I Know What I Know

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Today in my Advanced College Writing class, I was explaining to my students that, when they write their responses to journal articles for me, I don’t want any personal responses.

“Like what,” they asked.

I explained that a couple of people would say things like “I don’t think this author really knew what he was trying to say.” And then I said this:

Let me explain to you how one of these articles comes into being. Sometimes, rarely, people like John McPhee can write something on the back of a brown paper bag and have it accepted by The New Yorker. But for us mere mortals, it works differently.

You spend 6 months to a year researching and writing the essay. Before you send it off, you send it to a friend or two to take a look at—just to make sure you’re not crazy. That takes a month. Then you send it off to your target journal. They receive it, and someone gives it a quick read just to make sure it’s not going to waste their time. If that person thinks it’s worth their time, they send it on to the readers. These people get the essay, keep it for nine months, and then send it back to the editor with comments and a recommendation.

Let’s say they reject it.

It comes back to you with some comments. You fold the good comments into the article and ignore the bad ones. This takes a month. You send it back out again.

This time, another initial reader takes a look at it and sends it on to the readers, who keep it for four months and determine that they like it, but they want to see some revisions before they agree that it should be published. They send you a list of revisions they’d like to see.

You make the revisions. This takes two months. You send it back.

They respond, a month later, saying that they like it but would like a couple more tiny revisions.

You make the revisions. This takes a month. You send it back.

They respond, a month later, saying that it looks good to go, and that they’ll be back in touch with you in a year when they’re about ready to begin work on the issue it will be published in.

A year later, you get an email from a copyeditor who says he’ll be working with you to get the piece into shape. He sends you your essay as an email attachment with his initial changes tracked, asking for you to accept or reject them. There are 200 changes.

You accept 198 of them and send the document back.

A week later, he sends another version, this time with only 50 changes.

You accept them all.

He says “Great! I’ll send it off to the layout guy, and it will be sent to the printer in India in a month. You’ll get a galley proof when it’s ready to go to print. Do not recommend any major changes to the galley. Only typos can be fixed at that point.”

A month later you get a galley proof asking for one last look.

You find a number of small things that need to be fixed–misplaced commas, an extra space here and there.

It goes to India to be printed.

3 months later, you get your gratis copy when the issue of the journal is sent out to libraries and databases.

When I was finished I said, “So, look. Do you see how preposterous it is to say that an author didn’t know what he wanted to say? Do you see how many pairs of eyes and how many brains have thought about this article years before it ever saw the light of day?”

And then I said, “Of course, it is also entirely possible that someone wrote a dumb or ill-considered argument.”


Written by srogers

January 27, 2012 at 1:36 am

Posted in Teaching

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