Biz: Scientific editing

As many of you know, scientific editing has always been one of the services that I used to provide through my VAT-registered business.

The Institute for Marine and Atmospheric Research (IMAU) in Utrecht and the Department of Water Engineering and Management at the University of Twente were among the first clients who asked me to work on papers and grant proposals. The Membrane Science and Technology Cluster at the University of Twente is another example as are several groups at Wageningen University well as American scientists at American universities and folks at Wetsus.

I edited papers in Word as well as in Latex ( In the beginning, there may even still have been WordPerfect papers, who knows. WordPerfect, in which many of us older folks once learned to type on a computer – imagine that – was much better than Word but Microsoft’s Word eventually took over the market. Me, I completed an actual typing course before I turned twenty and acquired an official typist’s diploma.

Over the years, I developed a 22-item checklist that I would go through while editing papers. I would also add specific items for each particular paper, for example to do with consistency or with a typical typo or word mixup that a particular author’s writing often contained.

One of the first steps was, of course, downloading the instructions for authors for the intended journal. I also checked the references. There are often missing references in scientific manuscripts. Sometimes, references are listed that aren’t actually quoted. References can also be incomplete or contain some kind of error.

In the past, whenever I was very busy because a flurry of papers and other work came in, I would sometimes outsource parts of the work, such as spotting of typos that spelling checkers usually miss. It saved me some time. Anna in Canada and Julie in the US usually used to proofread for me.

Ideally, I would do two or three editing rounds and, preferably, let a paper “stew” for a day or overnight before doing the final edits. This can make the difference between returning a paper in “fine” or “okay” shape or returning a paper that I am really happy with. Sometimes (no, often!), time is of the essence and then the client prefers to have a paper that is ready for submission rather than one that has been tweaked to perfection.

If the above surprises you, as a scientist, then I should remind you that I am not doing your research. I may have no idea what your work is about, initially. To be able to edit and rewrite a paper well, I need to understand what it is about.

Rest assured that if I have worked with you for a while, I have some idea of what you are up to. If I am working with a foreign researcher who often makes particular language mistakes, I will get used to them and soon know exactly what someone meant. Sometimes, I can see what the researcher was thinking in his or her own language.

However, if your papers are new to me, then it can take me some time to figure out what your work is about. I like doing that. I don’t just add and remove commas. I want to be able to spot it if you wrote cobalt and meant nickel, so to speak, or if you made something trivalent that is actually divalent.

I will download other papers too if that helps me understand your work better or figure out a confusing sentence or paragraph.

Something else that I can do is Skype or Zoom with you right before you submit a paper or grant proposal, to help you spot those last typos. In that scenario, you are the one who corrects the mistakes.

Responses I have gotten over the years have included β€œHoly cow… you did such a great job!” from an American scientist for work I did on a geochemistry paper and β€œI like to thank you for reviewing our paper. I am impressed by the quality of the improved version.” from a professor in the Netherlands for an environmental technology paper. He also wrote that he did not want to advertise my services at his WUR department “otherwise they’ll all come running”.

One scientist with whom I had worked on a grant proposal wrote back to me that she’d felt super supported by me. She didn’t get the grant, but most scientists I have worked with on grant proposals were successful. We’re talking at least ten million by now.

Two papers that I remember particularly were one that made me sit up with delight – I knew right away Nature was going to accept it because the work was that good – and a paper started by a scientist who then passed away.

Here are examples of journals that I have revised manuscripts for:

  • ACS Sustainable Chemistry & Engineering
  • Annals of Glaciology
  • Arctic, Antarctic and Alpine Research
  • Atmospheric Physics and Chemistry
  • Carbon
  • Chemistry & Sustainability – Energy & Materials (ChemSusChem)
  • Coastal Engineering
  • Colloids and Surfaces B: Biointerfaces
  • Computers and Electronics in Agriculture
  • Continental Shelf Research
  • Desalination
  • Energy and Environmental Science
  • Environmental Science & Technology
  • Hydrology Journal
  • International Conference on Engineering and Product Design Education
  • International Journal of Climatology
  • Journal of the Acoustical Society of America (JASA)
  • Journal of Applied Meteorology
  • Journal of Environment and Planning
  • Journal of Food Engineering
  • Journal of Geophysical Research
  • Journal of Glaciology
  • Journal of Membrane Science
  • Journal of Transport and Land Use
  • Marine Geology
  • Nature
  • Ocean and Coastal Management
  • Postharvest Biology and Technology
  • Proceedings of Beyond the Standard Model
  • Proceedings of AIP conference DSU 2010
  • Proceedings of the Twelfth Marcel Grossmann Meeting on General Relativity
  • Quarterly Journal of the Royal Meteorological Society
  • Remote Sensing of the Environment
  • Reviews in Geophysics
  • Science
  • Science of The Total Environment
  • Separation and Purification Technology
  • Surface and Coatings Technology
  • Tellus
  • Transplantation
  • Transplant Proceedings
  • Water Environment Research
  • Water Research
  • Water Resources Research

I also worked on quite a few transport-related papers.

This can be a handy book to have, by the way:
How to Write and Publish a Scientific Paper, 8th Edition

During a shallow water flows (tidal rivers) SOBEK computer modelling lab, one graduate student told me that she really liked the lab and added that it connected very well with the corresponding material in the reader (called “syllabus” in Dutch). I’d written most of that chapter on tidal rivers, using examples from Hillsborough County in Florida, Canada and other places from around the world, linking the physics of tidal rivers with the real world. The bare bones high-level physics had already been done by the leader of the group and I translated that into English. I carried out literature and internet research, and fleshed out the chapter.