How to impress your friendly local manuscript editor

  • Treat them as an inferior until you need something from them. This will make them incredibly grateful for your sudden interest in them when you…
  • …hand over a “close to final” manuscript that MUST be proofed and edited BY TOMORROW, because having a deadline for manuscript submission makes total sense. Everyone enjoys the adrenaline rush of a sudden tight deadline on top of an already heavy workload!
  • Have at least one typo in the file name. Your friendly local manuscript editor (YFLME) will be so excited by receiving a file called reserach_outlien.doc that they will barely be able to contain their excitement to open the document and see what treasures lie within!
  • Everyone knows that you don’t need to read papers to be able to write one. Why not prove it by completely ignoring the conventions of scientific manuscript formats and styles? Put your most exciting result up front, even if you haven’t yet described the novel system you’re using! Put the discussion of your results’ significance in the figure legends! YFLME will have such fun solving the puzzle of which parts should be pasted where!
  • Do not, under any circumstances, run a spell check, especially if you don’t have English as your first language and/or you know you’re a sloppy typist. What are YFLMEs for, if not to hunt and fix typos? Your time is much more valuable than theirs, so make them earn their money!
  • It’s especially fun for YFLME when you consistently misspell the name of the gene and/or the disease you work on, as well as common scientific words such as lysate. For bonus points, consistently misspell a word that is written in six-foot letters over the door of the building in which you work! Whatever your first language may be, YFLME will be hugely impressed by your attention to detail, and will assume that you paid just as much attention to the accuracy of your experimental work!
  • Finally, do not include YFLME in your acknowledgements section. The satisfaction of a fun job, done well will be thanks enough.

Unbelievably, many of my colleagues manage to ignore ALL of these common courtesies. Several others have mastered at least one, sometimes even two or three, but no-one has yet managed to combine them all in one manuscript.

Why not strive to be the first?! I promise you that if you accomplish this feat, I’ll make you an internet superstar!


(I actually really enjoy manuscript editing. Most of the time. And I have great respect for people working and writing in a foreign language, especially if they grew up using a whole different script*. It’s very satisfying to help them turn their drafts into a more polished, submission-ready paper, and most of them appreciate the assistance (if there’s enough time, I always make sure to explain WHY I made my changes). Some first drafts have been painful to read; I literally couldn’t take more than a paragraph at a time of one particularly gnarly word salad, but it was for someone I really like, so I persevered. A co-author with English as her first language told me that she hadn’t been able to handle it, but that when she saw my edits, “it was like a miracle had happened”. THIS is why I do it! But the acknowledgements in the published papers are very nice, too).

*this is still no excuse for sloppiness and inattention to detail, though.

About Cath@VWXYNot?

"one of the sillier science bloggers [...] I thought I should give a warning to the more staid members of the community." - Bob O'Hara, December 2010
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30 Responses to How to impress your friendly local manuscript editor

  1. chall says:

    Can’t help but laugh! (I read the first two bullet points and thought you meant them…. :D)

    I wonder if the word is cancer… but how can you mis-spell that?! ^^ [don’t tell me]

    I run spell-check on everything and that would be one of my pet peeves. If you haven’t even done that, you really didn’t care. Then again, maybe it’s because I know that I tend to switch ie and ei (fave is field…) and have sloppy keyboarding due to quick typing… it doesn’t help when you have typed something that is a word but not the correct word of course.

    As for time lines, I’m not sure why it’s so good to do things “the day before” but it seems to be more common in my line of work nowadays than before – did I mention I am a planner?!?! duh 😉

  2. ecogeofemme says:

    They really don’t acknowledge you sometimes? That’s awful!

    There are YFLMEs at my work, but you have to pay for them so I’ve never gotten to use one. I’m sure it would improve just about anyone’s papers. When you’ve edited someone’s manuscript and explained your suggestions, do subsequent manuscripts get better?

  3. rpg says:


    I like “particularly gnarly word salad” — might have to steal that.

  4. Steve Caplan says:

    Deer Cath,

    I am in the fnal stgaes of prepairing my epic manyouscript. Will u pleaze edith it form e?

  5. ricardipus says:

    Thanks for the Wednesday laugh, Cath. 🙂

    There is a particular skill, which I do not possess, to taking that one sentence or paragraph that just.doesn’, switching a few verbs and things around and voilà! it scans beautifully. I’ve worked with a few people with that talent and it’s amazing to behold. I suspect you are one such person, too (hm… thinks… incoherent blogpost drafts… send to Cath… hm… expect large quantities of beer might have to be bought to enable this…)

  6. Frank says:

    I’m sure they all treasure your help, despite appearances. You need to set some terms and conditions, e.g. “You will include me in acknowledgements!”

  7. Cath@VWXYNot? says:

    Chall, it is indeed possible to misspell the word cancer, even when you work in a building with “CANCER RESEARCH CENTRE” written across the front door in massive letters. Are you sure you don’t want to know how? 🙂

    Yes, tight time lines are a fact of life and a part of my job – but I do wonder why people assign them to a standard research manuscript submission? I understand “ASAP, please hurry”, but not “this has to be done by Tuesday at 3pm”.

    Eco, I do usually get an acknowledgment, but not always. I’ve considered inserting one myself when I make my other edits, but I’ve never yet summoned the courage (and it would be somewhat rude to those who were intending to thank me but not until they get the edits back). Come to think of it, it would be fairly amusing to put “special thanks to Cath for being totes awesomesauce” in there and see if anyone notices – but if it sneaks through and gets published, I’d be in trouble!

    There are actually only two people in my department who’ve sent me more than one manuscript to date. Both have English as a second language, and both write very well, requiring only minor fixes to typos, grammar, and homophone use.

