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Levels of editing of a scientific paper

There are four key steps to crafting a paper and getting it ready for submission just as there are four levels for editing or reviewing a paper. These steps will help you develop and perfect your idea before it is read. It is just as important to edit your research as it is to copy edit for grammar before turning in your submission.

  1. Scientific editing
  2. Developmental (or structural) editing
  3. Line editing
  4. Proof editing

At the highest level comes the determination of the value of the scientific content. From whether the work is targeted at the best journal for the content to whether it works as a ‘publishable’ unit or should be extended or split, this needs input from scientists familiar with the literature of the field. A key feature of a well-written paper is an appropriate reference list, which requires fully understanding the international landscape of the topic.

Scientific editing is also about making sure the data provides enough evidence for the interpretations made and are presented in the clearest way possible. Scientific editing is about closing any holes in logic about the work done and making clear why things were done as they were, what might be done next, and how these findings advance the field. It is also about making sure the methods are described in enough detail that the work can be repeated.

Image credit: “Creative Writing Editing Library Paper Write Pen” by WokinghamLibraries. CC0 via Pixabay.

Co-authors will be contributing content, data, results, interpretation, discussion, and conclusion in the initial draft. Once circulated to others, they will comment on the scientific content of the paper as it is currently presented as if from the coauthor and peer-reviewer (journal editor) perspective.

Developmental editing is about structuring the scientific content, so it logically flows. Co-authors will help make sure you “tell the story”. This type of editing looks at the overall structure of the paper, what’s extra and what’s missing, and the order of material. A developmental edit examines the narrative of the story and the way the data, interpretation, and context is presented and offers advice on potential structural changes that could improve the overall paper.

The developmental edit is about getting the ‘Big Picture’ right so it best reflects the main message of the paper. Before it is done, there is little use in spending too much time on polishing the details. It is far easier to get the overall structure right while working at the ‘minimal draft’ stage than once a full draft is created. Create this draft when you have 1) a finished data set, 2) finalized figures or tables to support your primary and secondary results, and 3) a target journal. A minimal draft can be shared in the body of email — the point is to be brief. You are defining the absolute core of the paper. Agreeing upon the data and the story it tells, saves endless hours of revision.

Now your draft is down to the level of just needing to iron out specific sentences and their order. This is the copy, or line editing phase. Just before you submit, and you don’t intend to change any content, you can proof-edit to look for any remaining typos. Proof-editing makes the most minimal changes to the text as possible.

Ideally, you will have more experienced co-authors to help you manage the levels of editing needed to get your paper ready for submission. If you choose to craft a ‘minimal draft’ first, this process will hopefully be greatly simplified and streamlined.

You might though, be writing as sole author, want input from other experts, or be in a research group of non-native English speakers. In any of these cases you might want editing by external parties. Especially, if you are seeking help casting your science into publication-quality English, you might be seeking the services of a professional editor.

With your revision in tact your reader will able to clearly understand the “Big Picture” of the paper. Making sure your paper flows through the levels of editing smoothly will streamline your submission process. Enlisting the help of other professionals will also help you remain on track and level the playing field if you are writing outside of your most fluent language. From fact checking to line editing, each level of editing is important to the overall success of your paper.

This article is part of a series covering thoughts on: 1. Packaging your Research for Publication, 2. Learning on the job: The art of Academic Writing, 3. The art of a minimal draft 4. What are you really trying to say? 5. Levels of Editing of a Scientific Paper. 6 Growing your fluency in Scientific English.

Featured Image Credit: “Pencil Sharpener Notebook Paper Education Office” by Free-Photos. CC0 via Pixabay

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