Sunday, October 22, 2006

Fun with ApJ Week

This past week I received the proofs for the galaxies paper I submitted to the Astrophysical Journal (aka ApJ) in June. "Proofs" include to two versions of the paper: the actual proofs as well as the redlined manuscript. The proofs are an example of how the paper will look when it actually appears in the journal, tables and figures and everything. When verifying that the editors didn't ruin my figures, for instance, I look at the proofs. The last page of the proofs also includes a list of "Author Queries," which is where they explain that they have rearranged such & such sentence and ask if the rewording maintains the intended meaning of the sentence.

The redlined manuscript is a wholly different matter. In this case, while the proofed version was 15 pages, the redlined manuscript was 40. The two aspects of publishing a paper in an honest-to-goodness peer-reviewed journal are first the science editing (which includes the process of peer-review) and the secondly the manuscript editing. This second stage is so that all of the papers will conform to the same set of standards, so that they will all "look" the same. This is also the stage where an editor sits down with the paper and corrects all of the grammar and spelling mistakes. As you can imagine, this is the stage at which a well-written paper will sail through the process much more quickly than a poorly written one.

The redlined manuscript is the means by which the editors let the authors know of all the changes they made: every hyphen added or removed, every comma added or removed, every rewording and every cleaned-up equation. Well, not every-every. For instance, I prefer the word "barstrength" to "bar strength" when referring to the strength of a galaxy's bar; every instance I had of "barstrength" was changed to "bar strength," but this was only explicitly pointed out in the title. Some authors therefore sit down with their original manuscript and the new version and compare the two word-by-word, searching for inconsistencies and unremarked-upon switches of "which" and "that". Before electronic submissions, careful comparison was a much bigger deal: what if numbers were mistyped in a table? Now, though, such egregious errors are much less likely.

Then there are the various "grammar" rules set by the Journal. For example, apparently ApJ doesn't like it when sentences start with numbers larger than 9, so a sentence that I began with "Forty-eight of our 75 galaxies ..." was summarily changed to "Of our 75 galaxies, 48 ...". Then there are the rules that seem to change over the years: if it is consistency they want, then the rules should remain consistent. If an equation had brackets in a paper published four years ago, it should still have brackets in a paper published today.

For this paper, there weren't terribly many changes, and we didn't protest about any of them. At this stage, all I had to do was read through the manuscript carefully several times and email the editors back with a go-ahead. It felt very rewarding for so little work, but then, all of the real work had already been done. The maunscript editing stage is simply much easier than the scientific editing stage, which we're going through with the peanut star paper right now: the referee has sent back comments, and now I have to put actual effort and thought into incorporating and responding to them.


Vincent said...

Yeah, ApJ has some style quirks. Their are good points in their style guidelines, but there are sketchy ones as well. The one that really gets me is #11: The word "data" is plural and takes a plural verb. This statement is false, judging both by common usage and a top lexicographer. "Data" can be used as a mass noun in the same manner that "milk" is used. Arguably, "data" should be used as a mass noun when an individual datum is not a meaningful unit.

A true statement (my additions in bold) would be the following: The word "data" is plural in Latin and takes a plural verb in Latin. But that a word is plural or singular in some other language does not necessarily imply that it is the same when borrowed into English. "Cherries" is taken to be an English plural form even though it is derived from a French singular form. Words can shift number even within English: is "peas(e)" plural or singular?

mollishka said...

Vincent!!! Hi!! :)

Yeah, the data thing really irks me. It irks me even more when I find myself using it in the plural without thinking about it; I am usually up for a good ole fight in which I will argue that it is in fact a collective noun, like "water." The difference in plurality across languages is also an annoying thing people tend to not notice, like the professor here who likes to remind people that data is "les donnes" in French ... though usually that is the beginning of a statistics rant rather than a grammar one ...