Sunday, 10 June



Jackie Senior, International science needs English editors


At the 2017 SENSE Professional Development Day, someone stated that science papers are still written in the passive voice. Time for an update! Science is now big business, performed by international collaborations communicating in English, and it forms a major ‘export’ product of the Dutch knowledge-based economy. At the same time, publications have become the measure of a scientist’s career, which puts many excellent non-native-English-speaking researchers at a disadvantage. The result is a real need for English editorial services.

In addition to research papers, science editors may also work on grant applications, press releases, and presentations to lay people (eg patient groups, journalists, or investors).

International researchers may not have had training in how to write in English nor in the formal style required by academic journals. The choice of active versus passive voice is just one example of how editors can guide authors towards a more readable text. Whereas the passive was once considered to convey an authoritative style, the active voice is now encouraged by most journals because it identifies the actor and lends itself to shorter, more direct sentences. It is one element to foster writing that can convey complex messages in straightforward English to a readership with a wide range of language proficiency. I will discuss how scientific publishing has changed and how editors can help scientists write clearly for an international readership.

I will give examples of what editors can do, including helping writers clarify their language and ideas, recognising when more information is needed, and considering the target audience and their background.

While academic publishers point struggling authors to commercial editing services, my experience of working with a top research group shows that an editor with good subject knowledge and direct access to authors offers an added value that an unknown third party cannot easily match. If you have a scientific/technical background, or an interest in certain fields, you too can become a language professional with a specialty, and you can certainly build up a worthwhile freelance career.


About the presenter

JackieSeniorJackie Senior works as an editor and webmaster for an ambitious international research department (Dept of Genetics, University of Groningen/UMCG). Nowadays she works mostly on biomedical texts but she started as a geologist at Shell, later working as an editor for Shell Research and an international investment bank. She has been editing and translating for more than 40 years but, with the Dutch retirement age becoming a moveable feast, is exploring options for later. She was a founder member of SENSE in 1990, has served twice on its executive committee, and was appointed an honorary member in 2010.