Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Doing my part to save some trees

I don’t remember the exact date I stopped printing out paper copies of most of the scientific articles, manuscripts, grant applications and other documents that are sent to me for review and editing. I do know that I have been doing my part to save trees on this planet for many years now by not printing out paper copies of every document or article that is sent to me or that I come across during my online travels. I am always surprised when a student tells me, as happened yesterday, that she has misplaced the only copy of a manuscript draft that was edited as a paper copy and given back to her by her supervisor. When I asked if she couldn’t just check her email to access the edited document again, my assumption being that her supervisor does as I do—edits and comments an article draft via ‘track changes’ in Word and then saves it as a computer file--the answer was that her supervisor doesn’t edit/review documents on the computer. She edits and comments in the margins of a paper version of the article and gives it back to the student this way. So if that paper version gets misplaced, I understand how it could be a problem for the student. One could hope that her supervisor made a paper copy of her edits before she gave the edited article back to her student.

I know there are mixed opinions among academics about reading and editing manuscripts on your computer prior to their submission for publication. Personally, I like doing both on my computer. I have no problems following an article’s logic and buildup on my computer screen, and I love having ‘track changes’ available to me so that I can edit manuscript drafts onscreen if that is the task at hand. In the old days, an edited manuscript that you had gotten back as several copies from your co-authors could be a daunting proposition to tackle; some of them were a mess in terms of the pencil scribbles in the margins, the curlicue arrows directing you to move this paragraph to another page or to a paragraph below on the same page, comments at the top of the page telling you what to consider to include in the next draft, and so on. It is no easier to go painstakingly through such an edited manuscript than it is to correct a manuscript edited through ‘track changes’. In fact, I think the latter is much easier; you can choose to accept or delete inserted or deleted text, you can accept or reject format changes, and you can move text around as you like and still see where you removed text from in the final version.   

I also no longer print out the pdf versions of published articles; I read them online as well. It is a rare occurrence these days for me to print out an article; if I do, it is usually an extensive review article. I simply don’t see the point anymore of wasting all this paper. Additionally, the articles of interest are freely available for the most part, so that there is no danger of getting access to an article and then suddenly losing that access. One can get around this problem anyway by saving a version of the pdf file on your own computer to peruse at a later date. I am one of those people who welcome a paperless workplace and household. Offices stay neater as do homes, a win-win situation all around. 

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