A Day Year in the Life of an Editor-in-Chief

by Lorie Kloda
Associate University Librarian, Planning & Community Relations, Concordia University

I have worked as a scholarly journal editor in some fashion or another for at least 10 years with various titles, but mostly with the open access journal Evidence Based Library and Information Practice. In my various roles as a peer reviewer, evidence summary writer, section editor, and associate editor, I have gained a lot of valuable experience and skills. And I imagine many librarians who have had these roles or aspire to fill those positions at some point have a rather good conception of what those roles entail.

Since December 2015 (so, a little more than a year), I have served in the role of editor-in-chief, and I thought it might be interesting to provide an insider’s view as to what this involves. Actually, it was an opportunity for me to reflect on my overall responsibilities and the many (many, many) tasks that I undertake to fulfill these. The fact is, I, and most editors-in-chief of scholarly journals, do not do this is a full-time job. We cobble together the time to get this work done and achieve our vision while working in full-time academic positions. At least, if we’re lucky enough to have full-time paying positions. Another fact is that I do the work from wherever I am, usually my office, or laptop perched somewhere in my home on the weekend. In some ways, working with an editorial team is much like working as a freelancer – I collaborate with several people who also have other jobs and with whom I do not share office space or even a time zone.

I cannot realistically present a “day in the life” because on a given day I may actually do nothing related to my role as editor-in-chief. Whereas on other days, I may do a handful of small tasks. Instead, I present an overview of the kind of work I’ve been involved with over the past year in this particular role.

Responsibilities as an editor-in-chief (in no particular order):
• Assist editors in evaluating submissions
• Recruit peer reviewers for the journal, and provide guidance to (and guidelines for) reviewers
• Provide leadership on the direction of the journal through consultation with various stakeholders
• Solicit and provide editorial review for commentaries and other content
• Answer author queries about potential submissions
• Work closely with the production editor to ensure issues are published on schedule
• Manage a team of editors and editorial advisors, as well as writing assistants, an indexer, and copyeditors
• Write editorials
• Liaise with professionals responsible for managing the Open Journal System (the platform on which the journal content is hosted) and ensure the long-term preservation of the content
• Oversee communications, including promotion of the journal and its indexing in various databases, and status in the Directory of Open Access Journals
• Coordinate “features” – content devoted to particular themes, conferences or symposia which appear in select journal issues

The tasks I undertake to achieve the above consist of a blend of activities, mostly emailing, meetings on Skype (with up to 12 people, across 14 time zones), call for applicants and screening of submissions for various positions. I try to track this time, but even so, the numbers don’t capture everything and the work is not evenly spread out over the weeks or even the months.

It should go without saying, but I would not be able to achieve any of my objectives without the dedication and collaboration of all of my colleagues – associate editors, production editor, copyeditors, etc. In the end, the position is extremely rewarding. I often find myself wishing I had more time to devote to the role and to thinking of ways to support the team of editors in producing such a high caliber publication. Hopefully, with more experience, and perhaps magically, more time, I’ll be able to add to contribute even more.

This article gives the views of the author(s) and not necessarily the views of the Centre for Evidence Based Library and Information Practice or the University Library, University of Saskatchewan.

Writing for Scholarly Publication: Mastering Basic Punctuation

by David Fox
Librarian Emeritus, University of Saskatchewan

WARNING: This article contains Oxford commas!

I confess to being a punctuation nerd – or, to use Lynne Truss’s slightly more dignified term, a punctuation stickler (1). I consider a well-punctuated paper to be akin to a fine work of art. Now, I realize that Brain-Work followers are superior in every way, and so I apologize in advance if some may feel that they already know it all when it comes to punctuation. If you don’t need this column, gentle reader, then I suspect you know someone who does.

Why is punctuation important? Good punctuation, usually without our realizing it, helps to convey meaning, promote understanding, and allows a piece of text to be read quickly and efficiently. Bad punctuation does the opposite. Any reputable scholarly journal will want to adhere to accepted standards of punctuation. Authors may help speed up the processing of their manuscripts by paying careful attention to their punctuation.

One would think that most librarians who aspire to be writers have already mastered the art of basic punctuation. However, over four years as Editor-in-Chief at Partnership, I found that almost all manuscripts submitted to the journal needed a large number of punctuation corrections. Some of these corrections were due to minor lapses of attention, but in many cases it was obvious that the writer was making the same error consistently, demonstrating a lack of awareness of basic punctuation rules.

Some punctuation practices are well established. Others are optional and subject to the author’s or editor’s preference. This blog post will deal with the basics of commas and semi colons: two of the most commonly misused punctuation symbols.

The comma

(One of the clearest and most concise punctuation guides I’ve found on the Web is the University of Sussex Guide to Punctuation by Larry Trask. According to Trask, “There are four types of comma: the listing comma, the joining comma, the gapping comma and bracketing commas” (Summary of Commas).

A listing comma, as the name implies, separates words, phrases, or clauses in series.

Edwin has published many articles in journals, books, and conference proceedings.

