Science editors and writers (any editors and writers, for that matter) all have their own pet peeves when it comes to the written word. When I’m reading something for my own interest or education, I’m relatively forgiving about how it is written – provided the content, spelling and construction are good. In a nutshell, you’re not going to find me squirming when I see a split infinitive, or wagging my finger if someone’s describing their experiment in the first person.

When it comes to editing scientific work for others, however, I work hard to do whatever it takes to turn someone’s manuscript into more than just legible. I strive to make it flow well, and do whatever possible to ensure that it fits the journal’s guidelines if an author has asked me to do the latter. 

In fact, I always guarantee an author that their article will not be rejected on the basis of its English content. I tell them that if they accept all my grammatical/spelling edits, I will be happy to address any required language changes after review, at no extra charge. 

I’ve been involved in writing and editing scientific manuscripts since 1992, and have never received any editor’s comments requesting grammatical changes. Until three days ago!

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My Friday morning started off with an email from a client who is a non-native English speaker. I’d edited his paper in May, and he’d recently submitted it to a scientific journal. His letter from the editor suggested that he use a native English-speaking scientist or medical editor to correct his article.

Hadn’t I already done that? I was naturally very confused, having spent many hours dutifully re-crafting his article.

It didn’t take me long, however, to determine the source of the problem. Despite the author’s message that no changes had been made to my originally edited version, I found plenty of evidence to the contrary. 

The author had not only declined to accept the majority of my edits before submitting his article, but additionally had added in some extra text here and there before submitting. This combination didn’t do his great experimental science any favors. Consequently, it’s not surprising that there was a request for the paper’s grammar to be corrected.

The net result was that I spent about 4 hours yesterday and today resuscitating the manuscript. Rather frustrating, but hopefully the author now more than fully understands the benefit of hitting “accept all changes”.

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Do you have any writing or editing pet peeves?

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“Science Careers”, from the Journal Science published this great article today – it’s a content collection comprising links to their best resources on careers in science writing. They all make for interesting reads in general for anyone in the medical communications field, but they’re especially valuable for anyone thinking about transitioning into medical writing.

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Image Credit  Digital Art @FreeDigitalPhotos

Academia can be a “publish or perish” environment at the best of times – so after working long, hard hours to collect all your scientific data, you deserve a final article that is free of errors and most accurately represents your efforts. You may have extremely impressive scientific data, but if your manuscript lacks readability and clarity, it will typically be rejected by the peer-review process when submitted for publication.

 

Language and Publication in “Cardiovascular Research” Articles [Cardiovasc Res (2002) Feb 1:53(2):279-285] by Coates et al, surveyed 120 articles that were submitted to the journal “Cardiovascular Research”. They reported: “There is a clear indication that badly written articles correlated with a high rejection rate.”  Additionally they stated: ”On equal scientific merit, a badly written article will have less chance of being accepted … even if the editor does not identify language as a motive for rejection.”   

So the way in which your data is communicated is almost as crucial as the data itself. Writing quality clearly influences whether a paper is accepted for publication, regardless of the research quality. As with all kinds of writing, it is therefore extremely valuable to allow a fresh pair of eyes to review your finished paper – a skilled academic editor will not only proofread your work, but will greatly enhance its scientific clarity. This will therefore not only improve its chances of being published, but also speed up the publication time.

Writing therefore plays a pivotal role in the communication of your scientific data. Therefore, although the process of editing and revising your manuscript can seem overwhelming (especially if English is not your native language), it is a necessary step if you hope to maximize the impact of your work within the scientific community.