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I recently reviewed a paper for the second time. The authors competently solved all issues that were raised in the first review round, and the only remaining issues were minor grammar and spelling errors (resulting from the authors not being native speakers I would guess). I marked those errors and nevertheless handed in the review as accept, because even though there were those minor issues, those seemed like the kind of things that could also be corrected in proof-reading, and did not have anything to do with the content or the overall quality of the paper itself.

After handing in the review a couple of weeks ago, I just received the paper for review for the third time, and as all reviewer comments are added at the end of the manuscript, I could see that none of the other reviewers had any more comments. This means that the extra round of reviewing was basically caused just by me, resulting in another delay for the authors until their paper will be published.

I now wonder if it was right to address those minor errors (resulting in further publication delay), or if it would have been ok/better to "overlook" those, since they might be caught in a subsequent proofreading stage (which will happen anyway no matter how many rounds of reviews take place). I am asking this, because I know that the (at times) very time-intensive publishing and peer reviewing process can be stressfull and unnerving.

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    It seems obvious that the editor thought the errors are important enough that they should be addressed. The journal wants the minimum of errors in papers and may not have the option of using a copy editor. The alternative is for the editor to reject for reasons of quality. I think you are doing the right thing, even if a bit more than necessary.
    – Buffy
    Aug 8 at 12:26
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    Let me also note that journals may have an international audience, even when published in a single language. So, seemingly minor errors might cause confusion (leading to misinterpretations) among those who aren't native speakers/writers in that language. Some precision is essential to help assure universal understanding.
    – Buffy
    Aug 8 at 12:29
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    If by "proof-reading" stage, you mean professional copy editing, I wouldn't assume that there will be a such a stage. This only happens in the very topest of top flight journals, and even then is getting less common. Aug 8 at 12:54
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    ''I know that the (at times) very time-intensitive publishing and peer reviewing process can be stressfull and unnerving.'' That's not your problem, you are just carrying out your duties as you see fit. It's the editor who accepts, rejects, recommends further rounds of review and so on.
    – Tom
    Aug 8 at 19:04
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    As a peer reviewer you're not expected to act as an unpaid copy editor. Do it if you feel driven, but it's not your job. Aug 9 at 17:25
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It doesn't sound like you have anything to feel bad about. You classified the review as "accept", clearly indicating that you didn't need to see it again (even though there may have been typos, etc, to fix before publication). It was the editor who decided to waste time by sending it out again despite this.

I think it is definitely worth commenting on these issues. By doing so, you give the authors chance to correct them when submitting the final version, which they can do in their own time. If you fail to point them out, the best-case scenario is that they add a lot of extra changes at the proof stage, and since journals often have very tight deadlines for checking proofs, and they may arrive at an inconvenient time, the authors may not have time to check the proofs carefully.

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  • "It was the editor who decided to waste time." - Possibly the editor decided to be lazy and rely on the reviewer to check if the spelling/grammar errors where fixed rather than checking themselves or trusting the author. This is somewhat obnoxious.
    – Brian
    Aug 12 at 21:19
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I now wonder if it was right to address those minor errors

You were right to point out the errors in the paper. Errors in grammar and spelling are distracting, and can sometimes confuse the reader - especially if they're struggling with the material itself. Plus, after all, you did accept.

Resulting in another delay for the authors until their paper will be published.

The authors can put their paper on arxiv.org or their homepages in the mean time.

I just received the paper for review for the third time ... I could see that none of the other reviewers had any more comments.

If the editor decided to hold the paper over for a third round of reviews strictly due to comments on spelling and grammar, then it's the editor's mistake, not yours. The editor could have accepted subject to proofreading, which doesn't (typically) need reviewers' involvement.

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Maybe it is just me, but depending on the severity, let it go. I once had a 2 Months delay because of minor mistakes.

Like, I forgot a comma in a place not obvious, even after letting 5 people proof-read before handing it in. And then there was a sentence that was grammatically correct but not "good". After 2 months he finally accepted it but told that my grammar should be reason for me to give back my title.

Pendantic people like that can really get you down and it hindered me in so much work and I got anxiety. I always had to wait days just for something like "oh it is a reverse sentence and that means that you should this word instead of that".

