What the Heck Is a Technical Editor?
L. B. Cebik, W4RNL
n the 2 months since I accepted Jack's request to serve as technical editor for antenneX, I have discovered that a lot of folks have different ideas about what a technical editor is and does. At the same time, I wanted to make sure that all of our readers fully understand that nothing had changed in the antenneX policy of inviting antenna experimenters, designers, analysts, and theorists to submit articles to antenneX. We (Publisher Jack Stone and I) want you to send in your articles. Jack is in charge of accepting and paying for them. I do the editing. Jack then sets up the antenneX format for the new month while moving last month's articles to the archives. Subscribers have access to literally hundreds of articles through the archives.
An Invitation to Future Authors
But the archives cannot grow unless we receive new submissions. There is a prospective author's page at the antenneX site (Write for Us) to describe more specifically how you can submit your materials. We can translate from most word processors or even plain ASCII text to anything that we need, so do not let your lack of skills with the fancy word processors stop you from submitting. You can send your materials by mail, but attaching them to e-mail works just fine and is a whole lot faster. For direct submissions: email@example.com
Articles in the 2,000+ words area of text (excluding graphics) are certainly long enough to make good reading for subscribers, but if you have something longer, by all means, submit it. If it reaches more than 4,000 words, then we might suggest breaking it into 2 installments for publication, but that nets you a second cup of coffee (at current payment rates). If you have a couple of shorter but related items, we might be able to combine them into a single article. Richard Morrow is a master at this technique, especially for workshop techniques.
We like illustrations. Illustrations can take many forms. A simple table is an illustration. Although I tend to use simplified tables (monospaced Courier typeface, using the "preformatted" HTML function), many authors use formal tables with colors to help legibility. Sketches and drawings can range from the simple line drawing to full CAD materials. We also love photographs: the clearer and crisper, the better. Current scanners do a good job capturing print detail, but electronic photos by-pass all of the processing.
For photos and similar illustrations having a true or color-equivalent of a gray scale, the .JPG format usually works best among the compacted file formats. For line drawings, .GIF works very well. However, do not let formatting stop you from submitting an illustration. We shall work with what you can send. Jack has learned the ins and outs of numerous graphics programs and can be very creative with borders and backgrounds to enhance your initial work. We prefer a finished drawing so that we do not introduce any errors. Our software can read most native CAD files. However, if you can only send pencil/pen sketches, we can work with those as well.
Balance your text size and the number of illustrations. There is no hard and fast rule here because of the diversity of the articles that we receive. Some articles will contain a host of drawings or photos because the point of the article is to illustrate a set of techniques. Other articles might contain a lot of theory with only enough illustrations to clarify key concepts. Experimental work sometimes ends up with a series of tabular results. So the balance changes with the nature of the article. For example, this guest "editorial" has no inherent illustrations, so Jack will add a few decorative items to hold your interest ("eye candy" in the jargon).
Perhaps the one key rule for all authors to follow is to make reference to each illustration in the article. As well, tell the reader what the key features are, so the reader will know what to look for in the drawing or photo. You can use any of the standard systems of labeling illustrations. Table 1, Fig. 2 or Photo 3 are all good systems, although photos can also be called figures (Fig.). Just try to be consistant once a particular format is chosen, e.g., Fig. versus Figure. If "Fig." form is chosen for one, then use that abbreviation throughout. A caption is useful, but not strictly necessary if the text tells what the salient features are for the illustration.
What's in a Name?
Give your work a title, one that truly indicates what the article is about. However, know that we might change it a bit or add a subtitle. Also, place your name--just as you want it to appear in print--underneath the title. Include your amateur radio call sign, title, or academic degree(s), if you wish them included in the by-line. (Although we should not have to mention it, we cannot publish articles using pseudonyms or by "Anonymous.")
The range of submissions to antenneX is perhaps wider than for almost any other technical journal. Our authors range from casual backyard experimenters to science and engineering professionals. That is just the way we want it to be. The subject matter can range from some new adaptive uses of hardware-store materials for home-brew antennas to advanced theory and techniques for experimental antennas. Submissions will generally reflect this broad range of interests and backgrounds. Hence, we receive professionally prepared manuscripts with all of the illustrations in place as well as texts embedded in e-mail with figures attached as a series of graphic files.
