Interactive science editing


I specialize in an innovative and very effective approach to editing grant proposals and scientific articles. I call this approach three-step editing. The rationale for this approach is descrbed in the article below, Writing in the “real world.”

 THREE-STEP EDITING OF
GRANT PROPOSALS AND SCIENTIFIC ARTICLES

I collaborate with a colleague, Charles Frink, to help authors write reader friendly articles/grant proposals that sharply focus on the credibility, relevance and value of their science. Three-step editing is especially efficient and effective for non-native English writers. It results in a logically structured and grammatically correct article/proposal with a substantive check built in—three people have independently reviewed it. Furthermore, it saves the author time and is very cost effective. Our three-step editing process works as follows.

 

Step 1

Without worrying about and spending time on the English grammar, the author submits a rough draft of the article/grant proposal. I review it for logical linking of ideas, consistency of terminology, and focus on the credibility and relevance of the research. I then return the article to the author with comments and suggestions, as necessary, to sharpen focus on the messages. Such suggestions usually deal with content and logical organization, so only the author can correctly revise the text,

 

Step 2:

Based on the comments and suggestions, the author revises the text. Here again, the author does not need to perfect the English, just the content and organization. He/she then returns it to us.

 

Step 3

My colleague, Charles Frink then edits it for the language details: spelling, grammar, linking, readability etc. When necessary, we consult with each other and the author. After this step, the article/proposal is usually ready-to-go.

 

This systematic combination of structural revision, a built-in substantive check, and language editing is surprisingly efficient and cost-effective for three reasons:

·         It saves the author time. The author does not have to spend time getting the English perfect. The first draft can, indeed, be a rough draft, and by sending this early in the writing process, it will save much time.

·         During step 2, the author does some of the work that an editor would otherwise have to “guess” at. Note that this step involves content that language editing alone cannot cope with.

·         Language editing, during step-3, goes much more quickly. Because the text is now well organized and focuses on the scientific messages—the language editor does not have to guess at the author’s meaning.

To shorten the time of the entire process, we suggest that authors send early drafts of their texts—do not worry about grammar etc. we take care of that in step-3.

 

In the article below, I explain some of the rationale behind this approach.

 

WRITING IN THE “REAL WORLD”

I have been teaching scientific writing coaching authors of articles and grant proposals for many years. Quite often authors come to me with an article/proposal that has been rejected because of “language ‘problems”—a common comment from peer reviewers. The author often ask “Is my English really so bad? I had it edited by a native speaker.” After looking at the text, I realize that the English that is not bad, but the peer reviewer found it difficult to understand because the text don not sharply focus on the relevance and the credibility of the science. Fuzzy focus destroys comprehension. Sharp focus depends on logical organization of the content, and language editing cannot effectively solve this problem.

            I think the root of the problem stems from “how we learned to write.” Unfortunately, our educational system has not prepared us to write to busy “real world” readers. We learned to write to teachers, professors and supervisors. Those readers probably knew at least as much about our topics as we did—they were not looking for new information. Those readers were looking for indications that we had done our homework, that we were proficient in using the jargon and buzzwords, and that we had followed instructions. And one crucial instruction typically read “write a minimum of 3000 words about...” Well, our first goal was to get 3000 words on paper—long blah-blah sentences and repeating worked very well for this. And, of course, citing lots of references helped to fill up pages and show that we knew a lot about the topic.

            Especially in our language courses—whether English, Dutch, German, Spanish or whatever—we learned certain rules of style that might apply to thrillers, novels, and science fiction, but certainly do not apply to science or technology. Some of those rules that I remember are,”never use the same word twice in a sentence,” “use synonyms to bring your work to life,” “paint pictures with your words” etc. And, we became goal oriented writers—we passed our courses.

            But when writing to “real-world readers”—readers outside the walls of academia—the goals are different. We want to have our work published or funded and, hopefully, cited in a positive way. Achieving these goals demonstrates that we have contributed something new to science. But real-world readers do not have to read our texts, even worse, they probably do not have time to read them. Just like the gold diggers, readers of journal articles and grant proposals want to quickly find “nuggets”—relevant and credible science that gives them something of value. In other words, much of what we learned about writing at school does not help us to achieve real-world goals. Documents written at the professional level are NOT just academic exercises—they are meant to add real value in the real world.

            My courses and the three-step editing approach help authors to show the value of their work, to turn their messages into nuggets, to build in scientific credibility, and, in short, to meet the needs of real-world readers.

 

Ed Hull

Professional English

edhull@home.nl

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