Editing collective volumes

 

Riitta Jääskeläinen

University of Joensuu

Savonlinna School of Translation Studies

 

 

1. Introduction

This paper relies mainly on my own experiences with editing and contributing to collective volumes. Since I have not received formal training in editing, the following is an informal account of learning (something about) editing by doing it. The main purposes of this account are to promote discussion about publishing in Translation Studies, to benefit others by recounting what has been learnt by doing, and to make implicit knowledge more explicit and visible to others. As one of the aims of the EST symposium on publishing in Translation Studies was “to provide a service to young members who may wish to have some guidance”, my motivation in choosing these particular points for discussion has been: what I wish I had known before I started co-editing my first collective volume.

 

In the following, I will offer my views on three issues (in the hope that an exchange of views will follow): 1. How to maintain quality? (or quality management); 2. How to maintain order? (or project management); and 3. How to maintain sanity? However, to provide some background, I will start by elaborating what I see as challenges in publishing in Translation Studies, particularly with regard to editing collective volumes.

 

2. Challenges

There are two things which seem particularly challenging in terms of publishing in TS; one deals with interdisciplinarity and the other with the external demands on publishing.

 

As was implied above in point three, there is a great deal of implicit knowledge about various academic practices, including publishing, among the members of academic communities. These are not, however, always obvious to outsiders, or even novices within a field. As an inherently interdisciplinary field of research, Translation Studies is a melting pot of a variety of academic traditions. These relate not only to national, linguistic and cultural conventions (e.g. academic writing in different languages) but also to different disciplines, which in the case of TS can range from literary theory to computer science, from English studies to experimental psychology, to mention but a few.

 

The rules or norms of academic writing differ considerably in different linguistic and academic communities (see e.g. Mauranen 1993; Ventola and Mauranen 1996), even though the differences are becoming increasingly blurred as English is strengthening its role as the lingua franca of research. Still, in editorial work it is necessary to be aware of the existence of such differences: research reports may have the surface structure of  written academic English but carry the argumentation structure and style of their source culture(s). The same applies to different disciplines: the style of writing in literary studies is rather different from reporting in psycholinguistics, for example, and this is a challenge to editors in particular. I will return to this point below in relation to maintaining quality.

 

The original questions posed for the symposium mentioned two types of collective volumes: thematic collective volumes and conference proceedings. However, there seems to be greater variety of publication types: there are thematic volumes, selected papers from conferences, conference proceedings proper, etc. At least the first two can also be peer reviewed, while conference proceedings proper are assumed not to undergo the peer review phase. There is also at least one more type, which seems particularly elusive, and that is the Festschrift. Apparently, one does not screen Festschrift contributions in any way, nor is it customary to have the contributions (peer) reviewed. All this implicit knowledge was encountered in an attempt to produce a Festschrift aiming at quality – which, as it turns out, was an oxymoron in the eyes of some of the contributors.

 

Now, the type of publication figures centrally when universities and university departments start counting their “outcome” which in turn may play a significant role in funding entire universities as well as individual scholars. In the symposium discussions, it turned out that in some countries there is an elaborate system of counting points: following the natural science tradition, peer reviewed journals receive the highest number of points, while conference proceedings, peer reviewed or not, receive few, if any, points. Other countries have different systems of listing and rewarding publications. For example, the latest call for research project applications by the Academy of Finland provides a guideline for listing publications (http://www.aka.fi à in English à Research funding à Application info à Appendices to application form à List of publications). There are seven categories ranging from (1) articles in international refereed journals and (2) articles in international refereed collective volumes and conference proceedings, followed by national their counterparts, to (7) other publications, such as conference proceedings, university or departmental series. Such systems of course influence scholars’ willingness to contribute to certain types of publications. This also influences the way we name our publications – if “conference proceedings” yield fewer points, perhaps we should label our publications differently? 

 

3. Maintaining quality

First a little digression: Quality has become more and more difficult to define – in many circles quality seems to be defined mainly in terms of quantity instead of the more traditional idea of being “good”. The Bologna process, which aims at reforming and unifying European higher education, has shifted its emphasis onto quality assurance systems in what is sometimes referred to as the Bergen/Berlin process. European universities are expected to create such systems to improve and maintain quality in higher education. Interestingly, a fair share of the measures that have been suggested to assess quality are quantitative: number of degrees produced, number of years it takes to complete a degree, etc. The same principle applies to academic publishing as well. In assessing research activities, e.g. numbers of publications produced and projects funded externally figure in a central role. Of these quality criteria some are obvious quality indicators, e.g. number of publications in peer reviewed (or refereed) forums, while others may be likely to lead to lowering the quality threshold in the traditional sense (turning out as many degrees as possible irrespective of their quality). However, here too, national traditions differ: as was mentioned above, in some countries only refereed journals count, while in others also other refereed publications, including selected and refereed conference proceedings, are valued.

 

To return to the issue of maintaining quality (in the traditional sense) in editing collective volumes, it is essential to provide clear guidelines and instructions (in the form of a style-sheet) to the contributors. It is equally essential for the contributors to follow these instructions. Submitting the contributions for peer reviewing is also a way to maintain quality in the volume. Peer reviewing as well as editors’ own criticism should always be constructive: commending strengths, pointing out weaknesses and suggesting improvements. 

