Dealing with reviewers’ comments

More things I learned whilst being underemployed – this time (as the title suggests) about dealing with reviewers’ comments on your work.

  1. If your manuscript comes back from the reviewers with recommendations for change, bear in mind that someone needs to check that you have actually addressed them effectively, so it is really helpful if you include a note with the new manuscript that indicates how you think you have done what they asked. List each recommendation and then say how you have dealt with it. If you are not going to do what has been suggested, (and this is your right – reviewers are not infallible) it is crucial that you justify this. I personally would not bother prefacing this note with “the author(s) thank(s) the reviewers for their helpful comments” because (a) you probably don’t, since many of them are not tactfully phrased even if they’re correct and (b) in most cases, the reviewers probably aren’t going to be the people who check the revised manuscript unless perhaps the person who is checking it thinks you have done a really bad job of addressing the recommendations and one of the recommendations is that the paper only be accepted if it is radically reworked.
  2. Reviewers don’t always make sensible comments. One comment I read suggested that the paper would be better if it stopped trying to stretch itself to be relevant to distance education and confined itself to topic X. This was, in fact, true, but seeing the conference at which it is to be presented was on distance education, what s/he should have recommended was that the authors articulated more clearly how the  model they were advocating was (particularly) relevant to teaching by distance.  Reviewers may say that the paper would be much better if A was expanded, and this may well be true, but if the paper is already up to the word limit and you have already edited it very tightly to get it that short, you won’t be able to expand A unless you drop something else. An alternative is to flag A as something that would be worthy of being dealt with further in another publication.
  3. Reviewers don’t always agree and you sometimes have to read between the lines of their comments. You may be presented with one set of comments that says that the paper would be much better if it omitted all reference to X and another that says that the best bit of it was the section about X which needs to be expanded. Since you obviously can’t do both, you need to decide which reviewer to go with, but bear in mind, if you decide to expand the material about X, that you probably haven’t articulated clearly enough how X is relevant to the rest of the paper if the other reviewer thinks it can be cut out completely. See if you can make the links clearer.
  4. Remember that while you will probably never know who your reviewers are, they may well make a point of reading the final version of your paper when it is published, or of attending your conference presentation. They have expertise in your field or they would not have been asked to review it in the first place, so keeping them on side if possible is not a bad idea. Try to take as much of their advice into account as you can, or indicate subtly why you haven’t (eg “Some might suggest that A, but in view of X & Y, it seems more likely that B”). In particular, if they suggest that you might find a particular article or author’s work useful, include it in your revised version if at all possible. The published version of the paper is the right place to put your little note about thanking the reviers, if they did indeed make helpful suggestions.
  5. Once you have completed your revisions, check the manuscript very carefully – not just for typos and oddities of expression; also check the references very carefully. The editors will pick up your typos, but not incorrect references, and it is possible that in moving text around you have left some or all of the relevant citions in the wrong place, or removed a point without removing the relevant citations. This is particularly likely if you have initially said something like “Many sources demonstrate that A and B are important” and you then change the sentence to say “Many sources demonstrate that A is important”. You need to check that none of the citations are only relevant to B, which you have now removed. If what you have written is of any interest in your field, people will check those references because they want to read more about your subject matter (or because you have cited them and they want to see what you’re saying abou their work) and you will end up looking careless or silly.
  6. When you have what you believe to be the final version of the text, remove the bibliographic software codes and make sure that the formatting complies with the style guide. If the conference, journal or organisation provides a template you would ideally have been using it from the outset, because applying template styles to your headings, bullets etc is much faster than manually formatting each of them every time you use them, but it is still not too late to attach it to your text. Be a little wary about conference proceedings templates and style guides, though. If they have been adjusted from some well-recognised format, they may not be free of error because the adjustments may have been done in a hurry by a member of the organising committee whose primary expertise is in another area. I have recently been working on a paper for a conference, the template for which does not apply the level 3 header formatting prescribed in the style guide. The style guide is also fun. It says that references should be formatted to comply to APA 5, which I did. I then read it a bit more carefully and discovered that what they really wanted was APA 5 with modifications to the way electronic articles are cited. I agree that their method is more user-friendly but if they’d said up-front that they wanted a modified form of APA 5, I would have read the formatting examples more carefully the first time round.

