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What is scientific editing?

By Sourav Chatterjee, MRes, Tata Institute of Fundamental Research Mumbai, Department of Biological Sciences

If we take a good, long look at the world around us, we can begin to appreciate how different human society is. In the evolutionary race, humans have progressed the farthest and the quickest compared to other organisms around us. One of the most important contributors to us winning the evolutionary race has been effective communication between individuals so that the society, as a whole may thrive.

The role of scientific research has been, and will always be one of the cornerstones of human society. It is one of the most boundary-defying aspects in today’s world. Although research is carried out by individuals of different ethnicities and cultures, science is united by a common goal, the betterment of our society and the world around us. Communicating one’s research with the world has become easier today than it ever was. However, effective communication requires that complicated facts be shared in a succinct, but comprehensible manner.

No scientist works in isolation in today’s world. Every branch of Science needs to communicate with one another to ensure that a problem has been addressed thoroughly. In addition, their findings must reach the correct individuals who can then implement their ideas towards the betterment of human society. Thus, scientists need to be able to communicate and cooperate with one another to ensure that these goals are met. However, being as diverse as they are, scientists often find it difficult to express their ideas in a way that will be comprehensible to others, whether this be due to a language barrier, lack of an effective platform. While scientific journals around the world provide effective platform for researchers to share their work, they also desire to publish research that impacts human society in a major way. To ensure this, they stringently monitor the quality of science being presented and the clarity of the language being used to express the science as well. Not being fluent in a certain language should not stop a researcher from presenting a body of quality work.

Enter the scientific editor! A scientific editor is one such individual who has both a subject-area expertise, and a good command over language, a niche that required desperate filling in the world of science. The scientific editor forms a bridge between the scientists, who have the technical knowledge to help improve human society, and the journals, who wish to communicate high-quality research to the world.

When reading a scientific manuscript, have you ever found it difficult to understand what the paper is trying to say? Or why the researchers had not investigated a certain side-aspect of their study, which would help answer gaping holes in their own, or other’s studies? Or have you simply have had to squint through a manuscript trying to understand what symbol has the author used to express a certain variable? A scientific editor ensures that the manuscripts they work on do not have such problems.

Scientific editing is multifaceted in its role. Unlike simple editing, scientific editing aims to improve not only the language of scientific manuscripts, but also the quality of science presented. Scientific editors are required to ensure that the findings of a particular body of work is expressed in manner that will allow every reader to easily and quickly extract all the relevant information from it. Hence, they ensure that the language used for writing a scientific manuscript is simple, lucid, and succinct. Scientific editing does not entail creating or modifying an author’s content, but rather clearly expressing their opinions faithfully. Unlike a normal editor, a scientific editor is also required to critically analyze a study presented in a manuscript, similar to what a journal reviewer does, and suggest improvements to a particular study to make it more impactful. In addition, they are also required to appreciate a researcher’s efforts and work with them to help improve their contribution to human society. Scientific editing is not just limited to the manuscript content, but also its presentation. This helps ensure a consistent representation of the facts in an aesthetically pleasing manner.

You may be wondering, why would an editor care about whether someone else’s work gets published or not? Interestingly, most scientific editors were once researchers themselves. They not only relate to the effort another researcher has put into his/her work, but they also share a common goal, which is to ultimately help human society flourish.


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