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Richard Leigh is Significance magazine’s long-serving copy editor, carefully cleaning up and polishing articles before they reach readers’ eyeballs.

How long have you been Significance’s copy editor?

I started copy editing Significance in December 2009, and Vol. 7 No. 1 was my first issue.

How did you become a stats/maths copy editor?

I feel like I got there the long way round. At school I was encouraged to study languages at A level. I got some experience in publishing while still a student. I started out in business-to-business publishing with a degree in German and was bored out of my mind, and the job market was quite static at the time (early 1980s). All the successful people I knew in publishing had science degrees, and I had fond memories of school mathematics. I took an Open University BA degree in mathematics, which included some inspirational statistics courses, and then went on to do a master’s in applied statistics at Birkbeck College London under Philip Holgate. Just as I was starting my OU degree I went freelance, and I have been a freelance copyeditor now for 40 years.

What software do you use?

Apart from the usual Microsoft Word that everybody uses, I use LaTeX, and specifically TeXLive with a WinEdt front-end,  for mathematical work. Word’s Equation Editor is pretty useless for presenting mathematics, but LaTeX does it beautifully.

What are the most common copy errors you have to fix?

References. Writers often don’t know how to present them or appear to think they’re not important.

And people don’t look closely at sentence structure. Agreement of nouns and verbs seems to be particularly problematical for most writers. That said, American writers seem to me to have a rather better grasp of English grammar than British writers do.

British or American English, what’s the Significance house style?

It’s been British English ever since our first issue in 2004.

Are there any past Significance articles that you have particularly enjoyed?

I like a good demo, and headcounts at such events have long fascinated me. Ray Watson and Paul Yip wrote an interesting article on the subject back in 2011 (Vol. 8 No. 3).

Bergen, Norway, is my favourite place for a weekend away, and my wife and I stay near the historic harbour. The harbour is under threat from sea-level rise. Peter Guttorp and Thordis L. Thorarinsdottir looked in 2018 at the decisions that need to be made under uncertainty to protect it (Vol. 15 No. 2).

It was an honour and a privilege to copy edit the tribute to Sir David Cox (Vol. 19 No. 2). I met him after copyediting a couple of his books in the mid-1990s and was impressed by his humility and kindness.

What’s your best piece of advice for statisticians who want to write clear copy for a non-expert audience?

Organise your thoughts before you start writing, concentrate on what you really want to say, and leave us copyeditors something to do so we can put bread on the table…


Photo by Robert Raynard


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