All writers need editors, but not all editors are the same. Scientific editing and medical editing are specific subsets of the editing profession and usually require more training in the related fields than other kinds of editing.
Most people who work as editors in English have degrees in a writing- or communications-related field, usually English, journalism, or communications. A scientific editor likely will have similar training, but they will have additional education in the sciences, usually to the doctoral level or beyond.
In addition, the materials that a scientific editor takes on tend to be more specialized than those a more general editor might see. Scientific editing and medical editing require familiarity with each stage of publication, which comes with training in the sciences and medicine. The reason is that scientific editors and medical editors must understand the conventions of these fields and the expectations for manuscripts that scientists produce.
Scientific editors often provide their services through a scientific editing service or an academic editing service. Much of the work a scientific editor does is academic in nature.
Editing for scientific manuscripts
Most people working in the sciences conduct studies that they expect to publish as a manuscript in an academic journal. A scientific editor is trained beyond the level of general editing and brings experience and skill in the sciences that are related to this primary aim of scientific research.
Successful submissions to scientific journals or medical journals that publish in English must be readable and in idiomatic English that still conforms with scientific conventions. A skilled scientific editor is familiar with these conventions and can ensure that a manuscript meets the target journal’s expectations, as well.
The scientific editor with substantial experience also can discern whether or not the target journal is an appropriate choice and confirm the proper category for a manuscript submission. Academic manuscripts intended for journal publication in the sciences encompass a range of categories, from rapid or brief communications to full original research articles to reviews and perspectives. An experienced scientific editor is familiar with each of these types of manuscripts and knows how to ensure that the content meets the expectations for the field.
Editing for scientific journals
The features of a scientific manuscript often are distinct from those expected for academic papers in other fields. Scientific manuscripts tend to have far more statistical information and analyses, often presented in the form of several tables and figures. A skilled scientific editor is familiar with journal expectations regarding these manuscript elements and can ensure that they fulfill these expectations and present the data accurately and clearly. A general editor without training in the sciences may not have this level of experience or these skills.
Many journals have specific requirements for how authors should discuss their data and present their findings. The experienced scientific editor knows exactly where to find this information in the journal’s online material and how to crosscheck it with the manuscript to make sure nothing is overlooked or omitted. Most journals also require a statement from the authors regarding ethics related to research involving humans or nonhuman animals. An experienced scientific editor can ensure that authors include the appropriate language for these statements, as well.
Because scientific editors are trained at least to the doctoral level and many of them have extensive experience at the bench, they also can address issues in the manuscript related to flow and structure. Most editors who address structure can do this generally, but the elements and flow of a scientific manuscript are often distinct to these areas of study. A skilled and experienced scientific editor will have a sharp eye for gaps and omissions related to the science and be able to highlight these for the author client. In many cases, the scientific editor can make suggestions or restructure or reword the material to address the problem.
When a scientific editor is working with authors whose first language is not English, specialized knowledge in the sciences is particularly crucial. Editors who have the appropriate scientific background will be able to discern what the authors would like to say because of an existing understanding of the science itself. In this way, they can edit the manuscript to retain the accuracy of the material while rendering it in idiomatic English.
An experienced scientific editor also will be able to shape the material in the manuscript in the format and language that scientific readers expect. The scientific editor will ensure that the abstract contains appropriate and key elements that should be communicated in this summary while also ensuring that the abstract conforms with journal guidelines regarding format and word count.
Likewise, the scientific editor will confirm that all elements of the manuscript are presented in the proper order and in the appropriate section. For example, the scientific editor will ensure that all results are mentioned first in the results section and not introduced belatedly in the discussion, which is a common mistake authors make.
Other kinds of scientific editing
Of course, submissions to scientific or medical journals are not the only form of scientific writing, and the experienced scientific editor will have worked with the other categories of manuscript, too. These categories include presentations, theses and dissertations, books and book chapters, curricula vitae, and grants. The experienced scientific editor will know the precise expectations within the sciences for these kinds of products and ensure their conformity with these expectations.
A scientific editor can provide several levels of editing for these categories of text and for manuscripts intended for submission to academic journals. At the most basic level, the work will involve correcting only typos and obvious errors, which sometimes is called proofreading. Almost any editor can do this kind of work. But at the more complex levels, especially when a manuscript needs structural work or an editor’s solid scientific background for rendering in idiomatic English, the specialized training of the scientific editor will be key to a successful final version.