amastyleinsider

May 20, 2013

Quiz Bowl: Editorial Processing and Assessment

Filed under: editing process — amastyleinsider @ 11:22 am
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So, what happens to my manuscript once it has been submitted for publication? Who reads it? Who decides its fate? If it is accepted, what happens next? Help!

Many authors are perplexed by the editorial processing and assessment stages of the publication process. Sometimes it seems as if manuscripts are submitted for publication only to disappear into a sinkhole of unpublished data. Never fear, diligent authors. This month’s AMA Manual of Style quiz covers the procedures involved in editorial assessment and processing.

Here’s an example to test your knowledge of this often puzzling process.

Who on the editorial team makes decisions regarding rejection, revision, and acceptance of manuscripts?

editor

peer reviewer

both the editor and peer reviewer

So, what do you think? (Use your mouse to highlight the text box.)

editor

That one wasn’t too hard. The editor is the head honcho after all, although input from the peer reviewers is invaluable.

If you’re interested in learning more about how manuscripts are processed and assessed, check out this month’s quiz at www.amamanualofstyle.com.—Laura King, MA, ELS

March 12, 2013

Quiz Bowl: Author-Editor Relationship

Filed under: editing process,quizzes — amastyleinsider @ 3:06 pm
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There have been some famous, even notorious, author-editor relationships: Charles Dickens and Edward Bulwer-Lytton, Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath, Raymond Carver and Gordon Lish. This month’s quiz takes us on a tour of some of these fruitful and fractious relationships as a means of exploring effective ways for editors to handle issues with authors. The following is an example from this month’s quiz.

Vladimir Nabokov, author of Lolita, notoriously and wittily disdained editors. In a 1967 interview in The Paris Review, he said, “By ‘editor’ I suppose you mean proofreader. Among these I have known limpid creatures of limitless tact and tenderness who would discuss with me a semicolon as if it were a point of honor—which, indeed, a point of art often is. But I have also come across a few pompous avuncular brutes who would attempt to “make suggestions” which I countered with a thunderous ‘stet!’”1

What is the best way for editors to communicate with authors who balk at the suggestions made to improve the manuscript?

a. E-mail the author to tell him/her that all the edits are based on the AMA Manual of Style and therefore not subject to change.

b. Telephone the author to discuss the edits, iterating the rationale and providing resource support for the changes.

c. Do not respond to the author.

d. Eliminate all the edits and publish the paper as the author originally submitted it.

What would you do? Here’s our advice (use your mouse to highlight the text box):

Telephone the author to discuss the edits, iterating the rationale and providing resource support for the changes.

Usually, an author’s insistence to overrule all editorial changes is a knee-jerk reaction to extensive editing. Most authors are aware of the editing process, although some need to be guided gently through it. Communicating with the author and explaining the reason for the changes (as well as providing resource support when necessary) can often defuse a volatile situation.—Laura King, MA, ELS

 

  1. Gold H, interviewer. Vladimir Nabokov, The Art of Fiction No. 40. The Paris Review. http://www.theparisreview.org/interviews/4310/the-art-of-fiction-no-40-vladimir-nabokov. Accessed February 8, 2013.

December 6, 2012

Quiz Bowl: Intellectual Property

Filed under: quizzes — amastyleinsider @ 2:59 pm
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Whenever I see the words intellectual property, I think of David Letterman. Remember when he left NBC for CBS, thus inciting an intellectual property firestorm? NBC claimed intellectual property rights on much of Letterman’s material, including Stupid Pet Tricks and the Top 10 List. The controversy even caused the fictional demise of Larry “Bud” Melman (also considered the intellectual property of NBC), although the actor who played the character of Larry “Bud” Melman (Calvert DeForest) continued with Letterman at CBS until he retired in 2002. Much comic fodder was made of this intellectual property brouhaha, mostly by Letterman himself. However, in publishing circles, intellectual property is serious business.

So, what exactly is intellectual property? The AMA Manual of Style writes,

Intellectual property is a legal term for that which results from the creative efforts of the mind (intellectual) and that which can be owned, possessed, and subject to competing claims (property). Three legal doctrines governing intellectual property are relevant for authors, editors, and publishers in biomedical publishing: copyright (the law protecting authorship and publication), patent (the law protecting invention and technology), and trademark (the law protecting words and symbols used to identify goods and services in the marketplace).

This month’s AMA Manual of Style quiz offers multiple-choice questions on intellectual property. Test your knowledge by responding to the following question from this month’s quiz:

A scientist develops data while working at Harvard University. He then moves to Stanford University, where he publishes an article using the original data in JAMA. Who owns the data?

