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I've been invited to review a paper for Frontiers. I don't particularly like to review for them for several reasons not too relevant for this particular Q, but just to illustrate my baseline level offset to begin with (not too eager).

The Abstract was sent to me along with the invite; the topic is interesting (for me :-) and the Results are interesting, yet not too surprising and therefore the paper is likely going to be scientifically sound overall (the review will tell :-).

Point is, the authors of the manuscript are obviously not proficient in English ands when the Abstract is an indication of what's about to follow, this paper is gonna be one helluva job, because I'm suspecting it's going to be a 2-step process: 1) try to make sense what's written down 2) review the work. That step 1 I am not willing to take.

Now I would be happy to review the work on its scientific premise, yet I would prefer English language correction first. Is it 'OK' to contact the handling editor (no email address provided, so this is going to be difficult - one of the reasons I dislike the publisher is the anonymity shrouding the journal series) and accept the review, provided it's language edited first? With 'OK' I mean whether people have experience with this kind of debacle?

Likely a totally opinion based question, with totally opinion based answers, but I'm struggling with this issue more often these days, also because of a lack of time on my side

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  • Based on what and how you write here, I think you can safely refuse to review stating that you are not proficient in English.
    – EarlGrey
    Mar 31, 2022 at 7:56
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    @EarlGrey I guess my English is OK, point is the authors' isn't - I've clarified the Q, thanks
    – AliceD
    Mar 31, 2022 at 7:59
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    It seems like you already understood the paper. Why would it be a 'be one helluva job'? You can have one or two comments about writing, and the rest is focused on the scientific contributions of the paper. Your job is not to help edit the paper, which I agree would be a significant undertaking. Mar 31, 2022 at 8:06
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    @VitaminE - valid point - but at a certain point things get so messy that I'm unable to review the paper because of it. Then I end up digging through the paper trying to make sense out of it all to unearth the scientific validity buried within. Does that make sense?
    – AliceD
    Mar 31, 2022 at 8:14
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    @AliceD In that circumstance, I would simply comment that a particular section is unclear, and stop. On your question, at the end of the day, you have to decide whether you want to help the journal out or that you will learn something from the paper. Otherwise, there is no reason to accept the review request. Note that your primary objective is to make a recommendation to the editor as opposed to helping the authors write their paper. Mar 31, 2022 at 8:45

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In this scenario, decline to review stating your reasons. If the editor agrees then they can either terminate the review process and make a reject & resubmit decision, or send the paper to the authors for revision. Then if/when the paper is resubmitted, the editorial management system will flag it and note that you're willing to review the article if the English is fixed, and the editor will probably invite you to review the paper.

On the other hand, if you accept the review, then it's more of a hassle. The system would start counting down to the deadline. To stop it, the editor would have to terminate your review and uninvite you (effectively the same as you declining, although your message about the author's English won't be logged in the system) before they can return the paper for revision. This is admittedly not very time consuming and can be done in a couple of minutes, but it's busywork.

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    Thanks for the tip, much appreciated. Upon declining I was actually able to pen down the reason for doing so.
    – AliceD
    Mar 31, 2022 at 8:12

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