Science and Engineering Ethics

, Volume 20, Issue 2, pp 363–377 | Cite as

Ethics of Using Language Editing Services in An Era of Digital Communication and Heavily Multi-Authored Papers

  • George A. Lozano
Original Paper


Scientists of many countries in which English is not the primary language routinely use a variety of manuscript preparation, correction or editing services, a practice that is openly endorsed by many journals and scientific institutions. These services vary tremendously in their scope; at one end there is simple proof-reading, and at the other extreme there is in-depth and extensive peer-reviewing, proposal preparation, statistical analyses, re-writing and co-writing. In this paper, the various types of service are reviewed, along with authorship guidelines, and the question is raised of whether the high-end services surpass most guidelines’ criteria for authorship. Three other factors are considered. First, the ease of collaboration possible in the internet era allows multiple iterations between the author(s) and the “editing service”, so essentially, papers can be co-written. Second, “editing services” often offer subject-specific experts who comment not only on the language, but interpret and improve scientific content. Third, the trend towards heavily multi-authored papers implies that the threshold necessary to earn authorship is declining. The inevitable conclusion is that at some point the contributions by “editing services” should be deemed sufficient to warrant authorship. Trying to enforce any guidelines would likely be futile, but nevertheless, it might be time to revisit the ethics of using some of the high-end “editing services”. In an increasingly international job market, awareness of this problem might prove increasingly important in authorship disputes, the allocation of research grants, and hiring decisions.


Multi-authorship Editing English correction Authorship Conflict resolution Hiring policies 



I thank colleagues who were kind enough to discuss these issues with me. No proof-reading, copy-editing, substantive editing or co-writing services were used in the production of this manuscript. However, the help of the journal's reviewers, editors and copy-editors is acknowledged and appreciated. I thank the University of Tartu for giving me access to their online collections.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Estonian Centre of Evolutionary EcologyTartuEstonia

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