  1. Harvard University
  2. Stanford University
  3. Scientist
  4. JAMA

What do you think? Do the data belong to the scientist, one of the academic institutions, or the publishing journal? Use your mouse to highlight the text box for the answer:

Harvard University

In scientific research, 3 primary arenas exist for ownership of data: the government, the commercial sector, and academic or private institutions or foundations. Although an infrequent occurrence, when data are developed by a scientist without a relationship to a government agency, a commercial entity, or an academic institution, the data are owned by that scientist. Any information produced by an office or employee of the a government agency in the course of his or her employment is owned by the government. Data produced by employees in the commercial sector (eg, a pharmaceutical, device, or biotechnology company, health insurance company, or for-profit hospital or managed care organization) are most often governed by the legal relationship between the employee and the commercial employer, granting all rights of data ownership and control to the employer. According to guidelines established by Harvard University in 1988 and subsequently adopted by other US academic institutions, data developed by employees of academic institutions are owned by the institutions (§5.6.1, Ownership and Control of Data, pp 179-183 in print).

So, when Letterman packed his bags and moved to CBS, he was legally required to leave some of his property behind because it was owned by NBC. Similarly, when authors leave their academic institutions, they are usually required to relinquish the results of the work they performed during their employment.—Laura King, MA, ELS

September 15, 2011

Jarring Jargon

Theodore M. Bernstein, in The Careful Writer: A Modern Guide to English Usage, describes jargon as “meaningless, unintelligible speech,” which is how some people might describe their last conversation with their physician. In science and medicine, many barriers to clear communication exist, with jargon being one of them. In fact, it’s so difficult for physicians and patients to communicate clearly that a federal program has been created to promote simplified health-related language nationwide. The Health Literacy Action Plan is a “national action plan to improve health literacy.” The entire action plan is 73 pages (which is probably their first mistake) and it highlights the fact that we have a problem.

As editors, we know that jargon is to be avoided in medical literature. While jargon may evolve for the most innocuous of reasons, it is a vocabulary specific to a profession that sometimes is esoteric or pretentious and that can be confusing to those not familiar with it (sometimes to those familiar with it as well). “Inside talk” can be just that by design—it keeps outsiders out. Therein lies the source of the negative feelings about jargon.

In addition to being exclusive, some jargon is offensive and unprofessional. Have you ever seen an FLK? Probably. That’d be a funny-looking kid. “We bagged her in the ER” sounds ominous; what it means is that a patient was given ventilatory assistance with a bag-valve-mask prior to intubation in the emergency department. Hopefully the emergency department physician didn’t describe the patient as a GOMER. This means “get out of my emergency room” and could refer to, for instance, an elderly patient who is demented or unconscious and near death and who perhaps should die peacefully rather than occupy emergency department resources. In this example, jargon diminishes the complexity of a situation that should be dealt with in a more thoughtful way. As Bernstein writes, “All the words that describe the kinds of specialized language that fall within this classification [of inside talk] have connotations that range from faintly to strongly disparaging.”

Jargon also sometimes violates rules of grammar, eg, turning nouns into verbs, “The doctor scoped the patient,” or creating back-formations, like “The patient’s extremities were cyanosed,” instead of “The patient’s extremities showed signs of cyanosis.” Jargon can sometimes appear to depersonalize, by defining a person in terms of a disease. A “bypassed patient” may be one who has undergone coronary artery bypass graft surgery rather than one who has been overlooked. Sometimes, patients might be referred to by their organs, such as “the lung in room 502” instead of “the patient in room 502 with lung disease.”

The AMA Manual of Style lists examples of jargon to avoid in section 11.4, Jargon. Some other examples that we’ve collected over the years are listed here:

* Collodion baby is better phrased as collodion baby phenotype or “the infant had a collodion membrane at birth.”

* Surgeons perform operations or surgical procedures, not surgeries.

* Rather than say a patient has a complaint, describe the patient’s primary concern.

* Do not use shorthand (eg, exam for examination, preemie for premature infant, prepped for prepared).

* Euphemisms sometimes are not clear and should be avoided: “The patient died” is preferred to “The patient succumbed or expired”; the same holds true for killed vs sacrificed (in discussion of animal subjects).

* Patients aren’t “put on” medication, they’re treated with medication. Also, patients aren’t “placed on” ventilators, they’re given ventilatory assistance.