The most common pitfalls involve surveys, the analysis of qualitative data, and the omission of human ethics permissions.

A joining comma combines two independent clauses and is followed by one of the connecting words: and, or, but, yet or while.

The journal accepts online submissions in MS Word format, and authors must register on the system in order to submit.

This may seem an obvious point, but it is a significant one.

A gapping comma can be used to avoid repetition of words that have already occurred in a sentence.

It was obvious that the writer was making the same error consistently, demonstrating a lack of awareness of basic punctuation rules.

instead of

It was obvious that the writer was making the same error consistently; it was obvious that the writer was demonstrating a lack of awareness of basic punctuation rules.

Bracketing commas usually come in pairs. They set off a weak interruption which could be removed from the sentence without changing its meaning substantially. A single bracketing comma can also appear at the beginning or end of a sentence.

If you don’t need this column, gentle reader, then I suspect you know someone who does.

Good punctuation, usually without our realizing it, helps to convey meaning.

Amanda exercised admirable self-control, for the most part.

The semi-colon
Semi-colons are easy. They have only two main uses:
1) To join two independent clauses without the use of a coordinating conjunction:

Errors in methodology will almost certainly undermine the results of a research study; serious flaws may render a manuscript unpublishable.

NOTE, however –
Three or more independent clauses should be joined using commas.

Originally the plantations were rather small, there were fewer slaves than colonists, and social discrimination was less harsh than in the eighteenth century (MLA 86).

(This is an example of the use of the listing comma.)

2) To separate items in a series when one or more of those items contain commas:

The library strategic plan contains measures to promote tenure and performance standards; reimbursement for research expenses, research days, and release time; development of research competencies, lecture series, and workshops; and measures to disseminate the research of librarians.

A common mistake with semi-colons is to use them where a colon should be used instead. A colon is meant to indicate that what comes next is an elaboration of what came before.

Correct: It takes two to speak the truth: one to speak and another to hear.

Incorrect: It takes two to speak the truth; one to speak and another to hear.

(A semi-colon joins two independent clauses. In the incorrect example above “one to speak and another to hear” is a sentence fragment, not an independent clause.)

Another mistake is to use a semi-colon where a comma would suffice.

Incorrect: The library strategic plan contains measures to promote tenure and performance standards; reimbursement for research expenses; development of research competencies; and measures to disseminate the research of librarians.

Correct: The library strategic plan contains measures to promote tenure and performance standards, reimbursement for research expenses, development of research competencies, and measures to disseminate the research of librarians.

(In the above example, semi-colons are not necessary as the items in series do not themselves contain commas.)

The serial or “Oxford” comma
Authorities differ concerning the use of a comma preceding “and” or “or” before the final item in a list. I have used serial commas throughout this article.

Edwin has published many articles in journals, books, and conference proceedings.

The most common pitfalls involve surveys, the analysis of qualitative data, and the omission of human ethics permissions.

However, typical British practice is to omit the final comma.

Hungarian is spoken in Hungary, in western Rumania, in northern Serbia and in parts of Austria and Slovakia. (Trask)

Personally, I would prefer a comma after “Serbia” in this sentence.

Those who argue against the serial comma claim that it is redundant and contrary to conventional practice. They reason that one shouldn’t need both a comma and a conjunction. Others maintain that consistent use of serial commas helps to avoid ambiguity.

Regardless of one’s opinion on this controversy, a number of leading writers’ manuals, including The MLA Style Manual and Guide to Scholarly Publishing, The Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association, the Chicago Manual of Style, and the Oxford Style Manual all recommend use of the serial comma (Serial comma). With such widespread endorsement, it makes sense to adopt the practice of using serial commas – especially when writing for a journal that uses any of these major style guides.

In Conclusion
There are four standard ways to join two independent clauses:
1) Use a semi-colon

Information literacy is essential for developing critical thinking; it is also important for cultivating lifelong learning.

2) Use a comma and a conjunction

Information literacy is essential for developing critical thinking, and it is also important for cultivating lifelong learning.

3) Use a main clause and dependent clause joined by a conjunction

Information literacy is essential for developing critical thinking and is also important for cultivating lifelong learning.

(In this example, “Information literacy” is the subject of both clauses. A comma is not required before the conjunction “and”.)

4) Use two separate sentences

Information literacy is essential for developing critical thinking. It is also important for cultivating lifelong learning.

I would guess that nearly half of the punctuation corrections I have made as an editor involve misuse of options 1, 2, or 3 above. “What’s the big deal?” you might say. It matters because reputable journals care about these small details; the more attention an editor needs to give to the mechanics of a paper, the less time there may be to consider its actual content. This is not rocket science. It’s just as easy to do it right as to do it wrong. Unleash your inner stickler!

Works Cited

MLA Style Manual and Guide to Scholarly Publishing, 3rd ed. New York: Modern Language Association of America, 2008. Print.

Serial comma. Wikipedia. 16 Oct. 2015. Web. 25 Oct. 2015.
<https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Serial_comma>

Trask, Larry. Guide to Punctuation. University of Sussex, 1997. Web. 25 Oct. 2015.
<http://www.sussex.ac.uk/informatics/punctuation/>

Truss, Lynne. Eats, Shoots & Leaves. New York: Gotham Books, 2003. Print.

