How do editors edit? What is proofreading?

Welcome to MOVERS, where we look at some of the key players in the research and publishing industries!

How do editors edit? What is proofreading? What happens in this process?

Editors working on articles for language do two things: They correct (often following checklists and style guides) and they enhance readability. These two parts of the editing process are important; you want your paper to be as readable as possible, to engage people who will then (hopefully) go onto cite your article. At the same time, your paper has to meet journal style guidelines and be consistently ‘well edited’ throughout. This is the job of an editor.

Colleagues often get confused, however, because an editor (small ‘e’) performs a different function to an Editor (big ‘E); the latter are really journal managers, making decisions about which papers to send out to peer review, who to ask to perform these tasks from among colleagues and co-workers around the world, and then, finally, whether, or not to accept a paper for publication.

Small ‘e’ editors then are tasked with improving the language quality and content of papers. We edit thousands of papers each month at Edanz. Our editors are all subject area specialists, often with PhDs in particular subject areas. This means that, should you entrust your work to us, you can be sure that it will get expert, thorough treatment. Editing (small ‘e’) has been shown to increase eventual chances of article acceptance (when compared with unedited work) very dramatically.


The bulk of our customers are non-native English speakers, working at universities and hospitals around the world.

How does editing work? What do editors do?

Editors check papers for style and consistency, they proofread to catch spelling and grammar mistakes, and, above all, they make papers easier to read.

You can do this as well. I worked as an editor for many years, including working on my own papers and commenting and helping other colleagues in my field.

For more tips and resources on editing, we recommend Lesson 5 of our Research Writing” Premium course, where you can download our time-saving editing checklist!

A top tip for effective editing?

Read your work aloud. Sounds simple, but this is really the best way to catch those silly little errors, improve style and sentence shape, and avoid those unnecessary words. You’ll find sentences that don’t make good sense and you’ll be able to improve, polish, and enhance your style and flow.

No-one expects you to produce a polished first draft at your first attempt. Edit, edit, edit, and read your work aloud to your dog, your cat, your kids, or just into the screen of your computer. English writing style and structure influences readership and thus how many colleagues will

use (and cite) your next paper. Effective English writing is a skill not a talent: Our upcoming e-book guide will soon be available for download to help you become more efficient. Click here to sign up for the Edanz Learning Lab and ensure you don’t miss your free copy!

Writing and editing skills

So, in terms of key writing skills for successful researchers: try to think and write your first drafts in English if you can (and if you can’t: find a translation service you trust to accurately parse your writing without loss of meaning), and be sure that you know your ‘key message’as well as the ‘target audience’ and ‘structure’ of your writing before you get started.

Successful researchers tend to have develop a style to their academic writing; their papers read in similar ways. The best way to develop such a style that works for you in your written work is to base your early papers on others in your field that you admire and that you feel have been well-presented. Don’t copy (I’m not advocating that) but take a look at the writing style and structure of some papers in your field that you think are well-written; what sorts of titles do they have? How are their abstracts stuctured? How do the introductions and discussion start and end? How are the methods sections presented? Those sorts of stylistic questions. If a certain kind of style has proved successful for other international colleagues, then it can also work well for you.

A voice in your head?

Decide on a voice in your writing that also works for you. Addressing this issue is actually one of the most common questions that we are asked in our author workshops: ‘should I use passive, third person when writing my papers in English, or is the active, first person better? I’ve seen both used in academic articles’.

This is an interesting topic and actually quite debated in academic writing and teaching circles. Most writing courses will teach (and most colleagues feel that they have been taught) that it’s good practice to use a passive, third person voice when writing up academic research work (‘an experiment was performed’, ‘the following methods were used in this study’, ‘reagents were added to the PCR mix before further cycling was performed’). I was also taught this style when I was at school.

However, an increasing body of literature is arriving at the consensus that actually use of an active, first person voice in academic writing is the better and more effective way to communication and keep a reader engaged. First person writing is simply easier to follow (‘we performed an experiment’, ‘we used the following methods in this study’, and ‘we added reagents to the PCR mix and performed further cycling’) and, thus, easier and more enjoyable to read.

Again, our advice is to have a look at some recently published papers in your field that you think are well-written and that have been widely cited and see what voice is used. Go for active, first person writing in your papers if possible and, above all, be consistent: one of the most common mistakes that non-native speakers make in their written English academic articles is to jump between active and passive voices in the same paper. They might start off in the introduction, for example, writing in the active voice (‘we did this’, ‘I did that’) but then switch to passive when putting together the methods section (‘a reaction was performed’, ‘the following chemicals were added to the mixture’). This is one key thing to try to avoid in your written work.

What is effective English?

Effective English writing is made up of short sentences with limited punctuation. Try to write in the same way that you think and document as many of your ideas as possible. Writing down as much and as often as possible is one key skill that successful researchers tend to have developed, in my experience.

Bear in mind that putting an academic paper together is a cumulative process, building your written work block-by-block, piece-by-piece; even the most successful, fluent native speaking writers can’t sit down and just write a paper from start to finish. You can, however, make this process much easier by having a structure in mind and by keeping track of pieces of written work that you can use later for the various sections.

Sit and have a think about this process when you next have to write an academic article. You might be pleasantly surprised by how much, say, of the introduction or methods section you already have in various forms already saved on your computer. Successful academic writers re-use, they re-cycle and re-formulate: building new pieces of work from building blocks they already have in their portfolio.

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