Trust Me, I'm A Sub Editor!

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Being asked to be a sub-editor is an honour. I never really expected to be asked as I have no formal training and, compared to most on h2g2, I would say that my grammar leaves something to be desired! However, I was asked, I accepted, I panicked, I sent my first batch back, my first edited article appeared on the front page and then I knew I could do this!

Then the h2g2 POST asked me to write something on being a sub-editor. I panicked again. I thought I'd forgotten how to write. I know any sentence looks strange if it doesn't begin with 'P'1 and isn't interspersed with 'LINK h2g2="..."',2 etc. Anyway, since joining h2g2 I have
become adept at being two people, my real life persona and my internet one, of course these two cross over occasionally, so I decided I would write this as though I were interviewing myself.

Question: What is sub-editing?

A big question. We have a list of things we have to do as supplied by The Powers
That Be
. We check that there isn't a duplicate article somewhere that can be merged into this one. We add in or amend the GuideML to make it compliant and standard across the site. We check spelling and grammar. We add links. And then we look at the text. We have to assess if the article is suitable and well-written. If all of this is okay we send it back to Anna suggesting it be approved. It is entirely up to the sub-editor how long we spend on each article. In some cases a sub-Ed may completely re-write it or add/delete some details. I try not to do that too much because I like the article to be the work of the original author. So if it requires a great amount of work I reject with a suggestion that it be resubmitted after the extra work has been done on it... but this, as noted, is a personal preference.

Question: Is it as easy as it looks?

I don't think I make it look easy at all although some of the others do. It's only recently that I found out some of the sub-editors do this for a living and so they have had years of practice at it. I have always written things but I've never had any experience of editing until now. It may not be easy, and some times are harder than others, but I would always encourage people to have a go if they are asked.

Question: Do you think the subbing process works?

Yes I do. I was here in the days when there was no subbing process and it was pants, it really was pretty awful. Submitted articles just seemed to fall into a black hole and were not reviewed by researchers or TDV. Things get better every day! At the moment our subbing process is unnecessarily complicated because we have no subbing tools, and Anna and Mark have no editing tools. Everything we do is on email which is not the best medium for amending text and GuideML. Sometimes I think people forget this and somehow think we have super powers that enable us to change any article on the system at will.

Question: Do you know who writes the articles you sub-edit?

The text we receive does not contain any names or researcher numbers in an attempt to prevent us from being biased one way or the other. Of course we could log on and check who wrote every article but that is not high on the list of priorities when you are subbing.

Question: Have you had to reject anyone and, if so, what is the rejection rate?

I've had to write lots of rejection notes but I do try and follow the guidelines and give pointers as to how people can improve their writing. I think everyone should be encouraged to resubmit. When I write a rejection I try to imagine how I would feel receiving that same message. Most of the stuff we have seen up until the last few weeks were written before there were submission guidelines and so the quality has just started to improve. My rejection rate on my first batch was 90%, now it is down to about 40%.

One point that should be cleared up is that sub-editors only make suggestions on what should be rejected or accepted. Mark and Anna make the final decisions. They also make the final edits and quite often change articles that we've edited before approving them.

Question: What has been the most surprising thing about being a sub-editor?

There are two things; one good and one bad. The good one is the number of good quality writers we have on the site. After approval I generally check out the author's home page and, in most cases, they do not write for a living. I like that. I like to think that these people are doing it because they have an inner drive to write something for others to read. I don't like people who just churn out any old trash for the sake of appearances. The bad thing is the criticisms. We are doing a very difficult job in our spare time. It is all voluntary. I thought I might take some stick for rejections even though they are anonymous but I never expected the criticisms from people who had their articles approved. I'm always happy to discuss major changes to articles but often we get hounded for the sake of a comma being in the right place or a wording change. We aim for perfection, but when 'perfection' is largely subjective anyway, our best has to be good enough.

Question: Why are rejections anonymous?

To stop disgruntled researchers giving us hassle. I sometimes wish the approvals were anonymous too.

Question: You don't sound that happy about being a sub-editor.

I am very happy with it. Sometimes the politics inherent in the group process irritate me but I can choose to ignore them when I want. The other day I came across a compliment from a researcher whose page I had approved and that more than made up for any criticisms I have received.

Question: How many articles do you all edit per week?

It varies on an individual basis. I was doing about 30 a week but recently that has dropped to 10.

Question: What do you like to see in an article?

I like to see a well laid out, informative article without too many gimmicks or html. I like to see evidence that the article has been worked on before submission and that the guidelines have been followed.

Question: What do you hate to see in an article?

In no particular order of preference:

  • Blank pages that have been submitted - why do people still do this?
  • Pages full of complete nonsense that must have been written under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
  • Pages written from an alien or sci-fi perspective.
  • Insulting or bigoted pages.
  • Pages with mountains of code or images but very little text.
  • Pages that have been directly copied from another part of the internet.
  • Pages that have been written when there is already an approved or submitted article covering that subject. This is especially bad if they have nothing extra to say!

All in all, I like the subbing. It's fun and there is lots to learn and much as I don't like rejecting sometimes it is the easiest option!


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