Tag Archives: medical

A week in the life of a journal manager and magazine editor

Nik Prowse project manages medical journals and edits a magazine on ecology. In this post he describes how he got into this work, what it involves, and what he most enjoys about it.

My first job in publishing was for a learned society, and its main publications were journals. In my interview, the editorial director described journal publishing as ‘a sausage machine’, a phrase which is true in one respect, but it doesn’t do justice to the pleasure of putting an issue together. I was trained as a copyeditor and proofreader, working on two journals, but as I worked only on individual articles the sausage machine aspects of the production process didn’t concern me.

Eventually, I was allowed to work on some of the few books that the society published too, which I enjoyed. When I went freelance, I did a bit of journal copyediting but focused on academic textbooks. After a few years, I also started project managing the same type of material: ­­large textbooks aimed at students and researchers in fields such as ecology, life science and medicine. I enjoyed the project management work (and it paid better), and one of its most enjoyable aspects was seeing a project through from manuscript submission to final printing. That, and building solid working relationships with authors and editors along the way, were good reasons to find the work rewarding. I never thought that I would manage a journal until I was offered the chance to do so, and the opportunity for a new challenge gave me the motivation to try it out.

Wind forward seven years …

My work as a journal manager

I now manage a suite of four medical journals for one publisher. I started out just working on one, an orthopaedics journal. At first I found the work akin to driving too fast along a winding road in the dark: scary and hair-raising. The need to juggle issues going to press, manuscripts being submitted for upcoming issues and planning for issues further down the line, as well as frequent emails about other matters from authors, editors and the typesetter led to a frenetic pace of work that was, occasionally, almost overwhelming. But after a while I began to get the hang of it, developing systems to help me stay on track and generally getting into the swing of things. I felt much calmer as the months progressed.

That first journal publishes six issues a year, and now I also work on three others, all of which publish twelve issues a year. And it all runs calmly and smoothly … most of the time! All of the journals are commission-only, meaning that we approach potential authors based on what topics we need to cover.

Working as a journal manager is mainly an administration job but I find it rewarding, not for that aspect but because it allows me to build long-term relationships with editors who are experts in their field. I also get to interact with the huge number of authors we commission who are also at the peak of what they do. Their willingness to share their expertise for virtually no return, passing on their medical knowledge and teaching the next generation of doctors for the benefit of patients, is motivating and inspiring in itself. They do this despite the pressures of clinical work in the NHS and the increasing pressure that consultants, junior doctors and other healthcare staff are under, and it gives me huge respect for all medical professionals.

a medical journal is open on a desk with a stethoscope to one side

Organisation is the key

The main tool of the job for me is a series of Excel spreadsheets that allows me to see at a glance the situation for any particular month’s issue. Keeping an eye on these spreadsheets on a regular basis is the key to the job, helping me stay on track.

At any one point, I have to think about issues being planned but not yet commissioned, articles commissioned that haven’t yet been submitted, articles in review, articles for the issue that is about to go to press and ones that have been typeset and which may need checking. Many authors who are due to submit articles need chasing, or their deadline renegotiating, because for virtually all of them writing an article for me is not their main concern 97% of the time. In my first few months on the first journal I managed to annoy a few authors by being overly officious, but I quickly learned that respect, diplomacy and courtesy are essential for receiving material on time.

Long deadlines: Good for all concerned

I set very long deadlines, which allows me to grant an extension almost whenever one is requested and has no effect on the publication schedule. This is key to the stress-free running of each journal. Sometimes an article is so late there is a danger it may not be published. However, by that point I’ve hopefully built up enough of a rapport with an author that they are understanding and can work to the final date that we have agreed.

So, in summary, the main tasks of working as a journal manager are:

  • creating, checking and working to schedules
  • emailing authors to thank them for accepting an invitation to write, and providing information on article format and the deadline
  • following up on late articles and negotiating their delivery
  • checking submissions and ensuring that nothing is missing
  • sending papers for review by the editorial board
  • compiling issues and preparing files for typesetting
  • checking proofs
  • and … in the long run, thinking about the commissioning of issues further down the line.

I enjoy this job for a number of reasons. The main one is the sense of satisfaction of getting an issue out on time that contains articles that will help young medical professionals improve people’s lives. They get valuable information from journals like the ones that I work on. It’s a fantastic feeling. And, as I’ve already mentioned, building long-term working relationships with experts is also very rewarding.

My work as a magazine editor

I’ve always enjoyed reading magazines, from Smash Hits as a teenager to Kerrang! when my musical interests changed to New Scientist when I was a student, and more recently cycling and photography magazines. However, with a background in science and traditional book publishing, I never thought that I would have the opportunity to be the editor of what you could call a magazine.

During the Covid-19 pandemic, I saw a vacancy advertised by an organisation that represents ecologists in the UK and overseas for an editor for their membership magazine. I quickly realised that the requirements of the job were a combination of the various skills I had picked up in my 20 years in publishing. These included copyediting, proofreading, project management and, more latterly, understanding periodical workflow and the need to consider more than one issue at a time. Plus, ecology is one of my favourite fields of life science.

I get to choose the cover!

I’m responsible for the front half of the magazine, which consists of articles on a theme that is publicised beforehand. I check submitted articles and send them for review. For each quarterly issue, I chair a meeting involving the magazine’s editorial board, who are all experts in their field. Again, the job involves working with experts who are doing valuable work, this time in nature conservation and in tackling the climate and biodiversity crises that we face.