If you have some equations to embed in the article, they should be in one of the standard notations, with all variables listed with their meanings. For most cases where an equation is something more complex than E = IR, the use of an equation-maker in a word processor (or other program) is desirable. We can handle equations as embedded graphics or as independent graphics. But in a pinch, you can resort to the old GW Basic notation for equations that are not too complex.
Whatever your facilities for preparing manuscripts and illustrations, by all means, submit them. Submissions go to antenneX, not directly to me.
Submissions from Outside the US and the British Commonwealth
We welcome submissions from all over the world. Our one limitation is that we have no translators on staff. Therefore, submissions must be in English.
For many potential non-US authors, English is a second language. Do not let any hesitancy over your mastery of English get in the way of submitting an article. (Always tell yourself that at least you know a second language. Can the antenneX staff make the same claim?) Part of my job is to set the text in consistent American English. We might have to correspond over a few points to ensure that we capture your meaning, but that is simply part of the normal process.
One helpful tip to writers, whether English is a first or a second language: have someone you trust read the article and ask you questions about both the content and the presentation. These questions can help you perfect the language, flow, and substance of an article.
A Note for New Writers
If you have never before written a technical article, the following notes might be useful to you.
Follow this fundamental rule: Tell 'em what you're gonna tell 'em; tell 'em; and tell 'em you told 'em.
Now let's translate the rule into practical steps.
1. Start with an introduction that clearly gives the subject and scope of the article and that outlines what is to come. The outline need not be a formal set of numbered steps. Instead, it should be a running paragraph that tells us where you are going.
The introduction is also a good place to give a personal note of how you came to work with this subject. Readers will not be as interested in what you were eating when the idea came to you as they will want to know what led you to look into the subject matter. In a technical article, it is usually wise to keep the personal matter brief, even if 17th and 18th century writers documented their investigations with loads of personal information that still gives us insight into the scientific and technical thinking process.
2. For the body of the article, you may wish to begin with an outline. The following outline is typical, but not at all mandatory.
Background Information: What makes relevant background information varies with the subject matter. For experimental reports, two types of information are most useful. One type is a succinct report of previous work done by you or others. The second type is an explanation of the need for the experiment and the general set-up for it.
Theoretical and developmental articles often review the "literature," that is, what has been published or found out about the subject in the past. This review should lead to a statement of what is so far lacking or what still needs to be developed--namely, what is in this article.
Special antenna types or designs that have the main body of the article devoted to construction and use often devote the background section to more theoretical considerations. For example, a description of an HF antenna for field use might use the background section to contrast what is hypothetically possible for the antenna under ideal conditions from what is feasible under field conditions.
These samples are only general guides. Perhaps the most general way to look at the background information useful to an article is to ask this question: what should a reader understand first in order to best comprehend the original work that follows.
Detailed Descriptions or Accounts: The details of your original work are the heart and soul of the article. They may cover the construction of a practical device, the development of a design, the practicalities of an installation, or the development of a mathematical or theoretical progression--or any number of other things. Whatever the subject matter, develop a logical order of presentation and stick to it, avoiding more than momentary side play. If a side thought will not fit into a 1-sentence parenthetical insertion, perhaps it belongs elsewhere in the article--or in another article.
Sometimes it is useful to "sub-divide and conquer." Often, several elements of an idea or a structure must each begin independently and come together to make the whole. If so, then organize your work accordingly with each strain of development leading up to the point of junction. Then have a set of paragraphs that describe the junction.
Neither omit nor defer any critical elements of the progression in the area in which they play a major role. If something special requires more extensive information to allow readers to see how something is done or to see how something fits the progression, then take time to give that information. The detailed description that omits crucial details that allow reader comprehension is not even a description, let alone detailed.
At the same time, avoid excessive or spurious detail. Any reader who does not already know that one must heat up a soldering iron before applying solder to a certain connection is not yet ready for antenneX. However, if a material requires special handling for a given application, do not assume that all readers are aware of the need. The author's decision as to what counts as enough detail or to much detail is a judgment call. Be prepared to work with your editor if he suggests the need for some added detail or the omission of excessive detail. Use the editor's knowledge of the journal's readership as a guide to perfecting the body of an article.
