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It is quite common for me to receive emails from the editors of a journal asking me, before or after the referees have given their approval, to review and improve my English. Then, the editor suggests a professional English editing service for this purpose.

My question is: Is this common practice, independently on the quality of the English of the manuscript (as an attempt to sell a service), or is it only for the cases where the English really needs improvement?

Here is an example of such an email where the reviewers had no further comments and recommend acceptance, but the editor asks for an English review:

The reviewers judge the technical content of your revised manuscript satisfactory. The English, however, is awkward, and needs improvement. Reviewer comments are included below and/or are attached.

The language quality must be improved. We advise that you seek assistance from a colleague or have a professional editing service correct the language in your manuscript, which can then be resubmitted to us.

AIP and the JAP recommend Edanz for authors who wish to have the language in their manuscript edited by a native-English speaking language editor who is also a scientific expert. Edanz is a global editing service with offices in Japan and China. Use of an editing service is neither a requirement nor a guarantee of acceptance for publication. Please contact Edanz (http://www.edanzediting.com/aip) directly to make arrangements for editing and to receive a quotation regarding price and time.

Please edit the ENTIRE paper.

Please indicate how the manuscript has been revised. Either include a list of changes that addresses each point indicating how the manuscript has been revised as a separate document titled, Response Letter or submit a copy of the manuscript with the exact locations of the revisions titled, Marked Manuscript. That will enable the editors to see whether you have complied with the reviewer comments.

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11  
Were the papers as well written as this question? – Patricia Shanahan Jan 5 at 10:13
18  
No, it is that good. – Patricia Shanahan Jan 5 at 10:27
19  
@cinico: In my opinion, the English of this question was surprisingly good, given that you received such a mail. It’s not perfect, but it’s nothing regular copy editing could not fix (and probably en par with my own English) and far better than some papers I have seen published. – Wrzlprmft Jan 5 at 10:28
4  
@Wrzlprmft it's common for authors with a non-English sounding name to receive this comment, even if their written English is good. Usually, at least 1 native speaker read my papers before I submit them. But I almost always get that comment. – Emilie Jan 5 at 13:33
2  
@Emilie The main issue is not in the comment, but in the advertisement of a specific editing service. – Massimo Ortolano Jan 5 at 15:46
up vote 18 down vote accepted

In one journal where I am familiar with the editorial workflow, the review form explicitly asks reviewers to rate the language quality of the manuscript. Based on this rating, the editor can tick an item similar to "Needs language revisions" when putting together the decision letter. The decision letter will then contain a paragraph that advises the authors to do a language revision. I am not sure at the moment whether a particular service is being recommended there.

The point is that such a recommendation can get into the letter easily, but will not be included by default. Probably the editor only wrote the first two or three sentences of the letter, maybe without thinking carefully about the exact formulation, and the rest is based on a customizable template. Nevertheless, it usually means that at least one reviewer was criticizing language usage, maybe even without giving specific comments on it. I would advise you to at least double-check on language usage, and if possible have it proof-read by someone else with very good English skills or a native speaker.

However, as long as the reviewers can understand the technical content well, these points are usually not decisive for the acceptance of the manuscript. Especially, as long as any language problems are corrected, I can't imagine that the editor will care whether you use the suggested language service or not.

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While the other answers were very interesting and useful, for some reason I was more inclined to accept this one. Thank you all. We cannot afford to pay a professional editing service and I will revise the manuscript again more carefully. I also agree that extrapolating the English quality of my question to that of my manuscript is not wise... – cinico Jan 5 at 22:24

No, this is not normal. I have never received such a suggestion despite the fact that neither I nor any of my co-authors were native speakers of English, and there was no reason (such as name or affiliation) for any editor to assume this. I also never heard of anybody else receiving such a suggestion (which does not mean much, however). In particular, I did not receive such a suggestion when publishing with the same publisher (AIP).

Moreover, the first paragraph of your example mail does not seem to be an automatically generated or canned text block to me. Such text blocks are usually more diplomatic and would not contain words such as awkward. (The rest of the mail seems to be a prepared text block, however.)

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Same here. I did, however, review manuscripts where I commented on the quality of English. But this was only when the English was so poor it was impossible to understand the meaning of important sentences, and this usually appeared in my comments to the authors. – Bitwise Jan 5 at 13:55
    
I worked for a journal for a little while and we had our own in-house editors for English grammar and usage and journal style guidelines. In addition to excellent command of English, the editors were required to be educated and/or have experience in the field the journals were about (optics, in this case). Perhaps things have changed but I can't imagine the more prominent journals not having in-house editors. – Todd Wilcox Jan 5 at 14:20
    
edanzediting.com/aip (archived at archive.is/0N7B8 ) contains the AIP logo and «As a part of our cooperation with AIP, you will receive a 10% discount on Edanz services». Unless this 20 years old firm engages in egregious trademark abuse, it seems the AIP editor was not lying. – Nemo Jan 5 at 15:52
    
@ToddWilcox, that's one thing for a few minor edits, it would be a lot of work for a whole paper. – Chris H Jan 5 at 16:59

Normal or not (and it's abnormal), this practice is problematic because it's unclear if the editor has vested interest to recommend this particular editing service. There are many professional editing services, why just Edanz? If there is any agreement between the journals and Edanz in the form of a commission or kick-back, then I will not trust the judgment of the editor on my written English, as he/she will be inclined to be more stringent or even unreasonably stringent.

Moving forward, if that "awkward" troubles you, it may be advisable to seek help from a professional editor who is not related to Edanz. While many comments here praise your English, writing a question and writing a manuscript are of two different leagues and there could be grammatically correct but unconventional expressions in your work, so don't take those praises as a proof that your paper does not need to be edited. Meeting with an editor allows you to get a general scope of the problems, if any, and also provides an excellent chance to evaluate your overall English usage. When replying the editor, you may also indicate that you have sought help from a third party editor to edit your work.

Good luck.

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7  
Springer, AIP, and Biomed Central all have "partnerships" with Edanz. Authors submitting to journals from those publishers get a discount on editing services. It's not clear what the publisher gets, or whether there are any incentives for editors of journals from these publishers to recommend professional editing. – ff524 Jan 5 at 17:57
    
Thank you @ff524! That's a very useful piece of information. – Penguin_Knight Jan 5 at 17:58
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Biomed Central says that they don't get any fees or commission from Edanz. Springer has the same statement. – ff524 Jan 5 at 18:12

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