What you are aiming to do with all this is to make your paper as easy to publish as possible. If you are not a Big Name in your field, you want to create a good impression with the editor(s) as someone whose work doesn’t take huge amounts of staff time and effort to get into publishable form. Even if you are a Big Name, I would argue that it is a courtesy to the people who are putting the publication together to prepare you paper well, but if you’re an early career researcher (aka beginner) being a pleasure to work with cannot do you any harm at all in the publishing stakes. :-) Especially since many of the people involved are doing their editing work on top of their other academic workload as part of their service to the academic community.

 

Preparing material for review and publication

As you may have noticed, I haven’t blogged for a long time. This is because last year I was what a colleague terms ‘underemployed’ – ie the church ran out of money to fund my chaplaincy position and I worked in a range of short term casual research positions whilst looking for something I want to commit to for an extended period. Most of the research I did was related to previous qualifications and I simply didn’t have the mental space to think about the Gospel of Thomas. Three months ago, I started a new chaplaincy position and now am almost at the stage where I can concentrate on something other than learning the lie of the land. Last year, although I made minimal progress on my research, I learned and was reminded about useful things.

I have been editing theses/dissertations for quite a few years, and in the latter part of my undermployment, I was paid to check whether the revised versions of papers submitted as peer reviewed articles for a conference proceedings had satisfactorily addressed the reviewers’ comments and then to edit them for inclusion in a book. This was an eye-opening experience, not the least because by no means all the authors of problematic manuscripts were students!!

It does not matter how brilliant your argument material is, if it is presented with poor formatting, spelling, grammar, punctuation, syntax or general written expression, it is less likely to make a favourable impression.  As a result, I offer the following for students who are preparing articles/papers for peer review and theses/dissertations for examination:

  1. Even if the style guide being used by the publication is, IYNSHO, an abomination unto the Lord (like APA 5 or 6), you still have to follow it if you want to see your paper in print. If you are submitting for a conference and they are desperate for papers, the organisers/editors might send your paper out for review in the wrong format, but they will not reformat it for you for publication and in particular they will not transform your beloved footnote referencing system into in-text references or vice versa. Or even transform your Harvard references into APA. This is at least partly because your paper in its current format does not contain the information they need to do this quickly and they certainly don’t have the time to go looking for it. I would recommend putting all your references into a good bibliographic software program (eg Endnote or Zotero) because you can change referencing styles quickly, easily and far more accurately than you can manually.
  2. Having a PhD, even in Education, does not guarantee that a person has a good grasp of grammar, syntax, punctuation or general good written expression – just that they know a lot about a particular area. It is also not your supervisor’s/advisor’s role to proofread and edit your work, unless his/her name is going on the paper. Even then, s/he may not have good proofreading skills. Thus, the fact that s/he has read it and said it is OK does not mean that it is ready for publication, just that it contains no major errors or idiocies.
  3. If you are enrolled in a good educational institution, they will provide guides on spelling, punctuation and common grammatical mistakes. Read them. If anything in them surprises you, check your manuscript to see that what you have written complies with the information in the guide. If you are writing in English, pay particular attention to how you should use (and not use) “however”, “which” and “that”, commas and apostrophes. If you are writing in another language, there will be equivalent common mistakes.
  4. Note particularly that usage varies between different English speaking countries. If the publication wants you to use American spelling, it will also want you to comply with American grammatical and syntactical conventions. If you did not grow up in the US, this means that some of the things you were taught at school will be considered wrong.  One of my friends did her PhD in the US and she said that for the first six months, she would submit written work to her advisor who would want her to change the grammar and syntax from what she believed to be correct to incorrect usage. It was only when she got a US style manual to replace her Australian one that she realised that she was being asked to change from correct Australian English to correct US and things settled down. If the publication uses British conventions, you are fairly safe if you grew up in Australia and New Zealand (although there are some differences), but if you grew up with US conventions, you will be asked to do things that you were taught were incorrect.
  5. If you grew up in a country that uses English as the lingua franca although it is no-one’s first language, there will be some conventions of usage that are not considered correct in the standard English used by any publications outside your home country, and some vocabulary that has been adopted from the traditional language(s) of your country which will need either to be translated into standard English or explained. This is why Word allows you to select from such a wide variety of versions of English. A proofreader from outside your home country will be able to point these out to you, or you can select the desired version of English from the Word menu, but the latter is not without risks.
  6. Be very careful about using a thesaurus to provide variety in your text if you are not writing in a language in which you are very fluent – you may select an option that is wrong in the context in which you are using it even though it is listed as a synonym.
  7. If you are writing in a language in which you are not extremely proficient, you should try to find someone who speaks it as their first language to proofread your document. Correction: you should try to find someone who speaks it as their first language and has a good track record of writing academic papers in it. If the student in the next room to yours offers to proofread for you, it would be good to find out, tactfully if possible, whether s/he gets consistently high grades or merely passes. If the latter, then your grasp of the grammatical rules of the language is probably better than hers/his.
  8. Remember that the way you speak a particular language or use it to write emails is not necessarily appropriate for publication in an academic forum. Unless you are transcribing the content of an interview, you should avoid colloquialisms and contractions. As one of my early supervisors said, “you can’t use ‘gut feeling’ in an academic paper, even if you have put it in inverted commas”. The academy is currently undergoing a shift in opinion about how appropriate it is to use the first person (ie “I”, “me”, “my”) and active rather than passive voice (“I have shown that” or “the author has shown that” rather than “it has been shown that”). Read material written the last 5 years to get a feel for what is being done in your language and your field. If you are preparing something for a journal, read recent editions of the journal you are targetting. Talk about it with your supervisor/advisor.
  9. The previous point reminds me that one of the differences in convention between British-based and US-based punctuation is how you use single and double inverted commas (quotation marks). I have switched between the two so often now that I can no longer remember which belongs where and I always check the style manual for the publication.
  10. While it is probably wise to remove the bibliographic software codes from your manuscript before you send it off for review (so that there is no risk of the file throwing a hissy fit on another computer and transforming all your citations into field codes eg #239, rather than the author and publication details) you should only do this as the last step, after making sure that you have saved a copy of the file with the codes still intact.

