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Technical Editing part 1. Laura Mellor (John Wiley) Margaret Cooter (BMJ). Workshop aims. Ensure that Cochrane Reviews are reported as clearly, succinctly and accurately as possible Improve quality Increase accessibility. Plan: workshop 1. What is good technical editing?

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Technical editing part 1 l.jpg

Technical Editing part 1

Laura Mellor (John Wiley)

Margaret Cooter (BMJ)

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Workshop aims

  • Ensure that Cochrane Reviews are reported as clearly, succinctly and accurately as possible

  • Improve quality

  • Increase accessibility

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Plan: workshop 1

  • What is good technical editing?

  • The job of technical editors at BMJ

  • Exercise 1: Anticoagulation for heart failure in sinus rhythm

  • Editing tips

  • Exercise 2: putting the tips into practice

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Important note on this session

  • The review featured in this workshop was selected based on its length, the number of outcomes and the fact that anticoagulation is a common and well-known treatment

  • We imply no criticism of the scientific rigour of the review

  • We imply no criticism of the authors or the Cochrane review group responsible for the review’s publication

Also: please help us by wearing your name badges!

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  • What do you want to get out of this workshop?

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What do we mean by technical editing?

For the purposes of the workshops, we define technical editing as:

  • Substantive editing of text for clarity of expression

  • Checking of table and other data

  • Applying house style (but we will not concentrate on that aspect in these workshops)

  • NOT editing that requires specific subject knowledge

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Substantive editing

  • – for sense –

  • (includes grammar etc)

Data & fact checking

House style

  • –for consistency –

  • (includes layout)

  • –for accuracy –

  • (includes references)

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Editorial interventions

  • Technical editing

  • Medical editing

  • Copy editing

  • Language editing

  • Peer review

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Technical editing: what is the evidence?

  • Wager E, Middleton P. Technical editing of research reports in biomedical journals. The Cochrane Database of Methodology Reviews 2003, Issue 1.

  • “Some evidence that the overall 'package' of technical editing raises the quality of articles…”

  • “The literature contains a large volume of opinion and discussion, not much evidence, and even fewer rigorous studies.”

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How do papers change during technical editing?

  • Study of 10 papers published in BMJ (Albert 2000, unpublished data)

  • “Many textual changes, some to improve readability, others to produce uniform house style”

  • “Textual changes do not seem to have major impact on structural aspects”

  • “Many of the major interventions seem to be made not on the paper itself, but on additional items that ‘market’ the paper to readers, ie abstracts, summary boxes”

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Good technical editing

  • Clarity

  • Conciseness

  • Consistency

  • Accuracy

  • Balance between needs of the paper and needs of the reader

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Substantive editing accessible product



Data & fact checking

House style


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Technical editing at BMJ accessible product

“Technical editors are one of the key groups of implementers and problem solvers for journal content.”

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Here there be editors … accessible product

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Some statistics accessible product

  • 51 issues a year

  • 64 editorial pages per issue

  • 3000 or so pages a year

  • 110,000 print copies each week

  • 208,000 different users access each week

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Review and acceptance accessible product

  • 7500 articles submitted per year

  • 8% accepted, mostly subject to revision

  • 60% rejected after first read (24 hours after submission)

    • Too specialised

    • Not new results

  • We aim to reach a final decision on publication within 8 weeks of submission

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Editing a paper accessible product

  • First read the backmatter

  • Text

  • Tables

  • Figures

  • Summaries

  • Keeping track of where the paper is

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Authors accessible product

  • Email has changed dealing with authors

    • Queries

    • Proofs

    • “Customer care”

  • Letting them know what to expect

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Note to author accessible product

BMJ Paper 303362

Technical editor: Clare Griffith; tel: 020 7383 6691; email:

NB: We are now posting research articles online before print publication. When you return your proofs and we have processed your changes WE WILL POST IT STRAIGHT AWAY ON



General points:

 Visible codes for electronic publishing (eg [t1] for tables and [f1] for figures, and <thin> for spacing in large numbers) will not appear in the final version. Alignment of tables will be improved.

 Footnote and mathematical symbols may not translate properly. They will be correct in the published version.

 Please check that all queries to author [indicated by bold square brackets] have been answered.


