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Different books, different authors, different projects: different challenges! This case study refers to a complex chemistry project, the reputed Comprehensive Heterocyclic Chemistry III, a project I exclusively copyedited besides creating the style sheet in consultation with the publisher (Elsevier in this case) and keeping an updated list of choices ready. ACS and Tetrahedron style guides, as well as Elsevier’s in-house style guide for comprehensives were the major references for chemistry terms and word choices; for the English and wherever ACS and Elsevier styles chose to remain mute, my usual dependable companions, Webster’s and Chicago Manual of Style. Of course, constant consultations in publisher are always essential, if only so that later on proofreader might not have to correct en masse something you had decided on a whim. In fact, I always advise against whims, until and unless you are sure that they have now developed into instincts. And finally, you have to find and be adept in finding reliable Internet sources, so that you know your chemistry, be a bit of an expert in using softwares like ChemDraw so you may spot an incorrect structure (beware that there might be more than a thousand chemical structures in one single chapter, and yet as a good editor you’re expected to spot an incorrect one even if it is the only one).

The present project didn’t start with this much detailed style sheet, though quite a many of these details were already there, since I had worked some time back on another chemistry project, Comprehensive Organometallic Chemistry III. Of course, the list of choices start fresh always with a fresh project: based on your experience and anticipation, on the words you are encountering with each new paragraph and page, the overall style and language you’ve chosen, and any other similar choices already made, it’s a reiterative process. And to get these choices constantly approved by the publisher (who will in turn get them approved by volume editors, editors-in-chief and maybe other subject experts too) is something which I cannot overstress upon: inconsistency is as much a sin as content not making sense for a copyeditor.

Download or open the style sheet with this study, and you will find some mauve and sky-blue highlights. The mauve ones were incorporated later, in response to pertinent queries by me to the publisher. The sky-blue ones were late additions by me (late means when I had worked on the first couple of articles, not more late than that!), which were later on approved by the publisher. Note with how much detail I had already started my style sheet (i.e. the style sheet without mauve/sky-blue points). This is essential: to envisage what all can come, to study all the raw files sent to you by the publisher, to study similar books in the market if possible, and then to make your decisions (which should be sound and defensible). The book followed a different style for references than normally used, Katritzky style. Hence, this itself involved setting up a separate list of journal and book codes, and a list of any other journals/books often cited so that a new unique code is assigned and then approved for the same, to be used thereafter. The proofreader’s responsibility would be to change to the approved codes in any articles done to that point (this may also give you a tip of the iceberg that is consistency, and a proofreader plays a huge role there).

Comprehensive Heterocyclic Chemistry series has always been a very reputed one, and one treads carefully, one plans beforehand at each step. I had to also send the first one or two copyedited articles for a trial typesetting at the very start, so that I could then coordinate with the typesetter on possible issues that could crop up later. These include basics like ring sizes and bond lengths where typesetters often go stray, especially when they have deadlines to beat and chemical ring structures make an appearance at all sorts of places, even in the footnotes and under bridge rules of tables. And of course the bond angles, positioning of equation numbers, placement of different kinds of floats, placement of permissions statement for something like a chemical structure, etc., all bear equal importance. The important thing to remember is that virtually every diagram, whether a figure or a table or an equation or a scheme or just a chemical structure, is a “float” in a chemistry comprehensive, and you’ve got to edit and proofread keeping this in mind. You cannot say “Equation (1) below shows that …”, since eqn (1) might be above this line (it’s a float, it would remain near to its citation, but would “float”). This is not a maths or a physics book where equations keep on getting derived, and hence the placement is exact. (Occasionally, you would find equations like 2H2O → 2H2 + O2, which are of course not floats: but these would be rare.)

Now download or open the list of choices. You will immediately get an idea of how tedious might be alphabetizing entries in say a list of keywords. And then, you would realize how there are less choices of English words as one or two words or with hyphens, and more the abbreviations commonly encountered and the chemistry terms, of how hydroxides, borates and ammonias are to be treated. Note the details on roman or italic fonts: very essential in a chemistry project. And you will know how chemistry editing is more carefulness and common sense, just as humanities editing is more language and subtlety besides common sense.


