The Faustian Bargain

A blog about life outside the academy


Recent guest post at PhD2Published

I recently wrote a guest post for the fab PhD2Published on the subject of the comfort zones of academic writing:

It’s sad but true: even if the central chapters of a PhD thesis – the home of the research itself – are strong, things like the literature review, the introduction, the historical background and the conclusion are often written to a noticeably lower standard. When I’m proofreading, these framing chapters are often where I spend most of my time.

It’s disconcerting to read a piece of work written in two clearly different gears, but I’ve seen it often enough for it to look like a trend. Why should it happen? Cases vary but I think I’ve come up with a few general observations – you may have some different ideas from your own experience.

It's a curious phenomenon but one that I think a lot of academic writers come up against. The good thing is that you don't have to be a brilliant writer to work your way around this - it's simply a question of application and approach. What's more, when you've solved the problem your work will appeal to a much wider readership (and hence publishers too!).

Continue reading the post here to see my ideas on how to help yourself.

I have a couple more posts lined up for P2P - look out for one on the subject of style vs style.


The ghost at your desk: the benefits of a light editorial touch

The late Stanley Sadie, the first editor I worked under, gave me, and everyone in his charge, the same fundamental image to hold in mind as we worked: imagine that the author is standing behind you, casting judgment on every change you make.

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Why you should love your stylesheet

‘House style’ can take on a number of guises. In the case of most publishers, it’s pretty straightforward: UK vs US spelling, use of quotation marks, maybe some basic formatting rules, not much more. With reference works, however, the stylesheet rapidly takes on a life of its own to become a style bible. On my first day of working at The New Grove I was handed an empty lever arch file, directed towards a computer and told to print, holepunch and file my own copy of the Grove style guide. The remainder of my first day was to be spent reading it, end to end. It’s nearly 500 pages long and I still have my copy. Why do we need so much guidance?

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Annoying your copy-editor: guest post at PhD2Published

I've written a guest post, 5 ways to avoid annoying your copy-editor (and why you should care), for the excellent PhD2Published. PhD2Published offers publishing advice for novice academics and is well worth checking out for anyone looking to convert their PhD into a lovely shiny book.

If you’ve not published before – or even if you have, but only in smaller magazines and journals – then you won’t have been copy-edited before. That will change when your first book is accepted for publication.

To the unsuspecting author, copy-editing can appear both frustratingly hands-off (so, there are no changes for pages – what are you doing after all?) and surprisingly invasive (you’ve re-written my entire bibliography – what’s up with that?). The truth is, copy-editing occupies a pretty undefined, liminal space between writing and mechanical proofreading. It’s less than one and more than the other, but beyond that there are no hard boundaries. Copy-editing is, however, an absolutely essential step between getting your book off your laptop and onto the shelves in Blackwell’s.

Continue reading here.


Why copy-editing is like … test match cricket

Image by Greencolander on flickrBecause it’s a contest between your eyes and the text, a test of concentration and alertness. Sometimes you can go pages without much happening – routine corrections of split infinitives or that/which errors driven gently down the ground – but at any moment the text can throw you a doosra, a strange and unexpected ball that looks like its going to spin one way before jagging back the other. They can come at any time, and you’ve got to be on the look-out for them on every line.

Here’s an example: author writes

gallows’ humour

It looks strange at first. Should that apostrophe be there? I don’t recall seeing it written that way before.

But then it is humour of or from the gallows. Maybe it is the correct formulation, just one that is not often correctly used. The author has been pretty accurate on most other occasions. Best check all the same.

Sure enough, it should be <gallows humour>, no apostrophe. Correction made.

The ball swings in, then spins hard to the offside. But some quick footwork and a glancing blow sees it to the boundary.