normal small differences between suggestions made by each of the language editors.
The text is read by us to assess its grammar, syntax, and clarity. The language editors intervene first to remove grammatical errors, second to resolve any ambiguities of expression, and third to smooth out or simplify the expression, leading to a style for the journal that is clear, concise, and easy for scientists to read. To this end, we feel that the language should be transparent, meaning it should go unnoticed, thereby allowing the reader to pay full attention to the scientific content. Although it is not our primary goal, we sometimes find problems in the abstract and captions or other details in the final, accepted manuscript, and will at that point recommend changes that the author needs to consider with the language suggestions.
How to react to suggestions
Most changes will be for minor points and will often be clear to the author. Others may not be fully understood, but the author will sense that it improves the paper so will change it as indicated. In some cases, however, a suggested change may seem to contradict an author's intended meaning or to alter scientific content in some way. This is the situation that shows why this final step in the editorial process is needed and where the author has the final word in most cases. Rather than ignore the suggestion entirely, an author should consider it as a warning that there is either (i) an English error that prompted the change or (ii) some lack of clarity in the original that must be dealt with. Rather than reject the suggestion to make a change outright, an author should try to rephrase that section to make it clearer. In other words, the language editor is basing the suggestion not on the science but on the words and structures that express the science so that both will be clearer in the end. Language editors can always be approached to look again at any revision or explain a suggested change, no matter how short.
Aims of the A&A English guide
This language handbook can be used in different ways, which include finding explanations behind some of the suggested changes. It was written based on the kinds of changes we recommend most often in A&A papers, so it does not pretend to be a full English language guide.
The most useful time to use this A&A handbook is while working through the changes we have suggested in your accepted article, whenever you are not able to understand why a change was suggested. It not only contains details, but also tries to give a sense of the spirit behind certain types of changes we ask for, from some simple conventions about details of spelling or punctuation, through causes of ambiguity, to changes for the sake of rhetorical effectiveness. At times, for instance, some of these explanations will have been inserted into the yellow note boxes in your corrected version, when a problem occurs often in a paper.
A second use might also be to take a look at it before submitting a paper so as to anticipate some of the changes we will suggest anyway or, alternatively, as a ‘style guide’ to supplement any you might be using at present.