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What Is Scientific Editing?

what is scientific editing

Scientific editing is a specialized form of editing that typically entails journal article editing for submission to scientific journals or medical journals. Experts in scientific editing often offer their skills through a scientific editing service or, more broadly, an academic editing service. They usually have skills in editing for scientific journals or editing for medical journals or both.

Editing for scientific journals

Although scientific editing can be a subset of academic editing, it is distinct in many ways because of specialist practices in the sciences. The conventions of language and study descriptions are subtle but important for academic manuscripts in the sciences. An experienced scientific editor can ensure that a manuscript intended for submission to a scientific or medical journal meets these field-specific expectations.

Editing for scientific journals also requires knowledge of each journal’s specific requirements for manuscript submissions and how to meet those requirements. For scientific editing, an expert editor with a scientific editing service will look for several features that non-experts in science journals could overlook.

These features include style for tables and figures, such as their presentation, placement, and content. An experienced editor in scientific editing also will discern what the scientific or medical journal requirements are for statistical analyses and data reporting and ensure that the manuscript meets these, as well.

A skilled scientific editor often will have training in the sciences to the doctoral level, which allows the scientific editor to grasp the nuances of scientific writing. A background in the sciences also means that an editor specialized in scientific editing can ensure that the material is presented properly in the appropriate section of a manuscript.

Scientific editors also will ensure that the journal that authors hope to target accepts the kind of submission under consideration. Not all journals accept reviews or perspectives, for example, and a scientific editor has the background necessary to determine whether or not intended submission is not a match for the target journal, for whatever reason.

If the manuscript is a fit for the journal, the scientific editor can closely review the journal’s style and format the submission to meet the journal’s requirements.

Editing original scientific research

A scientific editor will assess a manuscript intended for submission to a target journal and ensure that it is scientifically sound. Because scientific editors usually are trained to the doctoral level, they will be able to recognize gaps in the presentation, including missing information from the results or methods, or points overlooked in the introduction or discussion.

A skilled scientific editor also will be able to hone the abstract so that it both encompasses the key features of the study and meets the target journal’s style requirements for abstracts.

Finally, in some cases, a manuscript needs more than editorial adjustment or additions. In these cases, when the manuscript might benefit from inclusion of more analyses or features of the study design, the scientific editor can make suggestions for the authors regarding these points. In this way, the scientific editor can sometimes help authors address gaps or other issues before peer reviewers see the manuscript.

Other kinds of scientific editing

Scientific editors will have experience with other types of publications in the sciences, including reviews, perspectives, grant submissions, theses and dissertations, and book chapters and books. An experienced scientific editor will have the background and editorial instinct to offer authors guidance in structure, argument, formatting, style, and other features to improve their work.

Expert editing in science

Regardless of the type of manuscript, scientific editors have the necessary skills in English-language editing to ensure that the text is in idiomatic, perfect English. Editing typically is offered at several levels, each of which carries different costs.

At the most basic level, an editor reviews the text for typos and errors, without addressing deeper issues of sentence construction, word use, overall structure, or flow. This level of editing is sometimes called proofreading. At this level, the scientific editor also will ensure that the text conforms with the specific version of English that the target journal or publisher requires, whether U.S. or U.K. English.

A step up from proofreading is copy editing. A copy editor will take the text line by line and edit it more deeply than attending only to typos and obvious errors. For copy or line editing, the scientific editor will consider language and sentence structure and ensure that the text has a consistent style throughout. At this stage, expertise as a scientific editor is important because the editor will often be editing for scientific journals or editing for medical journals and tailoring style and format to the journal requirements.

The most intense form of editing and one that benefits most from the expertise of a scientific editor is developmental or structural editing. At this level of editing, the scientific editor not only incorporates all the other considerations described above but also addresses the manuscript’s flow, structure, and content. At this level of editing, authors may receive feedback from the scientific editor regarding gaps in information, digressions from scientific convention and journal expectations, and the scientific soundness of the material and concepts presented.

Scientific editors and quality assurance

When a scientific editor has completed the edit of a text, the final step will be a quality assurance check. The scientific editor will evaluate each manuscript in a series of quality control checks including running spell check and grammar check and ensuring that figures and tables are numbered in order, and all cited in the text.

Although the scientific editor usually does not edit references as part of the typical role, this step can be added to an editing project and fee as a quality control step. When references are included in the editing project, the scientific editor can address several quality control issues, including ensuring that the references conform to the specific style of the target journal.

Journals are highly variable in their requirements for reference styles, and no two journals share the exact same formatting requirements. The scientific editor also can check the references for errors, such as misspellings, but confirming the accuracy of the citations falls out of the scope of the work. This review benefits from the expertise of a scientific editor because reference styles in science often from those of other academic fields.


San Francisco Edit specializes in scientific editing in the United States and we work with scientists from all over the world.

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