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I have submitted an article for a journal in the field of CS and it has been returned and suggested to pass thru a professional editor or proof-reading (this is because my mother language is not English). So far what I did was to pass my article to some online paid tools such as Grammarly and Paper Rater, checking the suggestions, lifted the corrections made by these programs (and being careful enough to check it first with some English grammar books). After that I sent the new version to a past Professor from my master studies and he returned me back the paper with some corrections (he is an English native speaker, but he told me that he was not a professional editor so maybe there could be some mistakes along the way). With all these changes I submitted again the paper, which by the way in the reviews that I got it was accepted by three reviewers, but one of them mentioned that the English needed more work. So I waited, and again it was rejected by the editor pointing me that still the English part needs to be corrected.

So what to do? I have found that there are some proof editing services online, but how to know if they are good? I have not seen the reviews of any of them and well the prices are not so cheap also (ranging from USD 350 to even USD 700). The services that I found were:

Enago, https://www.enago.com

Elsevier, https://webshop.elsevier.com/languageservices/languageediting/pages/howdoesitwork.html

American Journal Experts, https://secure.aje.com/en/prices

Wiley, https://secure.wileyeditingservices.com/en/prices/quote/new (this one its pricing form looks mysteriously the same as the AJS)

Any advice what to do in a situation like this? I would not like to submit to another journal because it passed quite a long time since this research started.

  • Did you write this post yourself? For what it's worth, the English is what I consider readable. (Although in an academic setting I'd try not to use the informal spelling of 'thru') – Lamar Latrell May 5 '19 at 2:06
  • Are you associated to a university? It might be worth to check whether your institute already has such a proofreading service. – Fritz May 5 '19 at 8:36
  • One issue with some of these services is that they don't have the field-specific knowledge necessary. I had a "discussion" with someone who ran a translation service who told me that they could translate anything... Really could not translate buckling theory from French to English :) – Solar Mike May 5 '19 at 9:42
  • If the reviewers liked the paper, but the editor did not, you might be more lucky with a different journal. – Oleg Lobachev May 5 '19 at 11:07
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I don't have any advice about who to use, but I do suggest that you look to the long term. Try to find a person or a service that you will be able to work with on future papers, not just the current one. The person will get used to you and how you write and so the task will go quicker and maybe cheaper in the future.

Don't look for the cheapest service, I think. Your English skills will improve over time, but you will probably have a better experience if you can establish a relationship. You might even get writing tips from such an editor if you ask, after the person gets some familiarity with how you naturally write.

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    This! Use a service or a professional proofreader. The difference between a professional and a “friend who is a native speaker in your field” is dramatic. – Dawn May 5 '19 at 2:35
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Find a friend: a native-speaker of English who is familiar with your subject. Failing that, there is a wonderful UK organisation, the Society of Proofreaders and Editors which includes amongst its members people who are both skilled editors and who have specific academic knowledge.

I have used them, but I am not personally involved with them: this advice is disinterested!

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I freelanced for some of these companies in the past. As far as I can tell, they do what they say they do - their editors are experienced in academic English writing, they will edit your manuscript until it passes the English check, and they will edit any revisions as well.

Hence the real question is whether you think the service is worth USD 350-700. Only you can answer that question, unfortunately.

