Dear Scholars

As a proofreader/editor of academic books, I feel compelled to inform you of a few things that you should know, but clearly some of you do not.

First, Your job is to inform, elucidate, clarify. So ending lists with “etc.” and “and so on” generally does not help your readers, whom you are to inform, rather than assume they already know what you would say if you deigned to tell them. While we’re at it, when citing multiple Bible verses, it is not helpful to the reader to write, for example, Rom 8:1ff.  Oh, of course, I know you always use it to mean the following two verses, so that it means the same thing whenever you use it. But your colleague down the hall didn’t get that memo, did he? Because he’s using it to mean Romans 8:1-9:4 or really whatever he wants, but I wouldn’t know the difference, would I? Because instead of doing the work of a real scholar and looking up the reference, you just assumed we would do that work for you, didn’t you? So let’s be done with the obfuscations and actually be a little more careful, shall we? I’m glad we understand one another.

Second, and this is more serious, when you publish a book, you are selling those particular ideas in the form of those words to the publisher. You don’t own them anymore, so you cannot reuse them. Of course, you may need to summarize the same ideas or even say the same things throughout the course of your career, but this is different from cutting and pasting words from one document to another. And let’s face it, despite what I’ve heard a lot of you say, the editors working at the publishing house you sold your manuscript to (remember?) aren’t morons, and even if they were, this is the twenty-first century, old man (or old woman, let’s be fair). There’s a thing called the Internet. And they have this fancy new thing called Google Books. And your book is probably on there. And all somebody has to do is type in a few of the words from your book and the book you plagiarized will be on there too. Do you have students? Don’t you tell them that plagiarizing is wrong? You do, because I was a student too, and your syllabuses all threaten to fail and even possibly expel your lazy excuses for students for doing it. Oh, you’ve got tenure? Well have you ever heard the word lawsuit?

And third, for goodness sakes do not ask your editors whether or not you should include a footnote! Did you come up with the idea? Did it originate in your mind or someone else’s? If you didn’t think of it first then cite it! I don’t care if it’s not a direct quote. And this next thing should be obvious but the fact that I feel the need to write it clearly demonstrates that it is not. Provide page numbers. Do I have your personal library in my office? Can I read your mind? Again, much of this information can be found on the almighty Google Books, but let me remind you one last time. This is your job. Why do I feel like I’m addressing Comp 101 students? You are a scholar. Do the work of a scholar.

Now I feel a little better.

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5 comments so far

  1. Kristi on

    Hahaha! I love it. But I disagree a little on the footnotes. There are no original ideas. Everyone got everything in their brain from someone else along the way. If people are deciding whether or not to footnote, they should think whether that information/idea can be found in three or more references. If it can, don’t footnote. Footnotes weigh down the reader.

    • jeffreimer on

      Point taken, but let’s just say that in the circumstances that occasioned the rant it was perfectly clear that what was being written was a direct lift from another (known) source and the question—should I include a footnote?—simply came from a lack of motivation to look up the relevant information. So the issue I was hoping to address was not really whether or not to include footnotes in certain situations but rather whose job it is to provide the information when a footnote is required.

  2. Kristi on

    Ah. For some reason I thought academic writers would be better about this. Apparently not.

    • jeffreimer on

      Alas, not as often as you would think.

  3. RCochran on

    So, what book should I NOT read? Feel free to e-mail the information rather than posting it here and subsequently losing your job. ;)


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