A badly written manuscript will probably be returned without peer review. To stop poor language limiting the publication potential of your manuscript, you can ask a language editor for their specialist help. But what kind of help do you need? There are various levels of language editing and each level has a different focus. To get the most out of what your language editor can do for you, you should know about the different types of editing.
The main levels of language editing are substantive editing, copy editing, and proofreading. Substantive editing is useful during early stages of the writing process because it focuses on the content and overall structure of your manuscript. Copy editing has a sharper focus and looks at sentences and paragraphs to correct language errors and inconsistencies, as well as awkward phrases and repetition that disrupt the flow of your writing. Technically, proofreading refers to the correction of a proof from the publisher. However, the term is widely used to refer to lighter editing of an author’s draft that removes any remaining language errors and inconsistencies.
Which level are you on?
So which level of editing do you need? Different authors will benefit from distinct types of editing depending on their individual strengths and weaknesses. If you are a student writing your first paper, you may struggle to organize your information and ideas (substantive editing). As a more experienced postdoc, you may want your manuscript to sound more elegant (copy editing). As a tenured professor, you may want to make sure that a crucial grant application, scrutinized by every member of the lab, does not contain any grammatical errors (proofreading or light copy editing). Each case requires customized editing. In this post, I explain exactly what I look out for when substantive editing or copy editing a manuscript. This information will help you prescribe the right editing for your text.
Structure your content: substantive editing
Scientific content is the core of your manuscript; a good manuscript must contain good science. Substantive editing focuses on this important content and ensures it is properly structured and well presented. An editor with expertise in your field of study will be particularly useful here. When I do a substantive edit, I ask myself the following questions:
Consider each of the questions above. If this handy checklist highlights any problems with the structure and content of your manuscript, then ask your language editor for a substantive edit. Once your text is properly structured, it will be ready for copy editing.
Make your writing readable: copy editing
Copy editing hones in on the text, focusing on each sentence and paragraph to make your manuscript technically accurate and easy to read. This process should not interfere with your meaning or ‘voice’. During a copy edit, I do the following:
Get the support that fits
It is easy to focus too much on superficial errors and forget about content. But a poorly structured manuscript will still be difficult to read after all the spelling mistakes have been corrected. Consider the checkpoints outlined in this article to decide which type of editing your manuscript needs. Remember that you do not need to choose between substantive editing and copy editing. Your language editor can copy edit and proofread a manuscript after substantive editing. Our job is to make sure your manuscript is ready for publication – whatever it takes.
There's more than one approach to language editing
Claire Bacon is a former research scientist with professional qualifications in copy editing and medical editing. She edits manuscripts for non-native English-speaking scientists and works as a copy editor for a biomedical journal.
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