The Proofreader's Parlour
A blog for editors, proofreaders and writers
Anna Sharman’s recent guest article on working for academic editing agencies prompted an interesting comment from another colleague to the effect that providing language editing services for non-English speaking researchers didn’t necessarily level the playing field at pre-submission stage. The reason for the imbalance is obvious – researchers in the developing world are much less likely to be able to afford the cost of hiring the services of ESL editors. This leads to a publishing divide between the rich and the poor, where economics rather than academic excellence determines the ability to publish.
So who better to address the issue than Ravi Murugesan, the training coordinator of AuthorAID, a project dedicated to helping academic authors from developing countries to publish their research.
Ravi kindly agreed to an interview with The Proofreader’s Parlour. We hope that this Q&A will draw further attention to the valuable work that AuthorAID does on behalf of the developing world’s community of scholars and the people and organizations who support it.
Louise Harnby: Many thanks for taking the time to do this interview Ravi. First of all, can you tell me a little bit about your own background and how you came to be involved with AuthorAID?
Ravi Murugesan: Thank you, Louise, for your interest in AuthorAID at INASP. My academic background is in engineering. I completed a master’s degree in the US, but I decided I wasn’t meant to be an engineer after working in a semiconductor company for a few months. I became an authors’ editor at the Editage office in Mumbai, and after a couple of years I became the manager of the education business in the same organization. When I saw the job advert for the training coordinator position at AuthorAID, I was fascinated by the role, particularly the part about travelling to developing countries to facilitate workshops on scientific writing. I joined AuthorAID in March 2011.
LH: Can you tell me more about the foundations of the AuthorAID programme, such as where it’s based, who it serves, what its objectives are and how it all started? I understand the idea was first mooted by the editors of the Journal of Public Health Policy back in 2004.
RM: AuthorAID is one of the projects run by the International Network for the Availability of Scientific Publications (INASP), a charity based in Oxford. There are now a number of independent AuthorAID initiatives. At INASP, AuthorAID is part of the Programme for the Enhancement for Research Information, which began in 2002 with the goal of strengthening the research communication cycle in developing countries. In this interview, I talk about just the AuthorAID programme at INASP.
AuthorAID’s mission is to support developing country researchers in publishing their work. We focus on the researchers in INASP’s 22 partner countries, but our website is open to all. We now have 5,000 members on the site, and much of the site’s content is available without registration. But with registration, researchers can join our online mentoring scheme as a mentee or mentor.
We also conduct workshops on research writing in our partner countries, maintain a frequently updated blog and resource library (with hundreds of free e-resources), and offer grants for research communication.
LH: Is the programme for authors in all fields of the academic spectrum, or just the sciences?
RM: Researchers from any field are welcome to register on our website. The workshops we conduct are oriented towards researchers in scientific fields, but we’re looking to improve our offerings for researchers in the humanities and social sciences. A few months back, we were invited by the British Academy to give a talk on mentoring to social science researchers in West Africa at a career development workshop in Ghana.
LH: From a language-editing perspective, how does it work? Let’s say a scholar from Nepal has a research project that they want to write up and submit to an academic journal, but their English-language skills restrict submission and they can’t afford to hire an ESL editor from the developing world. How can they get round the problem of affordability vs quality editing?
RM: They have two options: they can look for a mentor who would be willing to edit their work, or they can contact one of the editing services we have listed on our site. (These companies offer discounts to AuthorAID members.) Some mentors may be more interested in helping with the writing process than editing a paper after it is written. So I would recommend that authors from developing countries look for a mentor when they are about to begin writing a paper.
LH: There may be freelance academic editors reading this who would consider working on manuscripts from AuthorAID members. What should they do if they want to provide language editing services for scholars in the developing world?
RM: We would love to have more academic copy editors join our community as mentors. Because of my own background in this area, I was able to mentor an early-career researcher in Zimbabwe. I helped him develop a hypothesis and write his paper. I also clarified many questions he had about referencing and the peer review process. By being a mentor, I developed a greater appreciation of the effort that a researcher invests in writing a paper.
Even if academic copy editors don’t wish to get involved in the writing process as mentors, they can still provide a valuable service by editing the papers of mentees. You must be aware that a lot of journal editors and peer reviewers consider the language in a paper to be indicative of the quality of the research reported. By presenting a well-written (or well-edited) paper, a researcher has a better chance of getting published.
We recommend that mentees acknowledge their mentors in any published papers, so editorial mentors can request their mentees for such acknowledgement. However, I would advise mentors to think of this as a possible bonus and not a goal as such. AuthorAID mentees often work in resource-poor settings and may face numerous hurdles in the journey to publication. Sometimes, the dedicated effort of a mentor may not be enough for a mentee to get published. But usually both the mentor and mentee learn a lot, and the mentee may be better equipped to publish in the future.
LH: Who are your key partners in the programme, broadly speaking?
RM: We have organized joint workshops with science foundations and networks, such as the International Foundation for Science and the Royal Society of Chemistry. In fact, just a month back we organized two workshops in Kenya with these partners. We are always looking to partner with other organizations that have missions similar to ours.
LH: Do you offer financial help to researchers from lower-income countries, and if so what are the criteria for assessment?
RM: We provide travel and workshop grants, and these are explained in our latest call for applications.
LH: Can you share some examples of people who AuthorAID has helped on their scholarly publishing journey?
RM: A few weeks back, our country coordinator in Ethiopia told me that one of the researchers who attended the workshop I facilitated last November has just published a paper in a journal. I was thrilled and did an interview with her, which has just gone up on the AuthorAID blog.
In April, a scientist who attended the AuthorAID workshop in Zambia won the workshop grant, and she is very motivated to share her knowledge with female researchers in her department.
Every now and then, we do formal impact assessments. When we did this last year for the AuthorAID workshop in Rwanda that was held in 2009, we were pleased to see that there had been a substantial increase in the publications of the participants.
LH: What’s coming up in the future for AuthorAID? Are there any special events or plans in the pipeline that you’d like to share?
RM: The AuthorAID e-learning system has just been launched, and the blog post from last week has more details.
LH: To round off, Ravi, please tell us how to get in touch with AuthorAID.
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