Scientific researchers are trained to be experts in the theories, facts and methods of their discipline, and are expected to use this intellectual patrimony to make new discoveries and provide new solutions to existing problems. Some researchers are also trained in academic writing in English, but writing effective research articles and successful grant applications remains a time consuming, challenging activity for most. In addition to research and writing,researchers have other duties, such as teaching, mentoring and, in the clinical sciences, caring for patients. It is therefore unrealistic to expect that scientific researchers can also dedicate adequate time to follow developments in peer review, open access and publication ethics.Rather, they should be provided editorial support to facilitate good publication practices (and good grant seeking practices).
A spectrum of editorial services exists to support researchers in their writing efforts ((1) and chapters therein). For researchers who use English as an additional language (EAL), the most commonly sought service is language editing. Yet many researchers, both EAL users and native English speakers, can benefit from a more in depth service called substantive editing, which considers both the language and the presentation of scientific content. Early career researchers need training in research writing, especially in citation and attribution and how to avoid plagiarism. Sometimes, researchers require developmental editing to help them rewrite a manuscript after multiple rejections from different journals. And most researchers, at some point in their careers, will seek expert editorial advice on choosing among journals, following journals’ instructions and policies, responding to peer reviewers, understanding the priorities of funding agencies, and adhering to the principles of open science (2,3).
All these editorial services fall under the remit of the authors’ editor. As detailed in my recent book (4) this professional figure developed in US medical research in the mid-twentieth century and then spread throughout the biomedical sciences and into other disciplines and other countries (especially non anglophone Europe). Authors’ editors work for and with researcher/author, with the goal of making drafts fit for purpose, be it publication in a peer reviewed journal or funding by a granting body. These editors bring to their work a uniquely personal combination of language skills, specialist disciplinary knowledge,communication abilities, multiculturalism, editorial experience, and respect for research ethics and publication ethics. They may have initially studied languages, sciences,communication or some mix of these (there is no one university degree for becoming an authors’ editor), but throughout their careers they engage in continuing professional development (CPD) to reinforce existing and add new skills and knowledge needed for their role as editors serving academia (5). Today most authors’ editors are self-employed and collaborate directly with individual researchers and research teams, but in the early years they were mostly employed by research departments – a practice that should be revived.
Author editing – the activity of authors’ editors – can have multiple positive effects on researchers, their institutes, research journals, peer reviewers, and science itself. These positive effects have been described mostly in single case studies and personal accounts(reviewed, up to 2016, in (4)). While empirical data supporting claims about the effects of author editing are lacking, we must remember that lack of hard evidence does not equate to lack of efficacy. The observed positive effects of author editing can be summarized as follows:∗E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
− For scientific researchers, access to an authors’ editor means having support and guidance in all aspects of writing. The potential benefits of this arrangement include saved time,individualized instruction, greater adherence to good publishing practices and publication ethics, and the production of texts that are more readable, more usable (research articles),and more convincing in their requests for funding (grant proposals).
− For research institutes, having an in-house editing service may help fulfill requirements for researcher training, attract new faculty, protect the institute’s reputation, and enable it to contribute responsibly and usefully to the advancement of science.
− For research journals and funding agencies, the behind the scenes work of an authors’ editor may mean that submitted manuscripts adhere to instructions and reporting guidelines, are written in standard academic English, and are complete and ready for peer review.
− For peer reviewers, better prepared manuscripts means they can focus on the science,and the review process can go more smoothly. Considering that peer reviewers are researchers too, a virtuous cycle then begins, with researchers and their institutes working more efficiently.
− For science, the work of authors’ editors can contribute to the production of better research publications, the more efficient use of researchers’ skills, and the overall better functioning of the research publication system.In this presentation, I will argue (as I have done previously (6,7)) that the benefits of author editing are so helpful and researchers’ needs for writing support so great that scientific research institutes today can no longer neglect establishing in-house editing services(or, if this is not possible, regular collaborations with a few self-employed authors’ editors). There is no lack of precedent (numerous experiences of in-house editing services have been reported; see references in (4)), no shortage of skilled editors (and CPD opportunities for them (8)), and no major infrastructural hurdles preventing any institute from setting up its own new core facility, namely one providing editorial support through editing,training in academic English writing, and strategic advice on how to best publish, obtain funding, and support open science.