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After you do something repetitive, you would often dream about it at night or see its image superimposed over whatever else you do during the day.

During school summer breaks, I would often dream of strawberries and blackberries after my mother, brother and I would spend half a day in the woods, bringing back several litres of berries each.

At exam time at college, I would be playing with my dog yet keep imagining various lines, parabolas and hyperbolas slowly swim in an imaginary mathematical space.

For the last two weeks at work, a vast majority of my time has been consumed by preparing scientific texts for publication.

Do you know what the dark side of writing for science is? It's neither the experiments, nor processing the data, nor understanding and clearly explaining the results. It's formatting.

Given the capabilities of modern technology, many publishers today require that the articles be submitted in the "ready for publication" format, forcing someone on the authors' side to learn all the tiny details of how the text should be presented. At work, that someone is me, and here are a few examples of what is considered proper:

- unit modifiers (two or three words used together as an adjective) are usually hyphenated (a five-letter word);

- yet a law that combines two and more names of scientists separates them with an en-dash and no spaces (the d'Alembert–Lagrange principle); the same goes for a range of parameters (the 60–72 F, or 15–23oC, weather is pleasant);

- as for the em-dash, one of its uses is to replace some words in the sentence, for example, for emphasis (The dark side of writing for science? Not the experiments, not processing the data, not understanding and clearly explaining the results.—Formatting);

- no space separates the percent (%) or degree (o) sign from the number (23oC; 100% humidity is hard to bear);

- you only write the units after the last number of a range (15–23oC), unless it is an angle, o, (the cone rotated 0o–180o).
...

This list is infinite, but the worst part of the job is not even hunting formatting errors, which are ignored and even dismissed by a lot of authors as unimportant, although they can only be compared with ugly pimples on the face of your article. No, the worst part is that different publishers often set different format requirements.

In Journal of Physics: Conference Series, for example, the reference to a (quite imaginary) article will look like this:
Smith A N, Gore L V and Mansfield T 1997 Nucl. Fusion 37 1000 (in layman terms, the Nuclear Fusion journal, volume 37, published in the year 1997, page 1000), while the same article cited in Plasma Physics Reports needs to be written as follows:
A. N. Smith, L. V. Gore, and T. Mansfield, Nucl. Fusion 37, 1000 (1997) (every comma, full stop, space and font change is important.)

Formatting is an anal, largely thankless but necessary job, which I, surprisingly, enjoy but having to finish the work on two issues of the above-mentioned journals at the same time left my brain feeling bruised and stuffed with cotton. I keep seeing the different reference lists and texts swim in my mind's eye, like I saw berries at school and algebraic curves at college.

Comments

( 34 comments — Leave a comment )
kehlen
Oct. 15th, 2019 06:53 pm (UTC)
ConCrit is welcome.

So, did I go in too much detail, or too little? When I try to talk this shop, people's eyes usually glaze very fast, haha.
hangedkay
Oct. 16th, 2019 12:25 pm (UTC)
One of the best and worst things about legal writing is the extremely specific Blue Book rules. At least there is only one overarching set of them, but they are insanely specific. I absolutely recognize this.

Meanwhile, my repetitive action dream in college was Tetris, just blocks upon blocks falling into place. As an adult it is often times just seeing the dashed lines on the highway coming at me over and over and over...
kehlen
Oct. 16th, 2019 12:36 pm (UTC)
I have never heard about the Blue Book rules. Could you please give an example where they are as specific, or more, as the last rule I cited? :)

I can absolutely see how both Tetris and road marks are something you can fixate on!
(no subject) - hangedkay - Oct. 16th, 2019 07:54 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - kehlen - Oct. 30th, 2019 01:22 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - tonithegreat - Oct. 19th, 2019 09:45 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - kehlen - Oct. 25th, 2019 04:34 am (UTC) - Expand
plant_lady60
Oct. 16th, 2019 03:32 pm (UTC)
And they wonder why some scientists go mad! LOL! Having to do that kind of anal formatting would do it to me.

Sorry you have to go through this. Sounds like formatting HELL!
marlawentmad
Oct. 18th, 2019 04:01 am (UTC)
Agreed!
(no subject) - kehlen - Oct. 25th, 2019 04:51 am (UTC) - Expand
banana_galaxy
Oct. 16th, 2019 05:53 pm (UTC)
I relate to the first part of this. When I started working as a tour guide, idbe dreaming about my tour, the things I needed to remember to say on tour, for weeks (months?) afterwards. I still do sometimes now because our tour route just recently changed. But I do often say my tour on autopilot now.
kehlen
Oct. 25th, 2019 06:22 am (UTC)
It is interesting and often annoying how the mind gets stuck in such routines.
furzicle
Oct. 16th, 2019 07:14 pm (UTC)
As emo_snal writes articles for various magazines in both the U.S. and Australia, he finds that formatting standards are indeed different from place to place. I say, "In the U.S. we customarily put the quotation marks outside the statement, like this."

However, he says, "In Australia, they prefer to have the quotation marks inside the punctuation, like this". (Note the period has moved.) Perhaps he would like to comment on that.