A good style sheet should be as much detailed as possible, covering all anticipated exigencies. And if a new one arises, rather than just trusting to one’s memory, enter the solution decided upon in the style sheet. That is, keep it updated, preferably with version numbers. You will realize the importance of this once you are deep into the project, especially if it’s a big one with hundreds of articles (e.g. encyclopedias). Trust me, you will find every case which you had imagined plus which you could never have imagined for each of the elements: and then the style sheet will bail you out. Or will enable you to take a decision quicker, based on what you had decided for a similar case earlier.

Ditto with a list of word choices and abbreviations. So you won’t forget whether you went for “marxist” or “Marxist”. Or whether “x-ray” or “X-ray” (and whether “X-Ray” at start of sentence). You might be engaged on more than one books/projects at the same time, and you might forget some of the decisions then. Running a search on your old files could be expensive in terms of time, and even not possible always. Again, when an abbreviation comes up in an article and you are sure about the context, you need not query the author for its expansion but straightaway insert it from your list of choices file (and maybe now query the author to confirm the change made).

You can write to me at av (dot) ankur (at) yahoo (dot) com for a sample style sheet and list of choices if you want to see what I mean. Or you could refer to Case Study I. Cheers!

One of the things which many copyeditors conveniently ignore unless instructed specifically by the publisher is abbreviations. While not changing a term to its acronym or abbreviation if it has come before in the manuscript may not be that big a crime (depends!), certainly using the same abbreviation for two different terms is one. If “PI” stands for “persistent infection”, it’s bad practice to use “PI” for “persistently infected”, even though they may not look that much different at first sight. Of course, you do rarely find an abbreviation being accepted for two terms, even if completely different, especially for books dealing with maths, physics or biology to a certain extent. It’s advisable to have a list of glossary terms or nomenclature (even rarer is same symbol for two different quantities) somewhere in the book, or advise the author to do the same, in such a case, so that both terms can be listed one after the other, and the reader when confused in the text can immediately refer the glossary/nomenclature/list of abbreviations.

Abbreviations bring with them a host of other issues, all of which take not as much time as carefulness. This becomes especially true for biology texts, where a figure would have most of its labels in the form of abbreviations, and then you have to cross-check whether the caption has all of them or defined or not. Plus if the caption has some extra abbreviation not present in the figure itself! Different projects would also have different styles, in that whether the captions stand independently of the text, or in continuity with the text. In the latter case, if an abbreviation has already come in the text, it need not be defined again in the caption. Choosing a style would also mostly depend on the editor, unless the publisher has given instructions to this much detail. And then, the editor has to think of the targeted readership, kind of book, estimated bulk and cost of the book (since more lines means more pages means drastic increase in costs), reader-friendliness, and then finally his/her own convenience.

Style might further extend to whether an abbreviation can be at the start of a new sentence/paragraph, whether common acronyms like laser and scuba are also to be expanded at first occurrences, how much of the common ground to be considered really common (i.e., though any reader of such a book would know that DNA is deoxyribonucleic acid and 5-HT is serotonin, you might not expand DNA but still expand 5-HT and even AIDS maybe). Considerations in a book series might also expect you to have a regular coordination with the volume editors, so that an abbreviation stands for only one thing not only in a particular chapter or a particular volume even, but across the whole series! And lastly, brand names, industry names sometimes look like abbreviations. Don’t erroneously query author to provide expansion: there is none! It might not only make you feel dumb later on, but also make the author feel (justifiably) angry.