I have written a paper about a software project, not about the german language.

On the other hand if it is really obvious errors, like misspellings or wrong use of words it should be corrected.

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I think that both the journal and the author, not to mention readers, would appreciate you marking the errors. Some reviewers make very specific comments about language errors, as in "Change 'interview' to 'interviewed,' p. 30 line 6." Others (the majority) make only a general comment: "This paper contains many language errors. Please have it carefully checked by a native English editor." Whether you flag each error or make a more general comment may depend on the number of errors and how much time you have. Perhaps you could also recommend publication condition that the errors be corrected. Then it's up to the journal editor whether the corrections get checked in a subsequent review. I've certainly seen a great many errors in papers by non-native English writers. Standards and extent of checking vary---some journals apparently have a high tolerance for errors. Your thorough approach is better for all concerned.

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    "Please have it carefully checked by a native English editor." That comment should be avoided, as it is considered offensive by some. There are non-native editors who are exactly as proficient as excellent native ones (and not every native editor is excellent). Aug 9 at 10:30
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    I work as an editor for nonnative English faculty and I see this comment all the time from reviewers. My clients don't find it offensive; they're realistic about their level of English. I disagree with your statement about nonnative editors. I'm fluently bilingual and would never attempt to edit journal articles in my 2nd language. It takes decades to develop a mature level of academic vocabulary and writing skills and produce polished prose in your first language. Editing standards may vary by location. In the U.S., university faculty would never consider hiring a nonnative English writer.
    – Eggy
    Aug 9 at 19:31
  • It's primarily offensive towards authors who are actually native English speakers and for some reasons were assumed to be non-native speakers by the reviewers (whose own English competence might be imperfect anyways). Aug 9 at 20:03
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    Yes, that comment should be avoided, not only because some non-native speakers can be just as proficient in English as native ones, but also because of the nasty unstated assumption that English speakers have (or should have) some sort of special indispensable status in academia. It is dismissive towards researchers working in non-English-speaking countries. It is also a stupid thing to say because the clarity of your writing has little to do with whether you are a native speaker. I have seen plenty of horrendously unintelligible writing by native speakers.
    – Szabolcs
    Aug 10 at 9:32
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    If you find "native English editor" problematic due to "native", you could replace "native" with another term, like "proficient user" in CEFR-terminology, even though a native editor can be more proficient. However, based on my experience most of the spelling and grammar mistakes are fairly basic. My main concern would be if they understood the term "proficient". Aug 11 at 11:18
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Although grammatical and spelling errors are relevant, pointing them out is often the lowest kind of value an expert peer reviewer can add. That is a proofreader's job. Although this point might be controversial, I consider it a waste of a reviewer's time to try to point these out in detail, and although constructive, it is probably the least constructive of any constructive aspect of a review report.

That said, this does not mean that such errors should be ignored. While I do not pick through such errors when I review an article, I do say something about them. I have one of two standard ways of handling them as I review an article:

  • If grammatical or spelling errors are so severe that they hinder my understanding of the article, then I consider that a rather major issue and then address it as such, along with my other critiques. In particular, I make it clear that I cannot appropriately evaluate the article [that is, I cannot recommend acceptance] without these points being corrected and clarified.

  • If grammatical or spelling errors do not signficantly hinder my understanding of the article, then at the end of the review, I write something like this: "There are some grammatical and spelling errors in the article. For example, [I always give one or two examples]. I recommend that you send the final version of the article to be professionally proofread." Note that I do not ask them to have the next revision professionally proofread. It would be expensive and unreasonable for them to pay to proofread each revision, especially if the errors do not hinder my understanding.

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minor grammar and spelling errors...might be caught in a subsequent proofreading stage

If there is a discrete proofreading stage in your publication cycle, then it seems to me that "minor grammar and spelling errors" would routinely be corrected by whomever does the proofreading work.

(As an aside, it strikes me as strange that you wouldn't already be aware of this, and that it's not already part of your understanding of the workflow at the location where this paper is being considered for publication.

If you know that there is typically a "proofreading stage" then what else would you expect them to do, other than correct "minor grammar and spelling errors"?)

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