Aims and Services of the Committee on Scholarly Editions


The Committee on Scholarly Editions (CSE) was officially established as a standing committee of the Modern Language Association on 1 September 1976 in response to recommendations of an ad hoc MLA committee charged with assessing the association's role in promoting editorial scholarship. Before the CSE was established, there was little interchange of ideas among editors of historical documents and editors of philosophical, scientific, and literary works, even though these groups have common concerns and deal with many of the same classes of documents (letters, journals, printed texts). Since the establishment of the committee, two additional forums for interdisciplinary exchange have come into being: the Association for Documentary Editing (ADE), which brings together editors from several disciplines, and the Society for Textual Scholarship (STS), which promotes discussion of scholarly editing across all disciplinary boundaries. The CSE cooperates actively with both groups and draws on the expertise of their members.

The CSE is committed to promoting the highest standards of scholarly editing and to helping editors and publishers produce reliable texts in well-prepared editions. The CSE welcomes inquiries and encourages editors to seek the committee's services in editing any kind of work or document, in any language, from any period, classical to contemporary. In offering its services to editors, the committee recognizes that varying editorial projects require varying editorial policies and procedures. Clearly a nineteenth-century Spanish novel and an English diplomat's papers require different treatments, as do a twentieth-century poem and a medieval romance or a scientific treatise and a Renaissance play. Editing a work that survives in variant texts is different from editing the only extant text of another. The committee believes, however, that some issues are common to almost all scholarly editing (the choice or treatment of the basic text to be edited, for example, and for most kinds of projects the presentation of variant readings from other authoritative forms of the text) and that these issues-both theoretical and practical-can be clarified and focused through communication among persons from widely differing fields.


The committee's work is founded on the belief that reliable texts are essential not only to scholars but to all serious readers, and its primary aim is to promote the highest standards of textual scholarship in published editions. To meet this goal, the CSE provides current information about scholarly editing and editorial projects to editors and publishers; on request, it offers advice and consultation; it sponsors discussions at meetings of the MLA and other organizations about issues of common interest to scholarly editors and the profession; it promotes dissemination of reliable texts for students and readers in general; it encourages and offers guidance in the preparation of critical and diplomatic scholarly editions: and it awards the emblems "An Approved Edition" and "An Approved Text" to qualified volumes whose editors wish to submit their work for review.*

*Readers are urged to note that the emblems read "An Approved Edition" and "An Approved Text," not "The Approved Edition" and "The Approved Text"; they carry no implication that the editions or texts so labeled are the only responsible or valuable ones that can be prepared. Because scholarly editions (and the texts they contain) involved judgments, two careful scholars may disagree about the way a particular text should be edited; it is thus possible that different editions of the same work could meet CSE standards and each qualify for the emblem.


At the meetings of various organizations with an interest in editing and publishing, the committee sponsors addresses, workshops, seminars, discussions, and panels on textual, editorial, and bibliographical matters.

Information on Editing and Editorial Projects

The committee provides a list of volumes approved and published with the approval of both the Center for Editions of American Authors (CEAA) and the CSE, all of which include statements of the editorial principles and procedures used in preparing the texts, along with apparatuses and notes that can serve as examples for other editorial projects. It also maintains and distributes an annotated bibliography of writings on editorial matters.


In addition to this brochure, the CSE disseminates on request a set of guidelines designed to focus the attention of editors and publishers on essential editorial considerations and to indicate the committee's editorial standards. Interested editors and publishers, especially those who intend to apply for the "Approved Edition" emblem, are urged to study these guidelines as early in the editorial process as possible; beginning editors may then want to request that the committee assign a consultant to help formulate specific policies and procedures for their editorial projects. Consultations may be conducted either in person or by mail.

The "Approved Edition" Emblem

Editors who desire a measure of quality control in addition to that provided by their publishers may apply for the CSE emblem "An Approved Edition," which is awarded to volumes on the basis of a review of the editor's procedures and materials (usually carried out by mail, though sometimes conducted at the editor's institution). When the volume is ready for submission to the publisher, the committee selects a reviewer in consultation with the editor, who is responsible for the reviewer's honorarium and expenses. The examiner's inquiries are directed by a checklist based on the committee's guidelines. On completion of the review, the reviewer submits a report to the CSE chair, who asks the editor to respond to the report; the reviewer's report and the editor's response are then sent to the committee, which votes on whether to award the emblem. Successful applicants may display the emblem in the published volume to signify that the edition meets the CSE standards.

Standards for the "Approved Edition" and "Approved Text" Emblems

The editorial standards that form the criteria for the award of the CSE "Approved Edition" emblem can be stated here in only the most general terms, since the range of editorial work that comes within the committee's purview makes it impossible to set forth a detailed, step-by-step editorial procedure. Rather, the CSE emphasizes that editors who are thoroughly acquainted with the scholarship on editorial approaches applicable to their materials, who are fully knowledgeable about the relevant documentary texts, and who are sensitive to the circumstances attending the composition and production of all forms of the text can judge what editorial procedures are appropriate to their materials, carry out those procedures accurately and consistently, and explain exactly what they have done and why.

Whatever specific editorial theory and procedures are used, the editor's basic task is to establish a reliable text. Many, indeed most, scholarly editions include a general introduction-either historical or interpretive-as well as explanatory annotations to various words, passages, events, and historical figures. Although neither is essential to the editor's primary responsibility of establishing a text, both can add to the value, that is, the usefulness, of the edition. Whatever additional materials are included, however, the CSE considers the following essential for a scholarly edition:

1.A textual essay, which sets forth the history of the text and its physical forms, describes or reports the authoritative or significant texts, explains how the text of the edition has been constructed or represented, gives the rationale for all decisions affecting its construction or representation, and discusses the verbal composition of the text as well as its punctuation, capitalization, and spelling.

2.An appropriate textual apparatus or notes or both, which (1) records alterations and emendations in the basic text(s), (2) discusses problematical readings (if not treated in the textual essay), (3) reports variant substantive readings from all versions of the text that might carry authority, and (4) indicates how the new edition treats ambiguously divided compounds (if any) in the basic text as well as which end-of-line hyphens in the new edition should be retained in quoting from the text. These four kinds of information need not be presented in any specific arrangement, and not all obtain in every situation, but the CSE requires that, when applicable, they should be either in each volume bearing the "Approved Edition" emblem or otherwise available at the time of publication.

3.A proofreading plan that provides for meticulous proofreading at every stage of production so that the accuracy of the text, the textual essay, arid the textual apparatus is not compromised.

The "Approved Text" Emblem

The CSE is by no means concerned solely with full-scale scholarly editions, multivolume editions, or editions published only in hard covers. Indeed, one of its aims is to foster the dissemination of reliable texts in single volumes appropriate for classroom use and available to the general reading public. While such editions do not ordinarily contain textual essays or apparatuses, the texts themselves ought to be the most reliable that scholarship can provide. The committee therefore encourages publishers of approved editions who do not wish to issue inexpensive paperbacks to lease their texts to publishers prepared to provide wide distribution; when an approved text is leased, the reprinting publisher will be granted the use of the emblem "An Approved Text" if (1) the accuracy of the reprinted text is ensured and (2) the reprinted edition clearly refers to the textual information available in the textual essay and apparatus of the original edition.


The committee provides its services free of charge; consultants and reviewers receive a small honorarium, paid by the editor or the publisher.

Committee Members

The names of current members of the committee appear in each September issue of PMLA. Inquiries may be addressed to the Committee on Scholarly Editions, Modern Language Association of America, 10 Astor Place, New York, NY 10003-6981.