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Discussion Details

Title: RE: Does editing matter?
Submitter: Joseph Salmons
Description: A while back, Mike Cahill posted to LINGUIST about a decline in comments made by LINGUIST book reviewers on the quality of book editing:

  Date: Mon, 10 Sep 2012 12:25:55
  From: Michael Cahill
  Subject: Does editing matter?

  I've noticed an absence in recent book reviews on LinguistList of a
  feature that used to be common: commentary on the accuracy of the
  editing in a book. This would include comments such as ''very few typos,''
  ''there were some missing references,'' and the like. Does anyone else
  have the same impression? If true, why would this be? Are books edited
  that much better today, that we don't need to note this, or are the current
  reviewers just not paying attention to such things? And does the quality of
  editing really matter?

As your reviews team, we naturally take such a statement seriously. As somebody who reads LINGUIST reviews constantly and closely, when I read Mike's message, I figured that the null hypothesis would be the right one, that there has been no change in such comments in book reviews over time. The sense of the reviews team is that there's been no change since we took over in 2009 and we have not made any changes to the guidelines in this regard. But our intuitions are famously unreliable about things like frequency and so we need to test claims like these against evidence. After hearing a number of comments from colleagues about Mike's message, I decided to take time out from editing reviews and gather a little evidence.

Using LINGUIST's 'Advanced Search' option on past issues, I brought up issues that had the string 'Review:' in the subject line and went through the first 50 reviews that came up for 1997, 2002, 2007 and 2012 looking for comments of the type Mike said used to be common. I searched the strings 'typo' and 'edit' and then skimmed the EVALUATION sections for other kinds of issues. Impressionistically, the last seemed to yield the most; direct mention of typos using that word or its long form is relatively rare. While the method employed isn't perfect, it should not lead to any differences across the years surveyed.

In the tallies, 'yes' means that I found a specific reference to the quality of editing, usually a single clause. 'No' means I did not find such a reference. I excluded comments that weren't directly about the quality of editing, like footnotes vs. endnotes, an author's style, or that a book was 'readable' as not being relevant.

1997, vol. 9 Yes: 12, no: 38 = 24%
2002, vol. 13 Yes: 8, no: 42 = 16%
2007, vol. 18 Yes: 10, no: 40 = 20%
2012, vol. 23 Yes: 15, no: 35 = 30%

If anything, the frequency of comments about the editing of books in our reviews has increased a bit, though the differences aren't big, the sample size is small and I didn't establish a truly rigorous metric for what counted. Still, this little test suggests that there's no decrease in comments about editing over time.

While looking over the EVALUATION sections of reviews, I did notice that those sections have grown much longer over the period surveyed. This trend looks like it goes back a good ways and, in fact, it is something we have actively worked to encourage, notably by adding a section to the reviews guidelines about developing full evaluations ( and returning reviews to authors to develop those sections as needed. While we do not mention the issue of the quality of editing of books in the guidelines, this push may prompt readers to consider the issue.

More importantly, the exercise makes clear something that warrants mention: LINGUIST reviewers really work hard to provide the best assessments they can of current work in our field.

Back to editing …
Date Posted: 17-Oct-2012
LL Issue: 23.4338
Posted: 17-Oct-2012

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