substantive edit“Editing” in Art and Science

Although it is seldom commented on, purifying compounds is surely one of the most deeply satisfying aspects of synthetic chemistry.  My earliest experience of this delightful feeling was in connection with the very first reaction I ran in graduate school:  the preparation of (Me3CCH2)3WºCCMe3, a tungsten “alkylidyne” complex containing a metal-carbon triple bond.  Following the literature procedure,1 I first isolated the crude product as a dark brown tar.  Distillation of the tar under high vacuum afforded a yellow oil that solidified upon cooling, forming a hard orange solid.  Upon recrystallization, the orange solid was transformed into beautiful, fluffy yellow needles!  All these years later, just thinking about it makes me happy, and I have always taken pleasure in refining chemical mixtures.2

Interestingly, I have a similar sensation when I edit digital photographs.  I enjoy correcting the color, contrast, and brightness of photos and taking what might be a mediocre photograph and turning it into something beautiful.  Judging from what I see online, most people are content with whatever their camera gives them, whether it’s from an expensive SLR or a camera phone.  That’s a shame, since several seconds spent with even simple (and often free) photo editing software can vastly improve the appearance of a digital image.  A quick levels adjustment can make the colors in a drab photo suddenly “pop”; a judicious crop can make a rather boring composition suddenly seem more interesting; a shadows adjustment can reveal a hidden face.  It’s all “there,” in the digital data; it’s only a question of bringing it out.  I’m reminded of the story of Michelangelo and a certain block of Carrara marble:  other sculptors rejected it as being too narrow, but Michelangelo saw “David” inside it and was able to carve out his most famous sculpture from a stone that everyone else had given up on.

Perhaps this is one of the reasons why I enjoy “refining” other people’s scientific writing.  Authors whose first language is not English often have difficulty expressing certain ideas in English.  It’s not their fault, obviously, but unfortunately it can obscure the terrific science that’s hidden in their paper.  The role of the editor is to help correct faulty grammar and phrasing so that the science is brought to the surface, and the reader is not burdened with trying to guess what the author is saying.  From my perspective as an editor, I can say that it’s immensely satisfying to edit a manuscript in such a way that none of the author’s ideas are lost, but are simply expressed much more clearly.  I have no doubt that other editors feel exactly the same way. 

A paper with serious language deficiencies is going to have a harder time getting through the peer-review process and being published in the best possible journal.  Even if it is published, it may not receive the attention and citations it deserves.  English language editing services such as ScienceDocs can certainly help authors communicate their work much more effectively.  It doesn’t necessarily take a lot of time to greatly improve a scientific manuscript, and it is a rewarding experience for both the author and the editor.


  1. R. Schrock et al. Organometallics 1982, 1, 1645.
  2. My most recent publication describes the separation and purification of four diastereomeric organometallic complexes from a single reaction mixture using automated column chromatography: Feldman et al. Organometallics 2015, 34, 3665.



inorganic chemist MIT

Learn more about ScienceDocs Editor Dr. Feldman


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