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.