Finding Editing Help

Where should you go to get editing help? Professional editors who are not scientists and are unfamiliar with your type of science can be extremely undependable in their choice of improvements. Their ability to edit the kind of English used in newspaper reporting, essays, novels, and personal letters may be excellent, but they are not knowledgeable about the way language is used to report research in science journals. Other services devoted only to science are often of little better help because even they often lack specific knowledge of your particular field. So beware, and, if you choose to use a professional editing service, wherever there is a disagreement between what the service suggests and what your spreadsheets tell you, trust the spreadsheets. [See Chapter 2 for information about spreadsheets.]

You will need help in order to edit your paper well. Few successful writers of science edit alone. In fact few of them even write alone. They write in teams and edit for each other. No one writes or edits well enough to work alone: The English language is too slippery. You need other eyes and minds to help you. Most scientists edit with a colleague; some with two colleagues although working with more than two others can create more chaos than help.

I will wear my heart upon my sleeve for daws to peck at.

- Shakespeare Othello Act I, scene i

You need to make a careful choice of the person, or people, with whom you write or edit. You must know and trust each so well that you will not take their comments and questions personally, keeping foremost in your mind that all suggestions are meant kindly and intended to improve the clarity of the science. In turn, the person or people who work with you must trust you: They must believe that you will not be personally offended by their suggestions.

You will be wisest to set up such a confidential editing system with someone who is your peer, not someone who is your superior, or someone who works under you. Ideally you will find a peer or peers also writing papers so that you can form a team of writers who edit for each other. Computers now allow us to write and edit with peers in other institutions, which opens up more possibilities for collaboration and good editing than ever before.

Attempt to meet with your other colleagues at conferences or for coffee at their institution because friendship is an important part of maintaining the openness and trust required for editing to be successful and completed in a timely fashion. Remember you can only be helped by someone who:

• trusts you to be open to both positive and negative criticism,

• is capable of giving both positive as well as negative criticism,

• is familiar with the type of writing in the journal in which you plan to publish.

A team of people to write and edit with may be hard to find and coming to a workable agreement with them will require both personal and professional effort. However, writing is too social an activity for us to be able to receive the kind of help we need, and the kind we can understand, from people who do not know us or our research.

Then say at once if I maintained the truth;

- Shakespeare Henry VI, Part I Act II, scene iv

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