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I've done lots of these papers. For the most part, you are editing as
you would for any technical document:
1. Style: Consistency of expression. Does the author use third person
throughout and then throw in, "our thoughts on this matter"? Then it has
to be changed. This will depend on the Instructions to Authors.
2. Instructions to Authors: Every journal has different instructions.
Some allow only third person, others don't. You need to ask each student
to provide the instructions for the journal to which their paper will be
submitted; a copy of the journal is also helpful. Thesis instructions if
for a thesis. etc.
3. References are perhaps the most challenging. You cannot know if the
references are correct, but you can detect possible typos, lack of
conformity with instructions, and worst, incorrect citations. For
example, the text reads that Jones et al. discuss the importance of
hybrid germination... but you go and look at the Jones et al. listing in
the references and it is either not present, or the title of the paper
is gestation of mammels... nothing to do with plants at all... something
is wrong! So you mark it and tell the author to please advise...
4. Logic and coherency. You don't really need to understand anything
about the gabba dabba plant that is bred via the new dubbie dubbie
methodology. But you do need to see that they refer to it properly
throughout, and not three different ways. If there is a table, does it
make sense? Is it logical? When you read, is there data given in the
text that would be better presented in the text? If there is a table,
does the author tell the reader just what it is they want them to
especially notice? Same for a figure.
5. The key to a scientific paper is logic, coherence, correct
presentation, and making sure you actually did what the abstract
promises. If the abstract says that this paper will provide evidence
that the gabba dabba plant can be bred via the new dubbie dubbie method,
can YOU find that evidence? IF its not clear to you, it probably won't
be clear to the expert reader. If the author says, here is my method,
but it's not clear to you, or rather convoluted, either rewrite the
section, or if truly beyond you, explain to the author HOW it needs to
6. I've done a lot of editing for Chinese Ph.D. students. In my
experience, they know their stuff very very well. Some even write far
better than they can talk. You will find their main struggle will be
with certain nuances of English, grammar, and dealing with the
instructions. The instructions are ALWAYS written in a very non-user
friendly way. I've had to ready some instructions several times to
figure out what is wanted. That is why a SAMPLE of the publication can
be so helpful. "Oh, THAT is what they wanted."
7. If the paper has equations, are all the symbols defined? For example,
a = b/c * q+14 is absolutely meaningless unless the reader knows what a,
b, c and q are. Usual format (again check instructions) is:
**a = b/c * q+14
b = cats
c = fish
q = gabba dabba plant
(And if anyone can do something with this equation, please, its MY
PATENT - I'll share the royalties!)
What often happens is you'll see equations building on each other. In
this case, back track. If a was explained in equation 1, it does not
need to be re-explained in equation 2, unless they've changed the
meaning. In which case, ask why they changed the meaning of "a", in Eq.
1 it means x and in Eq. 2 it means y? Usually its a typo - but not
always, sometimes an explanation is missing.
8. Be pedantic. Be fussy, Be inquisitive, and stick to the instructions
(oops, I already said that... but its really important).
If you do these things, both you and your students will have an amazing
learning experience. You about topics you never heard of and will come
to find are actually quite interesting, and your students will begin to
learn the ins and outs of writing a good scientific paper.
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