Because this is now a very long post, I will put the points about dealing with reviewers’ comments in another post.

Marcion (on-line Crum) update

Coming out from a deep lurk caused by my taking on a new short term research contract at the same time as I have had marking commitments for the Earliest Christianity subject I taught into this semester…

Milan Konvicka recently emailed me to let me know that he has updated the Marcion database which includes an on-line searchable version of Crum’s Coptic Dictionary – see these previous posts for details.

Milan says:

the main improvements are in:

  • text highlighting
  • upgraded searching in all databases
  • more coptic words (Crum still not finished yet, prepositions and adverbs following many verbs still missing – I think in 1-2 months crum will be finished completely if hectolitres of cofee do not kill me) ,
  • and many others graphical details  (virtual keyboard for example).

To download the application, go to:
https://sourceforge.net/projects/marcion/files/

To read the documentation, go to:
http://sourceforge.net/apps/mediawiki/marcion/

I finished marking what I think should be the last paper this morning, although there will still be some work related to the plagiarism I detected in one of the others that I marked. I am hoping to have some time and mental space to get back to both Perrin on Thomas and my doctoral texts in the next little while.

Marcion resource 3

More tips from Milan, moved up from the comments:

  • in any opened text you can use the popup menu for easier searching in dictionaries
  • in the tree view of coptic dictionary you can raise a popup menu and use the resolve function to create all possible morphs of a word
  • look at this new video
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tQUTrNZXKEo which provides information about the Book Reader function and demonstrates the above features. This allows you to search for the occurence of particular words in specific libraries, and also to look up meansings of words in Crum.

He also promises that in the next release it will be possible to do other tasks whilst waiting for long processes to finish. :-) He also says that if you find any next errors, bugs, or if you have any wishes and ideas concerning functionality, you should inform him at the Marcion site.

More on the Marcion Coptic resource

Milan Konvicka has posted information in the comments of my last post that I think merits putting in a post of its own.