 

Style-sheets need not be very detailed in terms of general lay-out; in fact, with modern text-processing software the opposite is true: the less detail, the easier the final editorial process. However, details are important when it comes to things like uniform spelling of abbreviations, the bibliographical style to be followed, etc. To be of any use, the instructions given on style-sheets should be followed by the contributors. With younger scholars this is not usually a problem; it is the more mature generation of scholars who tend to be set in their own ways and ignore the specific instructions. In the end, it is the editors’ task to check the details; there having a stickler to detail in the editorial team would help (see the section about maintaining sanity).

 

The anonymous peer review or referee process aims at maintaining high quality in publications. Anonymity is, however, a double-edged sword. On the one hand, anonymity should guarantee fair treatment of the proposed article on its own merits as a piece of research and a piece of academic writing. In other words, beginners and more established scholars should start from an equal footing in terms of assessment criteria. On the other hand, once the personal element is removed from the text to be assessed, anonymity may also result in destructive instead of constructive criticism. The author and the reviewer may represent conflicting research paradigms, which might explain the crushing criticism given to the proposed article. This kind of contextualisation cannot be done, if the parties remain anonymous. And this is where the editors’ role as feedback filters becomes crucial: without revealing any identities, the editors can filter out and soften the feedback to focus on what is fair and relevant (see also Remael’s paper on peer reviewing). Ideally, of course, reviewers will be able to step outside their own paradigm and assess research on its own terms; but, alas, we do not live in an ideal world. Paradigm clashes tend to be more dramatic than other kinds of sub-cultural clashes in (peer) reviewing, but a unfamiliar style of academic writing may also result in negative feedback, although probably to a lesser extent.

 

4. Maintaining order

The issues to be discussed here deal with project management. As any project (a translation project, a localisation project, or a PhD project), a project of editing a collective volume benefits from careful planning. This includes designing a realistic timetable for the process with realistic deadlines for first versions, review phase(s), and final versions. In this respect editing collective volumes differs from editing journals which have a more or less set annual timetable for publishing their issues. The project timetable should have built-in flexibility to allow for unexpected events – i.e. life happening to editors and contributors alike: people moving house or workplace, getting married or divorced, having babies or falling ill. And in case of life happening, it is best to start negotiating extensions to deadlines right away; it is usually possible to find a workable compromise, but not after your contribution is six months late.

Another important issue is managing documents in the editorial process: how to label manuscripts, where and how to store them etc. These things have been made relatively simple by modern information and communication technology, but that is often a mixed blessing. For instance, sending manuscripts as email attachments makes everybody’s life easier – provided that there is a clear system of naming documents included in the instructions given to the contributors. Editors soon realise that receiving a dozen attachments named as “savonlinna paper” does not exactly facilitate their work – which is of course a valuable learning experience. Working with the guidelines of a major publishing house usually provides useful hints in this respect.

 

For any larger editorial project, creating a web-site for the editors seems like an excellent idea. Editors’ web-site, where all the members of the editorial team add their comments etc, would help prevent the problems involved with circulating several versions of manuscripts among the editors. For instance, a project web-site is currently in use in the process of editing a two-volume collection of articles “History of literary translations into Finnish” (http://kvl.joensuu.fi/suomennoskirjallisuus/l.php  in Finnish).

 

5. Maintaining sanity

Last but certainly not least, a few words about maintaining sanity as an editor – and perhaps also as a contributor. Most editorial processes are teamwork, which is generally a good thing: in an ideal case the editorial team can combine individual strengths (like a keen eye for detail; the ability to identify theoretical weaknesses) and complement each other’s expertise (e.g. different specialisations in research). This is particularly useful in an interdisciplinary field such as ours.

 

The editors’ different personalities and working habits may also clash – some people want to plan ahead and distribute their work evenly, while others prefer short and intensive work periods. It helps to maintain sanity if these differences are discussed and acknowledged in the project. However, often we are not aware of our different working habits until they clash with someone else’s habits – these sometimes painful learning experiences can be used in later projects. The situation is naturally different if you are working with people that you know well or with an editorial team of virtual strangers.

 

On the whole, paying attention to the points mentioned above in relation to maintaining quality and maintaining order in the editorial process also help to maintain sanity or to cope with stress. In other words, the best way to cope with stress is to avoid it by careful preparation. Despite all preparations, last minute computer failures and other such calamities always mess up some part of the editorial process and cause stress, anxiety, and panic. In that case, it is best to resort to whatever means available.

 

6. Finally

Academic traditions are usually learnt implicitly during a kind of acculturation process. More explicit learning from what other people have done might speed up the learning process and maybe also make it a little smoother. One of the ways of doing this is to start shedding light on our implicit knowledge, which has been the aim here.

 

References

Mauranen, Anna (1993) Cultural differences in academic rhetoric: a text-linguistic study. Frankfurt am Main: Lang.

Ventola, Eija and Anna Mauranen (eds) (1996) Academic writing: intercultural and textual issues. Amsterdam: Benjamin.