    Which manuscripts I see depends on the PI – some want me to check every paper from their group, while others only ask those trainees who need the most help to send me their drafts!

    RPG, steal away, as long as I’m in the acknowledgments!

    Deer Steev,

    Mye ourly rait is $50

    Ricardipus, please see above 🙂

    I can usually improve things significantly, but I’m not sure about “scan beautifully”!

    Frank, I hope so! There are one or two I’m not sure about…

    Yes, maybe I should set some ground rules. “Must give at least 4 working days notice of any deadlines” would be another one!

  8. Dr. O says:

    It’s especially fun for YFLME when you consistently misspell the name of the gene and/or the disease you work on…

    It’s especially shocking how often I edit papers with this kind of error. Can’t they at least spell the name of their own damned gene correctly??

  9. Cath@VWXYNot? says:

    I know! I can’t believe how common it is! (I’m actually kinda glad to learn that it’s not just my colleagues who do it, though!)

  10. bean-mom says:

    This post certainly sparked flashbacks for me, Cath =)

    And I hear you about lack of acknowledgements. My colleagues in my former job were generally very gracious in acknowledging my editing work, but the very last manuscript I ever worked on in that position–a review article in a rather prestigious clinical journal–was published with nary an acknowledgement of my work. And I not only edited that review–I also did significant research into the relevant drugs, assembled a list of relevant citations, and even wrote a small (admittedly very small) section!

    Oh, well. My latest review was just submitted last month, and I’m the first author on this one–so no point fretting over things in my last job. At least my writing will be acknowledged in my current position!

    And Chall and Cath–$50/an hour is totally reasonable. From what I understand of going rates

    • chall says:

      BeanMom: I didn’t think $$ was unresonable… just lots of money if there is a lot of editing needed to be done 😉 (in reference to me wanting some editing help sometimes with my smaller private stuff – not real papers. those would not be paid by me alone)

      I’ve not gone the editor route in English, but in Swedish I got something similar to that. Although, some times we eneded up on a “decided fee for the whole thing” – not the best way all the time … ^^

  11. Cath@VWXYNot? says:

    Ah, I knew you’d feel my pain!

    It sounds to me like your contribution to that review deserves authorship, let alone an acknowledgment. I’ve definitely seen authorship awarded for less than that!

    I’ve actually never tried charging an hourly rate for freelance editing; the manuscripts & grant proposals I’d be best qualified to work on would create a potential conflict of interest with my day job. Actually, pretty much any grant submitted to a federal Canadian or BC funding agency would be a COI – my day job is to apply for portions of the same pot of money! I could probably work on manuscripts outside my immediate field, but even then there would be potential complications (the PIs I work with span an incredibly diverse set of fields). So I was mostly joking, and $50 was a guess… turns out it’s maybe a good one!

    Of course I could also edit things completely outside my field, for language if not for technical accuracy. But that doesn’t sound like that much fun!

  12. bean-mom says:

    I rather thought I might deserve an authorship on that old review, too. Oh, well. C’est la vie.

    I did some freelance editing for a company that serviced Big Pharma. Definitely the way to go for the big bucks! (It was fun, too. I was editing online courses in oncology)

  13. steffi suhr says:

    Heh. Memories, definitely. The lack of acknowledgement is a bit of a pet peeve of mine also for general support and project management, though. This reminds me of my old plans to start an international union of science support staff…

  14. Frank says:

    There’s an interesting discussion about grammar and its importance in grant-writing over at Naturally Selected.

  15. ricardipus says:

    …reading this again, I recall an earlier blogpost of yours about mis-stating funding agency names: Canadian Foundation for Innovation, Canada Innovation Foundation, etc.

    Also – I would at least double that hourly rate. SRSLY.

  16. LK says:

    Funny, sad, and all too true…

    I recently sent a paper back with a note that it wouldn’t be considered ‘received’ until the gene and organism names in the title matched those in the abstract…sigh…

    And consider adding another ‘rule’ – sure, go ahead and title your submission “Manuscript”, “Research_Paper”, or “JournalTitleSubmission” (even spelled correctly), because that will make it easy for me to find your paper among all the others I get with the exact same name…it’s like sending me your resume and calling it ‘resume’.

  17. Cath@VWXYNot? says:

    Bean-Mom, freelance editing is definitely something I keep in the back of my mind in case the funding for my job runs out!

    Steffi, sign me up for the union!

    Frank, thanks for the link! Some interesting comments over there, and on the original post that sparked the one you linked to!

    Ricardipus, good memory! Yes, I still have to look up what the acronym stands for pretty much every time I use it, which thankfully isn’t all that often!

    LK, welcome to the blog!

    Another one who feels my pain, eh? My sympathies… And yes, I get the generic file names too, but I usually rename any files I receive to something more logical!

  18. ricardipus says:

    Teeny weeny wee little deep dark secret – I actually got it wrong in a proposal recently… I hang my head in shame. “Canadian Foundation for Innovation” indeed – I mean, really now.


  19. Cath@VWXYNot? says:

    But Canadian Foundation just makes so much more sense than Canada Foundation!

    (I’ve said it once before but it bears repeating now – to link to my last post!)

    At least you used Foundation rather than Fund!

  20. Cath@VWXYNot? says:

    Heh – one of the colleagues for whom I’ve edited two manuscripts has asked me to help them with some extracurricular writing. It’s only a small job – one page – so we discussed it over coffee (their treat), and they said they will buy me a beer. So my actual rate for friends is apparently more like one coffee and one beer per page.

    But SSHH! don’t tell anyone 🙂

  21. SB says:

    What if someone sent you a manuscript containing LOLcat references?? Would that fall in the “bad grammar” or “totes awesome” category?

  22. Totes awesome, definitely. That person can haz an acknowledgment from me.

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