Annual Meeting Reports

New Horizons for Manuscript Editors

It is important to make technology work for you and not against you. That was Elizabeth Blake’s message to manuscript editors during the meeting session “New Horizons for Manuscript Editors”. Computers and the Internet have changed how editors work, and pen and paper have given way to programs such as Microsoft Word.

Blake said that Word’s default settings are a major source of frustration to editors, noting that you can, however, customize Word’s automated behavior (turning off AutoCorrect, for example) in the Tools/ Options dialog box. Blake also demonstrated how the find-and-replace tool and its option to use clipboard contents are useful for changing terms that have complex formatting to house style.

Electronic PDF markup, which makes proofreading faster and uses less paper, and programs such as eXtyles that automate document cleanup and reference checking can help editors. eXtyles is a plug-in for Word produced by Inera, Inc, where Blake works as the senior product manager.

Stacy L Christiansen, director of manuscript editing for JAMA, told how the paper-based editing process has disappeared and everything is now online. That has led to several improvements in the publication process. The most obvious is improved communication. Christiansen said that 90% of JAMA’s author communication is now through e-mail, with limited fax and telephone use.JAMA no longer uses mail or courier; this lowers costs, eliminates the need to interpret people’s handwriting, and makes it easier to deal with overseas authors. Editors send documents that show changes back to authors, who then return their comments by adding them directly to the document, faxing back a printed copy, e-mailing a summary of corrections, or dictating their comments over the phone, she said.

Christiansen noted that one advantage of using new technology is the shorter time from receipt to rejection. More than half the articles submitted to JAMA are rejected on their first submission. Until recently, authors had to wait several weeks to hear, she said, but now JAMA sends replies to them within about a week. The use of new technology also eliminates the need to retype articles, and Christiansen stated that this improves accuracy and consistency.

Communication technology is also changing how editors work. Tools such as Skype and Glance allow inexpensive or free conversations, teleconferencing, and screen sharing by users around the world, Blake commented. That, with electronic editing and proofreading tools, benefits workers, Christiansen said. Editors can have more flexibility in location, even working from home, and journals are more able to use freelance staff. One downside that Christiansen noted is an increased trend toward outsourcing and job loss for editors.

Social media—such as Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn—are also changing how editors work. Laura King, a freelance editor and instructor at the University of Chicago, said that social-media tools are good for finding jobs and educational opportunities, hiring employees, and communicating with fellow editors. Each of the different social-media sites has distinct advantages and disadvantages, according to King. Facebook allows greater control over who is in one’s network, she said, but it is sometimes viewed as more personal than professional. LinkedIn is more work centered and is the first place many people go to when hiring, but the response time can be long, and the site has been watered down by the number of users looking for work, King remarked. Twitter is faster, giving instant communication, but messages contain only a little information and stay on the site for less than 2 weeks. King’s take-home message was that social media can bring editing opportunities to your doorstep.