Report of Outcomes: This section of the main body of an article can be brief or lengthy, according to the aim of the article. A theoretical progression of ideas may have a simple, succinct, and yet very profound statement as its outcome--expressed either in words or possibly as a mathematical progression. However, even such an outcome deserves further interpretation and explication so that less theoretical readers can understand the implications of the development.
More practical design and experimental work may use tables, graphs, and other illustrations to show the results of the work described in the article. Point out to the reader what is most significant within the body of each illustration, and organize the progression of data so that it builds to a climax. The climax is simply the crux of the article--the idea that an experiment confirms or disconfirms, the success of a design for its application, or the fittingness of a device or material for its intended use.
In the body of the article, feel free to use section headings to alert readers to a turn of topic. Do not let section headings become a fetish, using a heading for every paragraph. At the same time, a well-designed set of section headings can form an outline of the article for the reader, guiding him or her through your work. Do not use the generalized outline headings of these notes on technical writing as your section headings. Instead, pick headings that fit the work described in the section itself.
3. Finish the article with a summary of what you have accomplished or achieved. You need not label this section "Conclusion" or "Summary," but both words describe what the final paragraph or two should cover. The material should recapitulate what you did, but with the aim of specifying the key conclusions or achievements covered by the article.
The final section is also a good place to briefly describe future work, unfinished work, or possible future applications of the work. It can specify areas where others may conduct their own experiments or adapt the ideas to their needs and applications. The tone should be less a matter of patting oneself on the back (our readers will do that job) and more a way of using a final opportunity to involve readers in the work that you have begun or furthered.
Some Things to Avoid
The list of things to avoid in technical articles is too long to print, but I can note a few misguided tendencies out of my years of reading manuscripts.
1. Avoid cute expressions that substitute for technical expressions. Calling an antenna "the gusher" or "the squirter" instead of using an appropriate and technically apt label can mislead readers. If a little humor or a lighter expression seems fitting, use it in a separate paragraph, so that the reader does not mistake the levity for a technical description.
2. Avoid the passive voice, but not at the expense of accuracy. There are innumerable active verbs that we may use in descriptions of almost any scientific phenomenon. The aim is to use the precise verb for the situation, never the merely picturesque verb. If the active voice requires the use of the personal pronoun as the subject of a sentence, so be it. Science is neither more nor less objective because you performed the experiment, developed the design, or drew the conclusion (compared to the experiment that was performed, the design that was developed, or the conclusion that was drawn).
3. Do not bother showing missteps and errors unless they serve an important purpose. A soldering iron burn is normally an idle misstep--unless the point of a piece of description is to show the need for special care in a process. If an error represents a general tendency that folks might have, then presenting the error may be useful. If it is merely a personal goof, you may hide it so that we shall all think that you never make any errors.
4. Avoid excessive use of non-standard abbreviations and acronyms. Even standard abbreviations need not always appear in place of the spelled-out version. In a long paragraph dealing with the characteristic impedance of transmission lines, I might use Zo on some occasions and "characteristic impedance" on others. In the main, the more important the point that I am making, the more likely I am to use the spelled out version.
If you construct your own abbreviations and acronyms, the so-called rule says that once you introduce them, you are free to use them. However, you should remember that readers can tire of them quite easily. You might even consider limiting yourself to introducing only 2 or 3 per article and to occasionally refreshing the reader by using the spelled-out version.
That is enough of the negative. The list of things to avoid can be endless. However, I have discovered the hard way that to stress the negatives to avoid is to freeze the ideas into a reader's head so that they emerge in his or her writings. The object is to write clearly and well and logically. Eventually, writing becomes both challenging and fun.
Do not be concerned that your work is either too theoretical to be practical or too everyday to be important. To the builder and experimenter, some new materials at the hardware store or the general supplier may be just what is needed to make a project practical. To those kinds of readers, learning of new sources of practical parts and materials can be more important than a revision of Maxwell's Laws. On the other hand, some of our readers are keenly interested in what new ways Maxwell's work can be interpreted so as to yield new mathematical insights into the relationship between RF electrical energy and the fields that permit the propagation of energy for communications--even if no new antenna ideas immediately emerge.
