Explicit Policies and Citation Edits

A majority of the online journals in the survey (62.5%) did not have explicitly stated policies for edits or corrections to published texts, a result that may reflect the very small number of times such requests are received.

The presence or absence of these policies could not be directly related to disciplinary norms.  Within each disciplinary grouping, some journals had such a policy, and others did not.

One of the responses to this question was a bit puzzling, as the editor answered “Yes,” a stated policy existed, but also remarked in the comment section “I do not know.”  One explanation for this might be that the editor was aware such a policy existed (perhaps a legacy from previous editors) but was unsure what the specifics were; another explanation might be that the survey question itself should have had a third option, “Uncertain,” rather than merely “Yes/No.”

Questions 3 and 4 asked editors to think specifically about edits authors (or even the editors themselves) might want to make to citations in reference lists.  Reference lists and Works Cited pages are certainly integral to academic texts, and they can contribute significantly to a text's meaning.  By consulting the sources an author employs in the service of an argument, we can achieve a richer understanding of the theoretical context the article is drawn from and the scholarly paradigm in which it can be placed.  Still, questions about these items were kept separate from questions about edits to an article’s core text, partly because they serve a somewhat different textual function and partly because their potential status as reference tools, as discussed in the previous section, might cause them to be evaluated differently by some editors when it came to making editorial changes.

The results here are interesting, showing some variation among editors and a general awareness, for the most part, that substantive corrections within reference lists should be handled differently than minor ones.  In question 3, the most striking result is that nearly as many journal editors (35.7%) would make minor citation changes without errata as would refuse to make them altogether (42.9%).  One editor commented that “For online documents, we update links as needed and indicate that the links have been updated,” while another stated quite directly, “We don't do errata. If somebody catches an error (of any size), we'll change it.”  Those editors who would not allow these changes did not explain why, but many of them — as will be seen in the responses to question 10 — do not believe that editorial changes of any sort should be allowed after publication.  In question 4, which asked about addition, deletions, and somewhat more substantive revisions to existing items in works cited lists, the respondents were a good deal more restrictive, with 57.1% saying they would not allow such changes at all and only one editor indicating changes could be made without errata.

Minor Corrections to Article Text

Curiously, journal editors overall appeared to be slightly less concerned about making minor edits to an article’s text than they were about making similar changes in reference lists.  Half of the editors said they would feel comfortable correcting simple typos and punctuation errors without errata, and a third indicated they would do the same with minor additions and deletions to the text.  As with the citation questions, there is a clear shift to more restrictive policies (or more explicit use of annotations) as the edits impact meaning, but the overall balance of percentages is closer to the results of question 3 than question 4.