Study Finds Open Access Manuscripts ‘Good Enough’ Without Copyediting

A recent study that assessed the impact of the publisher’s copyediting on open access manuscripts of scholarly articles concludes that the manuscript versions “are probably ‘good enough’ for use by scholars … and by teachers.”

Sanford Thatcher, Director Emeritus of Penn State University Press, designed the study out of concern that archiving “less-than-final versions of articles carried a risk of corrupting scholarship” through use of “imperfect versions.” His team examined manuscripts of scholarly journal articles in the humanities and social sciences which had been made openly available through Harvard’s repository.

Thatcher expected to find the open access manuscripts deficient in comparison with the final copyedited and published articles, but found instead that “By and large, the copyediting did not result in any major improvements of the manuscripts” and that “the vast majority of the changes made were for the sake of enforcing a house formatting style and cleaning up a variety of inconsistencies and infelicities, none of which reached into the substance of the writing or affected the meaning other than by adding a bit more clarity here and there.”

While it did not evaluate a statistically significant number of manuscripts, the study provides support for the MIT faculty’s approach to sharing their articles through their Open Access Policy. Under this Policy, the author’s final manuscript is made openly available through MIT’s repository, DSpace@MIT.

The study is reported in “Copyediting’s Role in an Open Access World,” Against the Grain, vol. 23, no.2, April 2011, pp. 30-34.