Meet the Editors – Helen

Why did you become an independent editor?

I’d like to say it was because it’s an incredibly gratifying job that fills an important need and allows me to work in science without needing to hold a pipette. Which it does. But that’s not why I did it. I reluctantly left my position at Developmental Cell, which I loved, because we decided to move back to Europe. Shortly after, I somehow managed to secure a temporary position at Science, which then lasted five years. Working at Science was amazing, but I knew I still had to find something else. Being an editor at a journal and understanding how editors read and evaluate papers teaches you skills that I knew would benefit scientists before they submitted their papers. So, I thought I would see if I could make a career out of that.

What do you like most about editing a paper?

I have a bit of an obsession with wording and getting that perfect sentence – one that’s short, sharp, and clear. I think this is a very powerful, and underappreciated, way of enhancing the experience of the reader. This has the knock-on effect of getting an editor more interested in your work, and improving its impact on other scientists. So, I get very excited when I can make somebody’s scientific result sound a lot more interesting than it did before.

What do you like least?

I’m not so good at grammar – which is a bit embarrassing seeing as I’m an editor. So, I struggle with that. But, I think I am good at understanding and explaining science. And getting the message across in a compelling way is far more important than having perfect grammar (in my opinion)!

What is your top tip for writing the best paper?

This is really hard because I think there are lots of ways people can improve their papers. Probably the most important and relevant tip is to keep the writing simple. You don’t get more points for using complicated wording, you just get grumpy referees and editors who don’t understand what you’re trying to say.

What is the most common mistake people make when writing their paper?

Many people write their discussion essentially by repeating the results. This is such a waste of precious space. Every section of your paper (abstract, intro, results, discussion, and cover letter) gives you a different opportunity to convince the reader of the importance of your work. The discussion particularly lets you open it up to the wider field, and you should also use it to acknowledge the limitations. So, you can both explain the level of impact of your work, as well as satisfying potential criticisms of the referees in your discussion. You can’t really do that anywhere else.