Why did you become an independent editor?
After I left Cell Stem Cell, I missed reading papers and thinking about papers, but I did not miss telling most of the authors whom I interacted with that their papers would not be published. Since then, I have come to appreciate how the editorial skill set can be used to help authors atmultiple steps along the road to publication – preparing a paper for submission, crafting a persuasive cover letter, writing an effective rebuttal response – and that I enjoy doing all of these.
What do you like most about editing a paper?
I feel for trainees who are often tasked with writing their papers for initial submission and then prepare their revisions without being provided enough help and support – only to have their drafts languish for months on the desks of busy PIs. I also feel for scientists who are brilliant researchers, but don’t have the bandwidth, language skills, or writing skills required for writing compelling research papers. It’s incredibly gratifying in situations like these to edit a paper and feel as if you have improved the narrative and helped make the authors findings come across more clearly. And that your efforts helped make the paper a stronger candidate for publication in a higher tier journal.
What do you like least?
It can be difficult to edit a paper when the related literature is not cited well. For instance, the authors cite too many reviews, or make references to related research papers that are either too general or too field-specific. As a reader (and editor), it is then hard to appreciate what is unique or exciting about the current paper.
What is your top tip for writing the best paper?
Think carefully about which 3-4 research topics the paper touches. Can be a disease, field of research, a signaling pathway, a biological process, a concept, a methodology, anything. Then think about what information a reader not familiar with these topics needs to have to be able to appreciate the advance that your paper makes. Once you have these building blocks defined, it becomes easier to describe what is known from published work, in what way your findings extends from the literature, and how the data points to future directions of research.
What is the most common mistake people make when writing their paper?
Forgetting how they initially felt about their findings, perhaps. When the time come to write a paper, the authors have often spent a long time characterizing and validating their findings, and the writing can reflect that. So there can be a tendency to focus inwards and describe the methodology in a very detailed way, and write about the results as if they are expected and not something to be particularly excited about – which then comes across that way to the reader.