My dad flies his own airplane, a Cessna 182 Skylane in which I have occasionally traveled with him. I’ve always been impressed by how safe a pilot he is — he plans conscientiously, he doesn’t cut corners, and he doesn’t get in over his head. Each time he takes off, he performs a full preflight checklist and if there’s anything that doesn’t check out, you will not go flying with him today.
I was thinking about my dad’s checklist recently in a different context. You see, one of my roles around the Weiss lab for the last year or so has been to help “expedite” manuscripts. Ron is an excellent science communicator, but his time is limited and once he becomes involved in preparing a manuscript for submission, he rapidly becomes the rate-limiting step. The more I can help my colleagues get things in order before he gets involved, the faster we can go from draft to submission.
I’ve been involved in this role for three manuscripts thus far, and it has been amazing to me how careful, otherwise detail-oriented scientists who have been reading papers for many years miss some of the most basic things about science communication. Not subtleties about narrative structure or debatable questions about the work’s larger import — I’m talking about “did you label this axis” kinds of missing pieces.
So, in the spirit of my dad’s checklist, I present a preflight checklist for manuscripts. Are your seatbelts buckled?