How is scientific editing different from language editing?

By Archana Choudhary, MSc, Aerospace Engineering, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Most of us have come across the term “editing” in many contexts, the most common being in newspapers and film media. However, many of us are unaware that there are also different types of editing tailored for different types of documents, because one size does not fit all! 

In the context of publication, editing refers to the process of revising the content of written media, aimed at improving language, flow, in-document consistency, and general readability to ensure an easy to understand and error-free document. In addition, it involves correcting typographical and punctuation errors and enhancing word choice. For an editor, the goal is to conform to inviolable rules while respecting personal stylistic preferences. An extensive review of all aspects of grammar (structural use of words, clauses, and phrases; subject–verb agreement; proper use of singular and plural nouns; etc.), parallelisms, tense, conjugations, spelling and punctuation, and syntax (ensuring that words and phrases form proper, non-awkward English sentences) in a piece of writing, is known as language editing. However, is this enough for cutting-edge scientific documents, which must ascertain not only flawless language, but also a logical and systematic structure?

Scientific documents, including papers intended for publication in journals or for presentation in conferences, are aimed at sharing research with a global audience and therefore require high quality standards. Authors are heavily invested in their work, having spent months or even years on their research. Often, they can become so familiar with their topic that they may happen to ineffectively communicate their work to general readers. This results in their paper being comprehensible to only highly specialized readers, even though the purpose of sharing information is for that information to be interesting and useful to many readers, including newcomers.

Scientific editing caters to such issues, going a step farther than language editing. It focuses on improving the logical flow, strengthening arguments, identifying omissions, and eliminating inconsistencies. Such editing is usually performed by subject-matter experts, who edit the manuscript with specific knowledge of the field. 

Scientific language varies greatly from colloquial and even formal language, and varies across different fields of study. Each field has its own specific terms, abbreviations, jargon, and writing style. Even the slightest change in spelling or order of words can drastically change the intended meaning of a phrase. Furthermore, complex scientific names, even product names used in the laboratory, can often be misspelt; this could be dangerous in fields that are risk-prone and require absolute precision, such as chemistry and aerospace. Therefore, in scientific editing, not only is it essential to conform to formal language, but also ensure its accuracy and intent. 

Another essential component of scientific editing is considering the manuscript from the reader’s point of view, and ascertaining that the objectives of the article are well articulated, the conclusions are justified and well presented, the novelty and validity of the data is discussed, and the methodology has no lapses in reasoning. 

The following examples help understand the distinction between language and scientific editing.

Original sentence: It is thus difficult to state whether the results of this study could represent changes occurring to the wind-turbine power performance and to the blade ice formation that would continue over a longer period of time.

Language edit: Therefore, it is difficult to state whether the results of this study can accurately represent variations in wind turbine power performance and blade ice formation occurring over a longer duration.

Scientific edit: Thus, the transferability of these results to longer-term blade ice formation and wind turbine power performance is uncertain.

Original sentence: Figure 3 shows the degrees of freedom of the vehicle as well as the positive directions of axes and conventional signs.

Language edit: Figure 3 shows the degrees of freedom of the vehicle, the positive direction of axes, and conventional signs.

Scientific edit: Figure 3 shows the degrees of freedom of a vehicle, the positive directions of the coordinate axes, and the conventional notations.

 

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