This article gives the views of the author(s) and not necessarily the views of the Centre for Evidence Based Library and Information Practice or the University Library, University of Saskatchewan.

Writing for Scholarly Publication: How I Learned to Relax and Accept the “Singular They”

by David Fox
Librarian Emeritus, University of Saskatchewan

I’m old-fashioned. I was taught that pronouns and their antecedents should agree. Sentences like “James Keelaghan updated their Facebook status” drive me crazy. And so, until recently, I disdained the practice in the popular media and everyday speech of using the pronoun “they” (and its variants: their, them, themselves), to refer to a single individual, wherever that person’s sex is indeterminate. As an editor at Partnership, I assiduously stamped out any and all instances of this usage in the belief that it is not appropriate in academic writing. However, lately I’ve come to accept that use of the “singular they”, as it’s known in the grammatical literature, is okay in certain circumstances – mostly when there’s no other better option.

This year, Sweden officially adopted the pronoun “hen” as an alternative to “han” (he) or “hon” (she) for use in contexts where a person’s gender is unknown or immaterial (Sweden…). Unfortunately, there is no gender-neutral third person singular pronoun in English. Recognition of the need for such a pronoun is nothing new. Over the years, a multitude of alternative pronouns have been suggested (Gender…), but none have received widespread acceptance.

To our grandparents’ generation, the accepted generic singular pronoun was “he”. Also in our grandparents’ day, married women were often referred to by their husband’s name, e.g., Mrs. Edward Humdihoodle. Today both of these practices seem quaint and sexist – the feminist movement has rendered them obsolete. Adding to the pressure for a gender-neutral pronoun is the tricky question of how to refer to persons undergoing gender transition. Such individuals would likely appreciate the availability of a gender-neutral pronoun.

So what is the alternative to using “he” as the default third person singular pronoun? Using “he or she” is awkward. Some have suggested alternating between “he” and “she”. For librarianship, nursing, and other occupations where the large majority of practitioners are female, the argument could be made that, on purely statistical grounds, the default singular pronoun should be “she”. None of these solutions seems ideal. Consider also the following sentences where neither “his” nor “her” is appropriate:

I support the right of every mother or father to educate her children as she desires.

Is it your brother or your sister who can hold his breath for four minutes?
(adapted from Pinker 257)

This brings us to consideration of the singular they. Christine Neilson, in her February 2015 Brain-Work post, recommended Steven Pinker’s book: The Sense of Style: the Thinking Person’s Guide to Writing in the 21st Century. It’s not the sort of book you can sit down and read from cover to cover, but it contains much common sense advice for the modern writer. Pinker challenges traditional thinking and practice on a number of grammatical issues, always with thoroughly reasoned and frequently witty arguments. Pinker points out that the singular they has a long history and was used by Shakespeare, Austen, Chaucer, the King James Bible, Swift, Byron, Thackery, Wharton, Shaw, and Auden (258).

The singular they seems most natural when used with non-specific antecedents such as “no ____”, “any ____”, someone, “anyone”, “everyone”, etc. Pinker gives an example from a 2013 press release by U.S. President Obama: “No American should ever live under a cloud of suspicion just because of what they look like” (255).

A singular they/their would also resolve the gender conflict in the sentences quoted above:

I support the right of every mother or father to educate their children as they desire.

Is it your brother or your sister who can hold their breath for four minutes?

Achieving Pronoun/Antecedent Agreement
If you know the subject’s gender, then use the appropriate pronoun. Write “The bride addressed her wedding party” rather than “The bride addressed their wedding party.”

If you can make the pronoun and its antecedent agree by making the antecedent plural, without significantly altering the meaning of the sentence, then do so:

While the chief librarian advocates for the library, they can also often see more clearly, and with less bias, the larger university picture.

would become:

While chief librarians advocate for the library, they can also often see more clearly, and with less bias, the larger university picture.

If all else fails, it’s acceptable to use a singular they now and then, but don’t overdo it. While not ideal, until the English equivalent of “hen” emerges, I suspect that use of the singular they will become increasingly widespread and may eventually become more common in academic writing. Pinker says, “The main danger in using these forms [of the singular they] is that a more-grammatical-than-thou reader may falsely accuse you of making an error. If they do, tell them that Jane Austen and I think it’s fine” (261).

Works Cited
Pinker, Steven. The Sense of Style: the Thinking Person’s Guide to Writing in the 21st Century. New York: Viking, 2014. Print.

“Gender-specific and gender-neutral pronouns.” Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gender-specific_and_gender-neutral_pronouns

“Sweden adds gender-neutral pronoun to dictionary.” Theguardian 24 March 2015. http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/mar/24/sweden-adds-gender-neutral-pronoun-to-dictionary

This article gives the views of the author(s) and not necessarily the views of the Centre for Evidence Based Library and Information Practice or the University Library, University of Saskatchewan.