Re: Editing scientific papers

Subject: Re: Editing scientific papers
From: Deborah Hemstreet <dvora -at- tech-challenged -dot- com>
To: techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com
Date: Sat, 26 Jun 2010 11:38:01 -0400

*Hi Sandy,

I've done lots of these papers. For the most part, you are editing as you would for any technical document:

1. Style: Consistency of expression. Does the author use third person throughout and then throw in, "our thoughts on this matter"? Then it has to be changed. This will depend on the Instructions to Authors.

2. Instructions to Authors: Every journal has different instructions. Some allow only third person, others don't. You need to ask each student to provide the instructions for the journal to which their paper will be submitted; a copy of the journal is also helpful. Thesis instructions if for a thesis. etc.

3. References are perhaps the most challenging. You cannot know if the references are correct, but you can detect possible typos, lack of conformity with instructions, and worst, incorrect citations. For example, the text reads that Jones et al. discuss the importance of hybrid germination... but you go and look at the Jones et al. listing in the references and it is either not present, or the title of the paper is gestation of mammels... nothing to do with plants at all... something is wrong! So you mark it and tell the author to please advise...

4. Logic and coherency. You don't really need to understand anything about the gabba dabba plant that is bred via the new dubbie dubbie methodology. But you do need to see that they refer to it properly throughout, and not three different ways. If there is a table, does it make sense? Is it logical? When you read, is there data given in the text that would be better presented in the text? If there is a table, does the author tell the reader just what it is they want them to especially notice? Same for a figure.

5. The key to a scientific paper is logic, coherence, correct presentation, and making sure you actually did what the abstract promises. If the abstract says that this paper will provide evidence that the gabba dabba plant can be bred via the new dubbie dubbie method, can YOU find that evidence? IF its not clear to you, it probably won't be clear to the expert reader. If the author says, here is my method, but it's not clear to you, or rather convoluted, either rewrite the section, or if truly beyond you, explain to the author HOW it needs to be rewritten.

6. I've done a lot of editing for Chinese Ph.D. students. In my experience, they know their stuff very very well. Some even write far better than they can talk. You will find their main struggle will be with certain nuances of English, grammar, and dealing with the instructions. The instructions are ALWAYS written in a very non-user friendly way. I've had to ready some instructions several times to figure out what is wanted. That is why a SAMPLE of the publication can be so helpful. "Oh, THAT is what they wanted."

7. If the paper has equations, are all the symbols defined? For example, a = b/c * q+14 is absolutely meaningless unless the reader knows what a, b, c and q are. Usual format (again check instructions) is:
**a = b/c * q+14
a= dogs
b = cats
c = fish
q = gabba dabba plant

(And if anyone can do something with this equation, please, its MY PATENT - I'll share the royalties!)

What often happens is you'll see equations building on each other. In this case, back track. If a was explained in equation 1, it does not need to be re-explained in equation 2, unless they've changed the meaning. In which case, ask why they changed the meaning of "a", in Eq. 1 it means x and in Eq. 2 it means y? Usually its a typo - but not always, sometimes an explanation is missing.

8. Be pedantic. Be fussy, Be inquisitive, and stick to the instructions (oops, I already said that... but its really important).

If you do these things, both you and your students will have an amazing learning experience. You about topics you never heard of and will come to find are actually quite interesting, and your students will begin to learn the ins and outs of writing a good scientific paper.

I hope this is helpful.


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Editing scientific papers: From: Sandy Harris

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