  • I applied to, then was given a work sample, and then (theoretically) worked for one of these companies for a few months a little over a year ago. However, despite their advertisement saying they were seeking editors for mathematics papers, out of the 100-150 papers that were offered up for editing during my time there, only one was in mathematics, and it was a purported proof of some major unsolved problem (or maybe it was a simple proof of Fermat's Last Theorem), and the only reason I didn't accept that particular assignment (despite being curious) was that I was terribly busy (continued) – Dave L Renfro May 6 '19 at 20:43
  • at the time with some other contract work that came up. I had to choose 5 fields, and besides math I chose computer science, physics (maybe it was subdivided), and related things. However, virtually every paper that was offered up was in computer science, and the two or three I selected, I felt that I didn't know enough about the field to intelligently make any but the most trivial editing changes, so I returned them for others to select after a day or so. Also, the pay rate was roughly $45 per paper, and I doubt I could have done anything nontrivial in less than 10-15 hours . . . – Dave L Renfro May 6 '19 at 20:48
  • @DaveLRenfro were you just editing for English, or were you looking for errors such as assuming Log(Ax+B) = Log(A+B) + Log(x)? I vaguely remember that in my case, I didn't get papers in my specialty, but I did get papers in the same field. The papers tended to be badly written, which makes sense (otherwise why would anyone engage these services), with the result that doing the editing was time-consuming and nontrivial. – Allure May 7 '19 at 0:33
  • It was just for English (AJE, if anyone's interested), but after looking at two or three papers I realized that there was no way I could get myself to do the editing quickly enough to make even $5 an hour at it unless maybe it was pure mathematics (and even then I wasn't sure how difficult it would be for me), but nothing showed up dealing with anything I remotely knew anything about. For example, in math it is common to say something like "for each 0 < x < 2" to mean for each number (real, rational, ... ? this might need to be made explicit) x such that 0 < x < 2 is true, (continued) – Dave L Renfro May 7 '19 at 7:53
  • but someone not steeped in math writing may wonder whether the universal quantification is over inequalities rather than over numbers, and if not, to what extent should the ambiguity be cleared up. I could see that I would have a lot of trouble reading past things that would probably be considered "below the radar" for this type of work, given that the past 14 years I've been full- and part-time involved with editing items for a well known high-stakes test, where even "at least 4 men and 3 women" is crucial (at least 4 men and exactly 3 women? at least 4 men and at least 3 women?). – Dave L Renfro May 7 '19 at 8:11
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[Declaration of interest: I am a freelance proof-reader operating as a sole trader and who does not undertake any proof-reading work for an agency or intermediary.]

My advice would be to engage a freelance proof-reader with some knowledge of your field (he/she need not be a specialist -- sometimes, the perspective of a not-quite-specialist-but-still-knowledgable person can be very valuable). Going through an independent freelancer is likely to be cheaper and better than using an agency (because there would be no commission and the freelancer would care more, because he/she does not have as many customers as one of the big agencies, and thus has more to lose if he/she does a bad job).

The difficulty, of course, is finding a suitable freelancer, since they tend not to be as discoverable as the big agencies. Another poster has already mentioned a relevant professional association in the UK. Other steps may include:

  • send a circular to all your colleagues asking for recommendations -- there is a good chance that one of them would have experience with engaging a good freelancer who would also fulfil your needs (as a freelance proof-reader myself, a lot of my work arises from a personal recommendation, despite the fact that I have my own website);

  • check notice-boards in academic departments and libraries, in case a suitable freelancer might have pinned an advert (personally, I do not advertise my services in this way, because I have enough work on my plate not to be desperate for more, but many people do);

  • some libraries and societies maintain listings of freelancers on a website or can send such a list to you on request (relevant keywords may include "proof-reader", "editor", "editorial assistance", "translator", "typesetter", or even "proxy researcher" [somebody who visits a library, archive, or conference and take notes on your behalf -- useful if you need to consult a unique manuscript on another continent and do not have the time/money/inclination/visa to make a research trip yourself]).

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Do you have any university in your area which a) employs native speakers of English or b) has exchange students who are native speakers (a + b: maybe even in a related field) or c) has very good English professors (even if they are not native speakers; you could talk to students to find out who is good at their job)?

Depending on where you live, there might also be local translation companies which employ native speakers or local freelancers which are native speakers of English.

You might benefit more from this type of relation, since you get to know the person and you could use their services again in the future.

You might also ask the journal editors if they have any suggestions for this. Maybe they have collaborated in the past and had good results with a specific company/freelancer.

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