When I was visiting him in Australia, I noticed that scenic explanatory signs had "typos," along the line of inserting apostrophes incorrectly. We see that here in the U.S., but here it is a mistake. Over there, I came to the conclusion it was the preferred way. After all, they are governmentally placed signboards.

As for your opening statement, my latest brain confusion appears when I am interrupted while reading, for example, I am engrossed in my book, while my husband begins to read me excerpts from something he is reading.) I then have two images meshing in my mind and I begin to find I am inserting one into the other.

Edited at 2019-10-16 07:17 pm (UTC)
kehlen
Oct. 25th, 2019 07:09 am (UTC)
In Russia, we also put quotation marks inside the punctuation ("Yes", she said). It took me a while to learn to do the opposite and I still check just in case.

The other big problem I have is differetiating between British and American English. I know about the major spelling differences like neighbor/neighbour, but not the local word usage like sweater and jumper. Oh well, you live and learn.
cacophonesque
Oct. 16th, 2019 08:27 pm (UTC)
When I worked retail during inventory time, I'd start counting everything for a while.

I have to do some editing these days at work, and even the small but I do sometimes makes me feel brain dribbly.
kehlen
Oct. 27th, 2019 09:56 am (UTC)
I have to edit some things too now, and it terrifies me to be one of the ~last "lines of defence", haha.
bleodswean
Oct. 16th, 2019 11:01 pm (UTC)
What a great essay about the unique ways in which specific jobs can be so repetitive and, although many of them became second-nature, some will always require focus and that IS mind bruising!
kehlen
Oct. 27th, 2019 02:10 pm (UTC)
You summed this up very nicely :). Thank you!
static_abyss
Oct. 17th, 2019 02:13 am (UTC)
I like that you added examples to what you were describing. It really cleared things up for me. This sounds like it could become tedious work, so it's good that you enjoy it.
kehlen
Oct. 27th, 2019 02:22 pm (UTC)
I am glad the examples helped!
And thank you for dropping by :)
karmasoup
Oct. 17th, 2019 02:49 am (UTC)
Holy cow, I like formatting, but this would make me want to bang my head against a wall. I guess it's a good thing the world has specialists for it.
kehlen
Oct. 27th, 2019 03:20 pm (UTC)
Sometimes it does feel too much <3
lawchicky
Oct. 17th, 2019 11:17 pm (UTC)
I wish I had more patience for formatting. I have to do it for work, but it's always so frustrating and time consuming for me.
kehlen
Oct. 27th, 2019 06:57 pm (UTC)
I think you either have the patience or not. It doesn't matter that much in most cases if you make a decent effort.

But sometimes being inattentive can trip you up badly. For example, if you write a PhD dissertation in Russian, but use the full stop instead of comma to separate decimal digits, this is formal grounds for your work to be rejected.

(In English, you write 0.5 of an apple, while in Russian, the same would be 0,5 of an apple.

The problem is that a lot of the papers nowadays are read/written in English, and using the stop is semi-accepted in conference posters and even some Russian-language journals.)
rayaso
Oct. 18th, 2019 04:46 pm (UTC)
This was fascinating. It must take a lot of concentration.
kehlen
Oct. 27th, 2019 07:27 pm (UTC)
It both does and doesn't, oddly. More a slightly different state of mind :)
halfshellvenus
Oct. 19th, 2019 08:19 am (UTC)
Formatting, editing, etc. is such painstaking work, especially when there are such detailed rules in place. I can see why it would be so brainbending, especially conflicting formats at the same time.
kehlen
Oct. 27th, 2019 08:27 pm (UTC)
It has to be done though. I am glad it is over for now :)
alycewilson
Oct. 19th, 2019 09:48 pm (UTC)
Ouch, that must be hard, not even being able to escape the tedium in your dreams. I have to agree with you how true this is. Before teaching my first Science Explorers unit this school year, I kept dreaming about measuring out the different substances to make slime!
kehlen
Oct. 30th, 2019 01:17 pm (UTC)
It is definitely unpleasant when the brain cannot stop and let you rest and imagine something else :).
tonithegreat
Oct. 19th, 2019 09:53 pm (UTC)
I think you hit the nail on the head as it were with your choices about specificity and example giving here. You ended up with a nice length piece that made your point. I’m surprised scientific journals aren’t more standardized across the board, but not that surprised. I used to take some joy from exact and correct formatting myself, but some collaborative work I did on appeals years ago kind of drove the impulse from me in the rush of deadlines with the need to please collaborators thrown in also. I feel like I get where you’re coming from.
kehlen
Oct. 30th, 2019 02:36 pm (UTC)
Thank you for this comment :). I was trying to keep the balance between "this information is curious and might be useful" and "too many little details".

Journals published by the same publisher usually require similar if not the same formatting, but it is often like this in different publishing houses.

I agree that too much work kills the joy of making the text presented just so. Alas.
bewize
Oct. 19th, 2019 10:36 pm (UTC)
This happened to me a lot when I waited tables.

kehlen
Oct. 30th, 2019 01:19 pm (UTC)
I commiserate. :)
( 34 comments — Leave a comment )

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