Many of the tasks of running a magazine, albeit an academic one featuring peer-reviewed articles, are similar to running a medical journal. Scheduling, keeping to deadlines, commissioning and manuscript preparation are all part of the job. One challenging new task is sending feedback to authors, advising them on how to revise their articles based on the editorial board’s comments. The main requirement is diplomacy, giving lots of encouragement as to how to make the article publishable.

But what I love about this new role is that I also play a small part in the way the magazine looks. Journals are very rigid affairs: there’s a front cover with a table of contents on it and there are articles inside, all typeset to a predetermined design. That’s it. However, on a magazine there is a design element to every issue, including arranging the front cover and the straplines that it will feature. Some of our authors provide some fantastic photographs to illustrate their articles, and I really enjoy looking at them and choosing one that will be suitable for the cover.

About Nik Prowse

Nik Prowse has been a copyeditor and proofreader since 1997, following a PhD in evolutionary biology. He went freelance in 2004 and since then has worked as a copyeditor, development editor and project manager of academic, professional and educational materials. Up until recently, he was a tutor for the Publishing Training Centre and the CIEP’s book reviews coordinator. In his spare time, he cycles long distances in search of cake.


About the CIEP

The Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (CIEP) is a non-profit body promoting excellence in English language editing. We set and demonstrate editorial standards, and we are a community, training hub and support network for editorial professionals – the people who work to make text accurate, clear and fit for purpose.
Find out more about:


Photo credits: magazines by kconcha on Pixabay, medical journal by Abdulai Sayni on Unsplash, puffins by Wynand van Poortvliet on Unsplash

Posted by Sue McLoughlin, blog assistant.

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the CIEP.

The 2021 CIEP conference: Moving to med comms

This year’s CIEP conference was held online, from 12 to 14 September. Attendees from all over the world logged on to learn and socialise with their fellow editors and proofreaders, and a number of delegates kindly volunteered to write up the sessions for us. Mary Hobbins reviewed Moving to med comms, presented by Alison Hillman and Liz Jennings.

What is med comms?

These hugely experienced medical editors first met at the then Society for Editors and Proofreaders (SfEP) conference in 2019 and currently work in-house for global med comms consultancies (Oxford PharmaGenesis and Lucid Group, respectively). They described how working in medical communications covers a broad range of services from publication planning, journal articles and drug monographs to commercial, marketing and training materials. Freelance opportunities include design, project management and writing as well as editing and proofreading.

What are the attractions of working in med comms?

Both agreed that this is a growing industry with an ongoing need for freelance and in-house editors. They shared a short film that gave some insight into the various in-house roles and included colleagues talking about the appeal of this area of work and what they get out of being in med comms (interesting content/ variety in subjects and project types/ high standards/ innovation/ autonomy/ part of a collaborative team/ energising environment).

Liz described some of the in-house benefits: career progression, personal development and training, good rates of pay, flexibility in working hours and opportunities to work from home (which has accelerated since the pandemic). Freelancer benefits include the interesting variety of work available, long-term collaborative relationships and being a part of producing purposeful, beneficial material (a poll they ran on current pay bands suggested that most of the participants fell into the £25–£30ph range for both editing and proofreading).

What background do you need?

Some med comms companies prefer a science degree; others are happy if you have a language or arts-based degree and/or previous scientific experience. Alison emphasised that you should be willing to work to tight deadlines, have both editing and proofreading skills and be proficient in PowerPoint. You must also be willing to undertake an editorial test, whatever your experience, and this is likely to take the form of two tasks: an editing task and either a PowerPoint reformatting and checking task or a proofreading task.

However, she stressed the most important attribute is enthusiasm!

How do you find work in this area?

The first aspect they both noted was that it doesn’t matter where you are based in the world – this might actually be helpful to meet tight deadlines! If you aim to become an in-house employee, do your research for the kind of employer that you would like to work for and approach them about available openings. Use LinkedIn to locate likely organisations to approach as well as scanning job listings on the platform. For freelance opportunities, the MedComms Workbook website lists freelancers for a subscription. If you have an entry in the CIEP Directory, make sure your qualifications and/or experience are clear so that med comms organisations can find you with keywords.

Keep up to date with what’s going on in med comms. The CIEP Medical Editing training course is well worth investing in, if you haven’t already, as this is highly regarded in the industry. You could also explore some e-learning courses on LinkedIn, Udemy, etc (some are free) and join the Facebook medical editors group. Another free source of information is the Association of British Pharmaceutical Industries (ABPI) website and Code of Practice, which gives guidelines on use of language in med comms materials.

Don’t wait for potential opportunities to come to you – be proactive and make contact. Express your readiness to do an editorial test to work with your preferred clients; network and follow up any previous contacts you may have in the med comms industry.

Alison and Liz displayed two practice exercises to try (a slide and a figure) with a litany of problems to think about; they discussed some dos and don’ts of language (based on the ABPI’s Code of Practice) and rounded off their session with a thought-provoking list of some terms to watch out for and understand (eg efficacy vs effectiveness; incidence vs prevalence; seriousness vs severity).

Mary Hobbins is an Advanced Professional Member of the CIEP providing editorial services to commercial businesses and publishers of academic journals, professional textbooks and training materials. When not working, she often finds herself riding pillion somewhere in southern England.


About the CIEP

The Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (CIEP) is a non-profit body promoting excellence in English language editing. We set and demonstrate editorial standards, and we are a community, training hub and support network for editorial professionals – the people who work to make text accurate, clear and fit for purpose.

Find out more about:


Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the CIEP.