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I am working on my PhD now for 1.5 years and was recently asked by my supervisor to assist him with a review. The reviewed paper was also written by a non-native speaker.

For my first publication I bought a book on English writing skills for research papers, which was very helpful for me.

Can I suggest this book to the author of the paper I got for review, so he can improve his English? I do not want to critize him, only to give him an advice I also give my colleagues. I am not sure if this exceeds my responsibility.

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Yes, it's above and beyond the call of duty. Yes, you should do it. –  JeffE Feb 21 '13 at 23:20
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Which book (title/author) did you find helpful? –  Dan C Feb 23 '13 at 1:42
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I see it inappropriate. If the paper has a poor language make it an explicit weakness point no more no less. –  seteropere Feb 25 '13 at 18:10
    
I also vote inappropriate. Their English may be bad, but they are probably good and smart people who can manage. If they can't, any advice is lost effort anyways. –  user1129682 Feb 25 '13 at 22:27
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I'm surprised — no, dumbfounded — by the suggestions that a referee offering resources to help authors improve their paper is somehow inappropriate. Why? –  JeffE Feb 25 '13 at 23:37
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3 Answers

up vote 5 down vote accepted

As editor in chief of an international journal I often come across these problems. There are several ways forward (in no particular order):

  • Does the journal publisher offer links to services to improve the language? Cite those to the author.
  • You can start correcting the English for about a page or two and then state that the authors must seek the help of a native English speaking person (I have found that this is unfortunately not always a sure way to success). By high-lighting the level of problems, it is harder to ignore by anybody. It is after all the author's responsibility and most journals state this very clearly. Remember that the editor is also part of the publishing procedure and you may express your thoughts to him/her to get assistance in your requests.
  • If the problems are less severe and you think the paper is very deserving, do the work. But don't make it a habit.
  • If the first author has an identifiable native English speaking person as a co-author there is no real excuse and you should point that out to the editor.

The suggestion of providing references may seem like a good one but make these suggestions to the editor. I really do not think such books will be of much use other than in the long term for authors who have problem grasping the English language; and in some cases never.

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In the first review I did, I marked some sentences that were very complicated/unreadable and told the author to rewrite them or split them into two sentences. I will follow a combination of your suggestions, correct some english, and ask the editor, if he thinks it appropriate to mention a book or if he could add the reference to the book. It is sometimes difficult to ask for the helf of a native English speaking person, if one does not know any. Since this suggestion was rather frustrating for me, I would not make it to somebody else. –  Dani Feb 26 '13 at 8:10
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Certainly, poor English is a significant problem, one that hinders communication, and undoubtedly has an impact on one's ability to publish top-quality articles.

It may sound a bit rude to make such a suggestion, but in extreme cases I think it is warranted. It's probably better and more cost effective than trying to improve the English yourself and better in the long run than simply ignoring the problem (and suggesting to reject the paper).

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I will make a number of corrections to English when I review a paper, especially for non-native speakers. But after some limit, I do what any good software source code compiler does: "ERROR: Unrecoverable error or too many errors -- terminating the compilation." –  Fuhrmanator Feb 25 '13 at 4:13
    
OT: good source code compilers terminate instantly –  user1129682 Feb 25 '13 at 22:15
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This is anonymous reviewing? If so, absolutely! A book may be helpful. There are also a number of companies/services (see for example Elsevier or this list) out there aimed at helping non-English speakers prepare scientific publications. I routinely suggest that authors revise their writing before something gets published.

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