Day in the life of a subeditor

Anne Haggart, subeditor

What’s an average day like for a subeditor on the magazine part of Nature?

There is no average day! We work as a team and the job is hugely varied, so one of us might subedit a News story about quantum physics at 10 a.m. and be deep into checking the facts for a Books & Arts article about snow leopards by lunchtime. Another might spend most of the day getting familiar with gene editing for a News Feature, and doing bits of proofreading, and then turn a hand to subbing a graphic. We are responsible for seeing through all the articles in Nature’s magazine content, from submission to publication, both online and in print. That’s roughly 3,300 articles per year.

Our job is, in essence, to make sure the text says what it means and means what it says. We put ourselves in the shoes of the reader, and read and interpret the text cold, without the context afforded by multiple rounds of editing. We catch and correct factual errors, logical leaps, repetitive language, grammatical slips and style no-nos. We also watch out for language that might not be easy for foreign readers to understand, and keep a careful eye on sensitivities and potential legal issues (from the perspective of UK media law).

From a production perspective, we pull all the disparate bits together into the final product. That means keeping to deadlines and liaising closely with editors, picture researchers, designers, Nature’s reporters, external authors and the press office. The aim is to make sure that every article has all the necessary components and goes to press on time, with everything in place and completed to the standard expected of all Nature content.

Every one of the 18 sections has a slightly different workflow, but generally this involves fact-checking and subbing the copy, and then sending it back to the editor, who will answer queries. If the piece is written by an external author, we send it to them for checking, too. We enter any corrections and go through the editor–author–sub loop again to finalize the text. Next, we make sure the article fits on the print page and has picture captions and credits, as well as any extra content required for the online version. After it has been proofread by another sub, we make any final corrections and send it to the production team, who make the PDFs for the print version. Finally, we transfer the text and other components to the online system, press publish and then lie down in a darkened room to recover!

What do you enjoy most about your day?

The anticipation of getting my teeth into a fresh piece of copy and learning something new. And, when it’s finished, knowing that I contributed to the polishing touches (such as an engaging headline or picture caption) that might help to draw in extra readers. And catching factual errors is immensely satisfying!

It’s really rewarding when an article I have worked on gets lots of page views online. And I still get a buzz when the finished print issue lands on our desks each week.

How many subeditors work on the magazine part of Nature?

There are 10 of us in total, covering 8.5 full-time positions. Most of us are in the London office, although two of us are based in New York (one of these works for Nature half-time). We’re a separate team from the subeditors who work on the primary-research articles in Nature.

doi: https://doi.org/10.1038/d42859-019-00106-z

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