Acronyms bring a different set of issues altogether. An editor has to know how a particular acronym is pronounced, so that he can insert the correct preceding article. NATO is not pronounced as en-ay-tee-oh but as if it is a word, naatoh. Hence we would say “a NATO meeting”, not “an NATO meeting”. Similarly, “an SS officer”, not “a SS officer”, since the pronounciation now would be ess-ess. Plurals also require care in not adding an “s” blindly. If “region of operation” was abbreviated as “ROP”, then ROPs (not ROP’s!) would mean “regions of operation” and not “region of operations”. “Region of operation” and “region of operations” would be two “different” terms and would require two different acronyms. And a blind search & replace procedure could be dangerous when dealing with abbreviations. They, whether in expanded or abbreviated forms, could be present in quoted matter, references, tables and boxes, glossary/nomenclature, front & back matter (including the chapter title itself!), permission statements, in short anywhere. And all these places would require not a blind adherence to what you were doing in the text, but some other considerations as well. In the text itself, a context might dictate sticking to the redefining of an abbreviation/acronym (even though defined before). For example, the author might be talking about how a certain term got coined, you would hardly replace that whole term itself by its abbreviation making the whole point moot!

Many copyeditors find this confusing, especially when they are deep buried in the context but not familiar with the subject. It is difficult to decide then whether the information contained in the clause begun by a “that” or a “which” is only extra or essential.

To begin with, I will look at the basic difference. Let’s assume that I’ve gone to a nearby field with my friend. There are two cows grazing there, one brown, one red. I say to my friend:

1.a The red cow is mine.

I could have said the same thing as

1.b The cow that is red is mine.

This would simply mean that there is only one red cow out of the two (usage of the definite article) and such a cow is mine.

Now assume that there is only one cow grazing, and incidentally it is red. I now say to my friend:

1.c The cow is mine.


1.d The cow, which is red, is mine.

which translates to

1.e The cow you see is mine. By the way, you can also see it’s red.

“which” is for extra, parenthetical information, i.e. trivia. Note the presence of commas around “which” in this nonrestrictive usage (“nonrestrictive” since I am not restricting that only the red cow is mine; I am simply saying the cow is mine, let it be of any color, the color’s only incidental, mate!).

You will find the following:

2.a He went to Taj Mahal, which is regarded as one of the finest specimens of Mughal architecture.

You cannot say

2.b He went to Taj Mahal that is regarded as one of the finest specimens of Mughal architecture.

The whole “which … architecture” clause is in apposition to “Taj Mahal”: it describes the noun it sets off, i.e. it is just something extra being said of Taj Mahal. The main information contained is just “He went to Taj Mahal”. Of course if there would be more than one Taj Mahals, one regarded as a fine specimen and the others as bad or average specimens, then someone could have said

2.c He went to the Taj Mahal that is regarded as one of the finest specimens of Mughal architecture.

Note that the best option for an editor in cases like 2.a is the following:

2.d He went to Taj Mahal, regarded as one of the finest specimens of Mughal architecture.

This is especially true when some kind of a temporal sense need to be avoided. Refer to the following example:

3.a The scarcity of hay … led to further decrease in the already limited number of draught animals, which were essential for tilling, sowing, and transport in the absence of tractors.

I would prefer to recast the sentence as

3.b The scarcity of hay … led to further decrease in the already limited number of draught animals, essential for tilling, sowing, and transport in the absence of tractors.

Though 3.a was fine I yet choose to remove “which were”, since the necessity of draught animals for the enumerated processes would continue even today, in any society or conditions, if modern equipment (tractors here) were to be absent. Also note that some non-native speakers might write “who were essential” instead of “which were essential”: not changing “who” to “which” would be a grave omission.

Note that usage of a definite article sometimes gives hint of how essential or trivial the information is. Also, “that” is often left out in a restrictive usage, for example:

4.a Do you know the issues still left unfinished? (better)

is same as

4.b Do you know the issues that are still left unfinished?

The same also applies to “who” without a comma (restrictive) and with a comma preceding (nonrestrictive), and to “where” without a comma (restrictive) and with a comma (nonrestrictive).

5.a Taj Mahal, where hundreds of tourists go within a single day, is in Agra. (nonrestrictive; “where … day” is just extra info)

5.b He is at a place where he won’t even find a single drop of water. (restrictive; if you put comma before “where”, you are just saying “He is at a place”: that’s hardly a statement unless you were debating his existence itself)

Hi everyone. Having been in the publishing industry since 2005, one thing I now know is that there are a lot of gray areas, and some of them are good gray areas when it comes to editing, that is copyediting, per se. This could range from Read the rest of this entry »