One thing we can do better as co-authors

by Janice Nigro

A highly successful scientist friend joked recently that he still doesn’t recognize much in his original drafts of manuscripts, even after thirty years of working consistently with a certain collaborator. Together they can boast of hundreds of articles reporting cutting edge science and hundreds of thousands of citations. After so much time, experience, and worldwide success, my friend’s manuscripts are still subject to the same scrutiny as when the lab was just beginning its trajectory in making scientific breakthroughs.

He is lucky to have this kind of collaborator.

In my work as a scientific editor, most of my clients are non-native English speaking scientists. They come to me with obvious reservations about their English. In conversation, imperfect English is probably an attribute. Word choice of a non-native English speaker leads to dramatization of events, and that goes a long way in entertaining the listener (me anyway).

Unfortunately, that approach doesn’t fly in scientific journals. Grammatically incorrect English is simply too distracting to read. So scientists come to me.

It’s a mistake though to think that scientific editing is just for correcting English grammar. While I do correct word order and choice, articles (the and these), and verb tense, most of my effort as an editor goes into reorganization. A manuscript has to tell a story.

On that criteria alone, we all need editors. People who write great books need editors. I need an editor.

Editing can seem like an elaborate mechanism to diffuse precious funds, but working with a scientific editor has been shown to decrease time to acceptance (Science editing and its effect on manuscript acceptance time. Bailey, M. AMWA J, 2011; vol. 26, 4:147.). At the very least a scientific editor (or a thorough outside reader) provides an unbiased perspective on your work. Science writing, let’s face it, is a niche; we generally write for other scientists. But as we tend to make assumptions in our writing, we unconsciously target scientists within our own field, effectively limiting the scope of even our scientific audience.

Writing for our most immediate peers is the opposite of what we want to do. Today, with the Internet and open access, our work can reach a more diverse audience-scientists in other disciplines, trainees, patients, and essentially anyone who is connected to the worldwide web.

It does not mean that we need to leave all of our scientific jargon behind-even CRISPR has hit mainstream media-but it serves us better as scientists to be able to effectively communicate our work more generally. The public-the tax payer, the private donor-is after all who pays us. A well-written article gives us the chance to communicate our results and their importance more directly to the public. The public can become more conscious of our work and perhaps, our contribution to society. Otherwise we work behind closed lab doors.

So consider yourself lucky if you have the type of collaborator who goes through your article like a shredding machine-it is part of the deal as a co-author. If not, I encourage you to find one (at least one). Don’t wait for reviewers to suggest it. Use a colleague/editor without hesitation before you first submit your article and use her/him consistently.

Your paper (and the review process) will be better for it.


©Janice Marie Nigro/


Looking for a scientific editor for your manuscripts? Contact Janice Nigro at Janice Nigro Scientific Editing and Writing. I have published in Cell, Science, and Nature, and articles I have edited have appeared in Cancer Research, PLoSONE, the Journal of Surgical Oncology, and Oncotarget.


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