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Online First accessible product

  • Posting on constitutes publication

    • Posted as pdf

    • Press released when posted

  • pdfs look somewhat different from (eventual) print version

  • Online First version is usually the long version, print version is abridged

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Web extras accessible product

  • P+ symbol indicates extra material on

    • References, statistical appendices, tables, figures, video clips

    • “posted as supplied by author”

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Access web extras via accessible product

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Fast track accessible product

  • Many submitted, few chosen

    • 2 submissions a day ask to be fast track

    • 20-30 a year considered

    • 10 actually published as fast track

  • Topicality; linked to an event

  • 10 days from submission to publication

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Becoming a technical editor accessible product

  • Characteristics:

    • Aptitude – determined via copy editing tests

    • Experience – work on scientific journals or scientific writing

    • Psychological robustness – to withstand training

  • Training is through “apprenticeship”

    • Work is revised for about 6 months

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Continuing training accessible product

  • Style meetings – make changes to, and promote awareness of, house style

  • Group edits – reinforce critical thinking

  • Feedback for quality control:

    • Proofreaders’ changes

    • Spot checks, especially of key areas (abstract, summary)

    • “On Yer Toes” – circulate narrowly-averted disasters (on proofs) and errors that get into print

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Cochrane principles accessible product


Building on enthusiasm

Avoiding duplication

Minimising bias

Keeping up to date

Striving for relevance

Promoting access

Ensuring quality


Enabling wide participation

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The Cochrane Handbook accessible product

“Cochrane reviews should be easy to…understand by someone with a basic sense of the topic who may not necessarily be an expert in the area.”

“Some explanation of terms and concepts is likely to be helpful…too much explanation can detract from the readability of a review. Simplicity andclarity are also vital to readability.”

“The readability of Cochrane reviews should be comparable to that of a well-written article in a general medical journal.”

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Where does Cochrane fit in the EBM literature? accessible product

Haynes RB. “Of studies, syntheses, synopses, and systems: the “4S” evolution of services for finding current best evidence.” ACP Journal Club (2001 March-April; 134(2):A11-3.)

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Exercise 1: Anticoagulation for heart failure in sinus rhythm

  • What works and what doesn’t? What needs changing?

  • What’s being said? Is the message coming through?

  • Is the meaning clear and unambiguous? Are the right words used?

  • Are there too many words? Are the sentences too long and complicated?

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Numbers: tip 1 rhythm

  • Where raw numbers and percentages are given, make sure they agree

  • Example:

    “More than 60% (40/79) used the guidance correctly.”

  • Either the percentage or the raw numbers here are wrong

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Numbers: tip 2 rhythm

  • Check that all study participants have been accounted for

  • Example

    “352 participants (treatment a = 115, treatment b = 117,control = 121)

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Numbers: tip 3 rhythm

Query blank fields in tables, enter ‘n/a’ or similar if you know they are supposed be blank

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Numbers: tip 4 and EEG results

  • Check percentages add up to 100

  • Check percentages again after rounding up or down

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Percentages over 100 and EEG results

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Numbers: tip 5 and EEG results

  • Check consistency within the review

  • Example:

    Abstract “A significant reduction in use of rescue medication was observed in the treatment group compared with the control group (p=0.002)”

    Results “A significant reduction in use of rescue medication was observed in the treatment group compared with the control group (p=0.0002)”

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Text tip 1 – noun strings and EEG results

  • Found in newspaper headlines:

    Outback murder courtroom drama

  • “Spell it out” to avoid ambiguity:

    Heart valve durability evaluation procedures


    Procedures to evaluate the durability of heart valves

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Text tip 2 – antecedents and EEG results

  • Watch out for “they”, “this”, “those” – and especially “it”

  • Check that the antecedent is clear:

    This is especially problematic with “this”. Does it refer to a general concept, perhaps in the previous sentence? This will need to be stated clearly.

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Text tip 3 – unnecessary words and EEG results

  • Are these little words really needed?

    • Both, usually, very

    • In addition, furthermore

    • However

    • Respectively

  • “It is … that” phrases can usually be removed:

    “It is likely that it will rain” becomes “It may rain.”

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Text tip 4 – active or passive? and EEG results

  • Readers understand better when they read active sentences

    • The verb is nearer the start of the sentence

  • Active may require use of the first person

    • “The aim of our study was to investigate...” becomes “We investigated...”

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Text tip 5 – inflated language? and EEG results

  • For readability and getting the message across, use the simple word or phrase

    • Endeavour (try); commence (start); requested (asked); terminate (end)

  • Verbosity is a waste of words:

    “It is possible that this will happen” becomes “This may happen”

  • Avoid cliches like the plague

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Text tip 6 – “there is” and EEG results

  • A weak construction

  • Can usually be avoided:

    There have been no serious adverse events attributable to the vaccines.


    No serious adverse events attributable to the vaccines have occurred.

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Pitfalls in copy editing and EEG results

  • Falling asleep at the screen

  • Losing the original version

  • Too much else to think about at the moment

    Maeve O’Connor, author of How to Copyedit Scientific Books and Journals

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Exercise 2: putting the tips into practice and EEG results

  • Edit in groups

  • Note each change on a post-it note (one change per note)

  • Do your changes improve clarity, conciseness, consistency, accuracy?

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Plan: workshop 2 and EEG results

  • Focus on format and summarising

  • Format: thinking about order of presenting the information

  • Summarising: shortening the text and retaining the key points

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Thank you for your attention and EEG results