He has produced two instructional videos to help people to use the Marcion program. You can find them at:

http://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=instructional+video+marcion&aq=1

The first one demonstrates how to import and index the libraries that aren’t installed by default when you install the program. I now have the Sahidic New Testament, Codex Tchacos and the Nag Hammadi library installed and indexed. What is not immediately obvious from the video is that in order to get the drop-down menu that allows you to index the libraries, you need to right click on the name of the library you want to index.

The second one shows how to update the Coptic database, which he is still developing. You need to download and us  the file crumX-Y.tar.bz2 from the website (where X-Y gives you the date that the file was put up – you obviously select the newest file).

You can look also at Mani, a subproject of Marcion, for users who are interested only for coptic dictionary.

http://sourceforge.net/projects/mani/files/

Two Notes

  1. You should not attempt to do anything else while the files are installing and indexing. If you do, the process will hang, but the program will think that it is finished so you will have an incompletely indexed library.
  2. If you do hang the process, sometimes it is possible to delete the library and start again. Other times it isn’t and you have to reinstall the program and start your installation and indexing again.

The Nag Hammadi Library in particular takes several minutes to index (it is a big library, after all). I would suggest starting it and then going off to make yourself a nice warm drink so you are not tempted to just read an email or follow a link, or even update your blog. :-)

Another new Coptic resource

Recently Paterson Brown from Metalogos posted information on the Gospel of Thomas e-list about a new electronic Coptic resource.

It is called Marcion (no, I don’t know why) and includes a searchable version of Crum’s Coptic Dictionary, a searchable Liddell-Scott-Jones Greek Lexicon, and Henry Tattam’s A Compendious Grammar of the Egyptian Language (1863 edition) as well as Plumley’s An Introductory Coptic Grammar – Sahidic Dialect, and has been produced by Milan Konvicka. You can download it from sourceforge.net/projects/marcion/files/rc3/marcion_rc3-win32.zip/download, unzip it, then run marcion.exe.

According to the information posted at Marcion on Wikibooks (the help file) the full content is:

New Testament coptic coptic (sahidic dialect)
Nag Hammadi Library coptic coptic (sahidic dialect)
codex Tchacos coptic coptic (sahidic dialect)
codex Achmim coptic coptic (sahidic dialect)
Life of st. Anthony coptic coptic (sahidic dialect)
Pistis Sophia (djvu) coptic coptic (sahidic dialect)
Gospel of Thomas (djvu, photo) coptic coptic (sahidic dialect)
New Testament coptic coptic (bohairic dialect)
Septuagint greek greek
New Testament greek greek
Westminster Leningrad Codex hebrew hebrew
King James Version latin english
Bible of Kralice latin czech
Ceský ekumenicky preklad latin czech

Dictionary Search Instructions

It is rather geeky and not exactly intuitive to use if you’re not a programmer. Fortunately for me, my son is a programmer and he saved me significant amounts of painful reading time so I thought I would share – especially seeing this means I will also have a written reference on how to use it.

First, install the program and make sure that you have the necessary fonts (New Athena Unicode for Greek and Coptic and Ezra SIL for Hebrew). You may also need to have a Unicode Greek/Coptic keyboard installed, because it seems that when I type in Coptic, that’s the mapping it uses. I already had these, so I am not sure what happens if you try to use it without them.

To find the English equivalent of a Coptic word

  1. If you want to search Crum, you click on “Action”, then “Crum query (Coptic)”.
  2. In the window that opens up in the right hand side, you can choose whether you search exact, like or regexp.
    • exact means that you type in the exact word you’re looking for.
    • like allows you to type in wild cards, using % in place of a character that you’re not sure about. Thus if you type M%T, it will search for words that have any of the 30 letters in the Coptic alphabet in place of the %
    • regexp means regular expression and allows you to specify what options you want to put in instead of a character you’re not sure about. Thus, if you only want to check for MWT, MOT and MOYT, you could use this option, in which case you would type M[w|o|oy]T (where | is the symbol on top of the \ on a US keyboard – it appears on the keyboard as two small strokes, one above the other.) For a full explantion of how regular expressions work and what options you have, go to the Regular Expressions website.
  3. You type into the top box and what you are typing appears there in Roman font there and then in the box underneath in Coptic.
  4. You can chose whether you want it to show Greek equivalents, derivations and as an extra bonus, Czech (I assume because that is the first language of the guy who wrote the program). In the next tab, you can select which Coptic dialects you want it to search.
  5. Once this is all done, click on “query” and up pops your list.

