Science Communication: Don’t fight your editor

In a previous post I wrote about the three most important lessons I’d leant whilst working in science communications. The third was don’t fight your editor, which is one that’s often overlooked, and one that I think deserves more explanation.

Having someone edit your work is a privilege, but I’ve seen so many scientists fail to recognise this. Editors help you improve your writing. They advise on structure and language, they point out areas of your writing that aren’t working, and they help you improve them.

But editing can be a challenging process, especially when you’re new to it. When you first send a piece of writing to an editor you need to expect that it’ll come back covered in red pen (or the digital equivalent, often tracked changes).

Most people get very defensive at this point, I remember doing so myself. I thought I’d produced a perfectly good piece of writing, but it came back covered in changes. I was angry, I was offended. I believed I was a decent writer, so why had my editor made so many changes? I felt like I was back at school, that I’d had my work marked, and that I’d done poorly.

But I wasn’t at school, and I was being unprofessional. My work wasn’t being marked, this wasn’t a challenge to my abilities, my editor was using her experience and expertise to help me. When I went through each of her changes, I realised they were improvements.

If you’re lucky enough to have your work edited, you should expect to have it changed, often substantially. Don’t take this personally, don’t take this as a comment on your abilities, recognise the editor is spending time to help you. They often approach your work from a more objective perspective, and they’ll usually be far more experienced at writing for specific audiences and for different media.

Occasionally they’ll be wrong, but if you work with them rather than against them, they’re more likely to listen to you when they are.

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