Certainly jargon does have its place. It is specialized, and those in the same field can use it to communicate precisely and quickly. However, when it comes to medical and scientific publications, jargon is best avoided. Bernstein ends his entry on “inside talk” with the following: “It must never be forgotten that the function of writing is communication.” Clear enough.—Lauren Fischer

July 18, 2011

Go, Embargo, Go

Filed under: editing process,ethics — amastyleinsider @ 1:18 pm
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So what’s an embargo, anyway? There’s the economic trade kind, but let’s stick to the news kind (much more relevant for AMA Style Insider readers). I spoke with Jann Ingmire, the JAMA and Archives Journals media relations guru, and she explained that embargoes exist primarily to give reporters the opportunity to cover a story in a more thorough way.

Here’s how they work: Embargoed material is released to members of the press prior to being released to the public, usually a few days early. This gives reporters time to do research, conduct interviews, and write a really great piece. When the embargo lifts, journalists are already prepared to report on newly published scientific studies.

Most of the time, the system works, but occasionally, an embargo is broken. Ms. Ingmire said she tries to give reporters the benefit of the doubt because, usually, it’s simple human error. Sometimes, though, the embargo break is flagrant. When this happens, reporters are sanctioned and stop receiving embargoed material.

Embargoes make it possible for everyone—from the independent blogger to the major media outlet—to have the same opportunity to gather a story. If you want to learn more, read embargowatch.wordpress.com, a blog that chronicles how embargoes affect news coverage.—Lauren Fischer

May 31, 2011

Editors’ Eyes

Filed under: editing process — amastyleinsider @ 9:49 am
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The dialog box in Word suggests unironically that I should consider changing antidiabetic to ant diabetic. Is there a hyperglycemic epidemic in the insect population that I missed hearing about?

Spell-check can be a useful tool that improves the quality and readability of content. But as editors and readers know all too well, spell-check can be dangerous if wielded indiscriminately. Instead of making the role of a human editor obsolete, spell-check has only underscored the need for such professionals.

Several papers submitted to JAMA recently proved this point. I usually run spell-check after I complete my editing in case I missed something. In addition to the diabetic ants, Word suggested the following: change metformin to motormen, pertussis to peruses, autonomously to gluttonously, and PDF to puff.

I politely declined all these fine suggestions but was grateful when Word spotted terible that should have been tertile. What a difference a word makes.

Over time spell-check has become more useful because I regularly add words to my locally stored dictionary (“Add to Dictionary” in the dialog box). In addition, Dorland’s offers a medical spell-checker that can be integrated directly into Word and Stedman’s offers a medical spell-checker as well

Despite these useful add-ons, I still like to read articles word-for-word, when time permits, and not rely solely on technology to prevent errors. The ants, I’m afraid, are beyond my expertise.—Stacy L. Christiansen, MA

April 8, 2011

What Are You Trying to Say?

Filed under: editing process — amastyleinsider @ 6:46 pm
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In his chapter, “An Approach to Style” in The Elements of Style, E. B. White states, “A careful and honest writer does not have to worry about style.” This statement guides me as an editor, and as a writer, when I become too mired in the frustrations of dangling modifiers, passive sentences, imperfect words. I try to remember, the point of any writing is to communicate. When I ask myself what I am communicating, and get back to the simplest idea of my purpose for an assignment, the editing becomes easier, and the intricacies of style seem less of an obstacle and more of a tool.

But what happens when an editor isn’t sure what he or she is communicating? Medicine is complex, full of specialized words and obscure concepts. What happens when we don’t realize that a word is being used incorrectly, because our understanding of the concept being communicated is limited? This is perhaps the most difficult challenge I face as an editor of medical journals, and the reason we track our changes when sending them to authors. What if my streamlining of a complex sentence detrimentally affects its meaning? It’s always my fear that, in attempting to improve a statement, I will cause the meaning to be changed.

This is why I’m grateful for the author-assisted editing process. Each author who carefully sorts through my myriad comments and questions, who assesses the edits I make and comments on them, is my ally in making sure any reader, regardless of their experience with English or level of medical expertise, can use our journals in their work. Physicians are busy people, and editing is not their job. Yet, this partnership allows us to make our journal as useful and far-reaching as possible. As a microbiology student, I regularly used medical journals in my research and school assignments. Reading these studies was challenging at best, and occasionally baffling. It’s this experience that I go back to—remembering that it’s not just myself and the author who will need to understand this work, that it affects all levels of medicine—and remembering my purpose, I turn the elements of style into my tools.—Roya Khatiblou, MA

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