Working with Your Editor or Coauthor

Using Tracked Changes & Comments to Communicate With Editors & Coauthors

This post is all about teamwork. Communicating with your editor and coauthors is key as you develop your journal article, grant application, or other manuscript. Many people have already become familiar with tracked changes and comments, but are you using them effectively?

The video below gives some pointers for how to use tracked changes and comments in a way that facilitates speedy editing and a high-quality finished paper.

Note: If you’re just looking for a quick overview, check out the quick guide to using tracked changes and comments in Microsoft Word. The video and post go into more detail about effective strategies with your editor and coauthors.

 

If you don’t have time for the video, consider a few important points in working with your editor.

Should I Accept All Changes?

Probably not 100% of them. Even the best editors might not completely understand every instance, especially when it comes to a highly technical area. You are the expert after all, and you can and should use your expertise in modifying the text. However, in my experience, if you have a good editor, you’ll probably be accepting 95 to 98% of the suggested changes and modifying the rest. Good editors tend to be very sharp and very determined to get to the right meaning and best usage. At least personally, as an editor I try not to be too intrusive to your voice or writing style; that is, if I have multiple options for fixing a sentence, I try to fix it in the way that is closest to what you had while balancing various editorial issues.

A Note About Working With Multiple Authors

If you are coauthoring a paper, grant application, or other manuscript with multiple people, the tracked changes and comments can get very messy. In this case, it becomes even more important to tidy up the document as best as possible. You want to make less work for the next person, not more.

This way the next coauthor can focus just on the new areas or areas of particular concern without having to wade through previous tracked changes and comments that should be accepted by this point. Your team will be much happier and the process will go much more smoothly if each person leaves the document in better shape than when he or she received it.

What Should I Do When I Want to Reject a Change?

I always recommend using an Accept-Modify approach as opposed to an Accept-Reject approach. Your editor made every change for a very calculated reason. The change in question could have been made to comply with a mechanical style regulation, to improve conciseness or clarity, to reduce redundancy, or any other number of reasons.

If you reject a change, in most cases you will revert to a problematic structure. In some cases of course you can reject, but this will probably only happen 1% of the time.  In all other cases, when you see something that you don’t like or you know has to be changed, it is better to try new wording. Modify the phrase or even change the entire sentence.

Track your own changes or highlight the new text so that the editor can see what you’ve done and edit the new text.

Should I Respond to My Editor’s Comments?

Dialoging with your editor is a great idea and usually results in a better document. But stay focused and try to only ask questions and make comments when issues still have to be addressed. Do your best to address the editor’s comments by adding and modifying text in the document. Then delete all of the comment bubbles that you possibly can (any issue or question that doesn’t really need a response). In my experience, authors can delete 90 to 95% of comment bubbles and just insert their new text based on the suggestions in the comments. By tracking your changes, the editor will know to look at those areas.

By deleting the comments you are doing yourself and your editor a big favor.  You don’t have to respond with “okay” or “thank you.” Even though that is nice, it makes more work for you and also makes more work for your editor. You really don’t want to tire out your editor even more than he or she already is.

Remember, editing (especially content editing) is exhausting when done correctly. Good editors put a ton of thought into the project–we play around with different options until we get to what we think is an ideal option (you probably only see the final option that we settled on), we double check style regulations, we sometimes consult with other editors on specific issues, we make comments to you and offer other suggestions when possible, we read and reread, we think and rethink. It is a mental marathon. And we have to do this while trying to understand material that is probably new to us–material that you may have spent years getting to know.

So even though it might seem like a lot of work to go through the changes, please do so. We put our heart, mind, and energy into the work. And we want it to be great for you.  And when you clean up the document for us, accept most changes, delete most comments, and respond only when needed to the comments, you’re making it so much easier for us to give a final scan and really perfect the final copy.

Here is what I hope is a helpful (albeit rough) guide for going through a document with tracked changes and comments. If you have a good editor who has made heavy mechanical and content suggestions on a scholarly paper, here are some averages that have seen repeated very frequently over and over for the past 7 years:

  • Authors tend to accept about 95 to 98% of the tracked changes.
  • Rejecting suggestions without modifying them almost always causes errors. Instead, update the word, phrase, or even the sentence to address the issue in question. if you aren’t sure about the issue, make a comment and ask the author. Good communication = a good article.
  • Make your modifications right within the text, not within the comment bubbles. Track your own changes or highlight modified or new text so that the editor can quickly edit those portions for you.
  • Authors can usually delete about 90%+ of the comments (the ones that do not require a direct response). Save your questions and clarifications for when they are really needed (in those cases make your own comment bubbles or respond within the existing bubbles, but in the latter case change your text).

My Editor is Mean!

Some editors are indeed mean or are simply more interested in telling people that things are wrong than actually fixing them. If you come across one, it’s best to move along and find a new one so that you can truly benefit from the process.  However, those editors really are the minority. I’ll be writing a post soon on finding a great academic editor.

I can imagine how difficult it must be to open your document after it has been edited, only to be shocked with a sea of red, strikethrough text, boldface, and comments.  But we don’t make all of those changes to make you feel bad.  Most editors are very detailed out of a desire to make your document as clear and strong as possible. It takes a special kind of person to edit papers day in and day out, and we really do strive for that unattainable goal of perfection. Some of your editors’ comments might seem curt, but they are not meant that way. It’s hard to always make every comment sensitive, and in the interest of time and clarity, we often like to get right to the point.

I like to consider myself a compassionate editor, and I try to use the most positive tone and include smiley faces all over the place.  But I’m usually making thousands of changes and hundreds of comments in a document, so it’s not always easy to make every comment as sensitive as I would like.  Just remember, all of that red was written with care, even if it doesn’t seem that way. 🙂  And the more open-minded you are to the feedback, the better your document will be.

Of course, if your editor is not making productive and quality suggestions, it’s time to move on to another person. Sometimes it takes a few tries to find someone who you gel with.  Not every author will work well with every editor and vice versa.

So, for now, best wishes with your editorial process, and I hope the video was helpful!

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Rocky Citro

Hi, my name is Rocky, and I am a technical academic editor with over a decade experience editing for professors and graduate students in prestigious universities. I have also taught writing at the graduate and undergraduate level and have several years' TEFL teaching experience.