Saturday, 9 June



Valerie Matarese, Bad textual mentors: How awkwardly written research articles complicate the work of an authors’ editor


The term ‘textual mentor’ indicates an exemplary piece of writing that novice writers can emulate so as to produce text that meets readers’ expectations. In scientific research, novice writers often model their writing on articles published in their target journals, because these reports were judged favourably during peer review. Yet many of these research articles are badly written, with deficits in English usage, argumentation, structure, or scientific reporting.

In my experience as an authors’ editor in the biomedical sciences (and occasional instructor of scientific writing) in Italy, these ‘bad textual mentors’ seem to be conditioning the language of research more than English usage guides and scientific style manuals do. When editing, I apply standard written English, but I am aware that my clients – and their reviewers – may be more familiar with the non-standard usage that is gaining ground in their discipline; I therefore proactively justify my edits in the margin. And when teaching, I am aware that some of my recommended practices may be hard to find applied in the biomedical research literature.

Questions I will pose during this presentation include:

  • If standard written English is no longer the benchmark for publishability, should we insist on it while editing and teaching?
  • How should we handle our clients’ choice of textual mentors?

In this presentation, I will show examples of how bad textual mentors have complicated my work, and I will present the differing views on this problem from the worlds of applied linguistics, academia, and industry. I invite conference attendees to join me in a discussion on where we should draw the line between tolerance of non-standard English and clear scientific communication.

About the presenter

Valerie MatareseValerie Matarese is an authors’ editor based in Italy. Born in New York, she trained in biochemistry and molecular biology at US universities and worked in research in the United States and Italy prior to launching a sole proprietorship offering editing in the biomedical sciences, writing, and training in research-article writing. She has recently published a book on the profession of author editing, entitled Editing Research: The author editing approach to providing effective support to writers of research papers. (Information Today, 2016).

Valerie will also moderate a panel discussion with Anne Murray, Marije de Jager and Emma Goldsmith entitled Invasive species: Language versus subject specialists in biomedical editing and translation.