MLQ has long prided itself on rigorous copyediting. Most authors find it helpful; some prefer a lighter touch. This page describes what we do and in what spirit.

We regard copyediting as a dialogue. Although it entails considerable work on your part as well as on ours, our intention is not to "correct" your essay but to offer you as many suggestions as we can to improve its accessibility and readability without suppressing your voice. There are three levels of copyediting.

  1. Conventions include documentation standards, orthography, and most punctuation. A less obvious convention limits footnotes to one per sentence and places the callout at the end of the sentence unless confusion results. Normally, conventions are not negotiable, but you should call our attention to special problems that arise from them. See our style guide for details.
  2. Policies ensure a consistent appearance and tone throughout the journal. While we hold to them firmly, we recognize that they are less amenable to uniformity than conventions. One frequently invoked policy discourages the use of italics for emphasis. We work with you instead to find a syntax that highlights your words or those of your sources without the distraction of italics and the phrase "my italics." Less problematic policies call for the elimination of deictics whenever possible and for open rather than closed punctuation—thus the absence of commas in this sentence before "rather" and after "thus."
  3. Preferences occasion most of the work and most of the concern. Some preferences fall under general rubrics: we eliminate verbal repetitions; we replace passive verbs with active ones where it seems fitting; we shorten wherever we can do so without impeding flow (two common targets are is-that constructions and the phrase "the reader"); we try to remove unintended or momentary ambiguities. We also assess your argument and style from the point of view of our likely audience. Distinctions articulated for the specialist may be cumbersome for, or impenetrable to, other readers.

    Many changes, of course, are isolated matters or touch on idiosyncrasies, not susceptible to generalizations; a given essay may have its own patterns. Sometimes, too, it is difficult for us to tell conscious choice from unconscious habit. In short, where we think of livelier, clearer wording, we propose it, but if the preference is tentative, we confine it to a query with our rationale.

Even though we may overwrite your text, in no sense do we impose our changes on you. We expect you to use your judgment to accept or reject them.

Modern Language Quarterly | Department of English, Box 354330 | University of Washington | Seattle, WA 98195-4430