To find the Coptic equivalent of an English (or Czech) word

Click on the tab that says English/Czech, select which language you want (English is the default) and then type your word. Select your options as above then click “query”. Depending on what you select you will get the Greek equivalent as well as the Coptic.

Using the Greek option

If you click on the Greek tab, you have two boxes like the ones that appear in the Coptic option. You type your word which appears in Roman font in the top box and in Greek below. Clicking “query” will provide you with both the English and Coptic equivalents (and also Czech if you select that in the tick boxes on the left).

The “Crum” option

If you click on this tab, you will be given the option of typing in the number of a page in Crum’s Coptic Dictionary and of selecting whether you want column A, column B or both. Clicking “query” displays all the words in the selected column(s) on the selected page. I am not totally sure how one might use this, but . . .

Note

The program opens in a smallish window and once you’ve launched your query, you will probably find that there is an almost obscured scroll bar that allows you to move down all the results. If you click on the icon to enlarge the box to full screen, it’s easier to see the requisite scroll bar.

And Finally

You can search Liddell-Scott-Jones in a similar manner. I currently have no use for this, so haven’t tried it, but it offers the option of “parse inflection” which could be nice. A searchable version of Crum, however, is a really wonderful resource, especially since it doesn’t use the ornate Coptic font family that I dislike. :-) Milan Konvicka, whoever you are, I am exceedingly grateful to you. :-)

Adventures with tech support

. . . whilst transferring from ADSL to ADSL 2+

Because we live in regional Australia, our preferred ISP has only been offering ADSL 2+ connections since the beginning of this month. It offers 20 GB/month more download for $20/month less and is faster, so why wouldn’t we want it???

I have learned a number of things in the last couple of days, which I offer for the edification of others.

  • Belkin does its tech support out of a call centre in India. (Most companies with off-shore call centres for Australia use Malaysia rather than India).
  • When you upgrade to ADSL 2+, you also need to upgrade your splitter/s (line filter/s) or you will start getting line noise on your telephone.
  • All things being equal, it is better for one person to do all the communication with the tech support.  If either I had spoken to both TPG Soul and Belkin, or Hugh had, we could have solved our problems somewhat faster.
  • Apparently, some people who ring Belkin do not know how to open Internet Explorer!! I received a major accolade from my friendly tech support person because by the fifth time I had reconfigured the router, I could do it without any instructions.
  • Your ADSL 2+ ready modem/router may nevertheless require a firmware upgrade to deal with some peculiarity of your particular ISP. The person at the other end of the phone may not think of this if you don’t ask because s/he is dealing with calls from people running a huge variety of hardware and there are other people taking calls in the same room and s/he is only human. I really wouldn’t like to work in a call centre.
  • It is very frustrating that you can’t get onto the same support person each time you ring, because you can’t apologise for making a mistake which kept both of you on the phone for quite some time making unnecessary tests.
  • A handsfree phone and a laptop are quite useful if you have more than one phone socket in your house.
  • Even if you don’t buy your modem/router through your ISP, it is helpful to buy a model that they support. This means you don’t have to ring the modem/router manufacturer as well as the ISP.

So, we now have faster internet, but the connection keeps dropping out. Hugh is of the opinion that we need a new router. He could be right.  Looking at the box that this one came in (it is only about 6 months old), it appears that he should have selected the model that is suitable for high definition video, online gaming, high bandwidth applications and VoIP products, rather than the one that he came home with which is two levels down from this and only useful for surfing the web, emailing and instant messaging. The intermediate version is good for streaming music and videos from the Web, file sharing and transferring photos. With a degree in computer science,  you would think that he would make wiser hardware choices to support his preferred internet usage, wouldn’t you. :-)