Likewise for everything in between these extremes. New and modified antenna designs and construction techniques are always welcome. Just because we have had the Yagi for 3/4 of a century does not mean that new designs are not possible for parasitic arrays. Small antennas with ever higher levels of performance are always of interest. Antennas designed for specific applications or environments hold great interest. In all of these and similar areas, however, be aware of a key fact. Publication limits the protection of an idea to a year before it is free for use by anyone. If your idea has any potential for commercial implementation, be certain that you obtain independent protection for it--either by copyright or patent--that is, if commercial application is your desire. Of course, most writers for antenneX freely present their ideas for use by all readers, whether those readers have commercial or only private purposes for reading the journal.
So What is a Technical Editor After All?
A technical editor is not a reviewing judge who determines whether an article appears in antenneX. That is the work of the publisher and/or a team of reviewers of known high technical and practical competence. antenneX does not yet have a formal team of reviewers, although we occasionally ask the assistance of some well-known experts. Perhaps in the not so distant future, we shall be able to formalize this process.
If antenneX does develop a review team (but not likely a formal "Board"), we shall not send the construction article to the team's theorist or the theoretical piece to the team's shop expert. We shall send it where it should go for the best guidance. Note that I say "guidance," and not "acceptance" or "rejection." The goal of antenneX is never to say that we accept only 5% of the articles submitted (a typical academic claim). Instead, our goal is to develop the best possible articles from every kind of source--so long as the subject matter relates to antennas and antenna experimentation. So "guidance" means providing the best possible assistance in strengthening an article to its maximum potential.
My job in all of this is much more mundane. I edit pieces for consistent English and organization. I call attention to question marks relating to data, equations, missing information, and unfathomable expressions. I am authorized to alter expressions for good technical prose and accuracy, and to alter organization so long as it clarifies rather than changes the author's meaning. The author has the opportunity to review the article before its appearance to approve of the changes and to correct anything that goes wrong in the editing process. In the print world, we call it "proofing," but in electronic publications, we have yet to invent a comparable term.
I do not catch everything that can go or be wrong in an article. Like every other technical editor, I have my strengths and weaknesses. So do not expect perfection. Expect only small improvements that may help your ideas reach over to the reader in a more effective manner.
Some things that I shall not do:
1. I shall not re-edit equations, although I might ask a question about one. Besides, every writer has his or her own favorite equation maker, and I have mastered only one of them.
2. I do not convert spelling common in the British Commonwealth into US spelling. That is a horse of a different colour.
3. I do not (even try to) read minds. If I cannot make out the meaning of something, I shall ask. If I think that I know what you mean and get it wrong, then you should demand correction during your proofing.
Some things that I shall do:
1. I shall provide the publisher with a general evaluation of the strength of each piece he sends me to edit. The object of this exercise is the gradual strengthening of the offerings in antenneX. In some cases, the accumulated notes may allow the publisher--to whom you send all articles for use in the journal--to aid an author. In some cases, the sum of the comments may set the stage for recruiting new articles from new sources on new subjects.
2. I shall divorce my own interests from the process of editing articles. Every author deserves to tell his story in his or her own way, so long as that way meets general standards for making a contribution.
3. I shall do a bit of teaching now and again. I have taught seminars in technical proposal and report writing in both academic and engineering settings, and I have written a few articles at several different levels of technicality. So I am somewhat familiar with the parameters of technical writing. That is the reason I dared provide newer or would-be writers with a few guidelines to make early attempts have the best chance of success.
Remember that the individual whom you must ultimately please is not me. I am just a helper in the process. The one you must satisfy is the reader. If you always ask yourself "Who are my readers; who are the ones to whom I write?" you will have a good set of guidelines for your style, your language, and your progression of ideas.
antenneX invites your ideas, your contributions, your knowledge, your expertise, and--of course--your articles. -30-
ED: Oh yes! On many occasions we have been asked why we end all of our articles with "-30-". It is a tradition antenneX established from the very first publication in 1988. It is an old expression used in the days of telegraph, meaning "end of transmission." We thought it apropo.
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Last modified: December 31, 2010