We received a report on our paper (it's the 2nd version already). The referee writes:

The proofs are correct. However, I'm not completely satisfied with the style in which the paper is written and the authors have to work more on the essay.

I'm not sure what we can do with that. We are not native speakers and we did our best to use as good English as we can. I'm not sure how we should respond to that, since currently it seems to be the only thing that prevents us from finishing the referee process. We implemented the minor corrections suggested by this referee and as well the remarks by the language editor.

Any ideas how to proceed in such a case, please?

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    Did the referee have any more specific advice? Even as a native speaker, I would not know what to do based only on the two sentences quoted above. If the referee didn't give any more specific advice, perhaps you could write to the editor asking her to contact the referee for details. Commented Jul 22, 2014 at 11:52
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    @OswaldVeblen Well, he gave us almost two pages of suggestions, but he introduces them by saying: "I suggest the following minor corrections (which are not the only ones):" I'm sort of confused by this report...
    – yo'
    Commented Jul 22, 2014 at 12:28
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    Can you ask for help from colleagues whose native tongue is English? And also do you have access to an English editor to correct basic grammar? Commented Jul 22, 2014 at 12:54

4 Answers 4


The comment from the reviewer may mean;

1- Rearrange the ideas in your paper. For example, the order in which the things are explained may not make sense to the reviewer. Note that this is completely subjective thing, one order of ideas may make sense to one person but not so much to some other person. So, Just try some re-arrangement of idea and hope for the best.

2- The story may be weak. I would suggest to start the story with some ground work by highlighting the existing similar work by other researchers in your field. Then gradually move towards what you are offering in your paper. The rest of the paper will then explain the details of your ideas.

These are just my suggestion. You know the best what is good for you. Good luck!


The referee is obviously satisfied with the "scientific" part of the publication but points out the narrative itself. I don't think that your English language skills are the deciding in the factor in that matter. You could write the same paper in your native language, let it someone translate it as it is and still get the same comment. As the referee puts it, it's the style that has issues. You should try to formulate your paper in a way which not only lists the discovered facts one after the another, but attempts to guide the reader's thought process towards your idea and results. Make it more interesting and engaging. Your language should be eloquent, your narrative consistent, your thought flow constant; the paper itself serves as a way to reflect the scientist's mind and as such it does not consist only of definitions, lemmas, theorems, proofs, citations, figures, etc., because a significant part is the skill (or art) to mold them into an article that readers will enjoy reading.

If the problem is really only the lack of English skills, try to write it up in your native language and consult some professional to translate it.

If that is not the case, don't be discouraged, good writing is a skill and can be learned and trained. Unfortunately, I've encountered many students (and some experienced scientists) who struggle with this. I personally blame it on the lack of reading of non-scientific material, like novels, articles, philosophical works, etc. Of course, this doesn't mean that you should style your paper like an adventure novel, but, as I mentioned before, writing is a skill, and it is best honed by being in contact with other well written materials. This way, you'll broaden your vocabulary, improve the ability to express your thoughts through text and, if you focus on English materials, become more proficient in English.

  • Sorry, you really suggest that I write the paper again in Czech and then pay a professional translator to translate it? Such translator that will make like a thousand mistakes in the math just because he doesn't understand it?
    – yo'
    Commented Jul 22, 2014 at 10:02
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    That's why I wrote to consult him, to get those details right. And, as I see it, you don't have to write the whole paper again, the "bulk", i.e. the math, is there, you just need to improve the style by expanding or shortening some sentences or adding some paragraphs. I can't be any more specific since I don't have your paper in front of me, but I'm trying to stress that some people are more proficient in writing skills and that you should consult such to improve your article. This is not related to the science behind it and the understanding of math of those people. Commented Jul 22, 2014 at 10:19

The comment could mean two things:

  1. There is a problem with the way your article is organized
  2. There is a problem with your English

I would start by looking at other recent articles in that journal, and see if the organization of your article is different from those. If that is the case, I would rewrite (probably with a lot of "copy and paste") the article such that the form mimics the typical form in that journal.

If you have a collegue who is a native speaker, you can ask her or him to look at your article. It is probably too much to ask for her or him to completely edit the article, but (s)he can give you an idea whether your English needs to be improved. If that is the case, then I would probably end up hiring someone. There are usually some people who do this freelance. It pays to ask around if someone has done so recently and whether or not (s)he can recommend someone. Also look around in your institution: sometimes you are lucky and there is someone in your institution whose job it is to correct English (that is the case in my current institution).


If I may add one more thought to the discussion here. I think "the authors have to work more on the essay" proves that this referee is not able to put his thoughts in a usable, clear, scientific way. Style problem!? If he or she does not want to invest the effort in explaining himself properly, I doubt that he is a good referee. It is his/her duty to do a proper job. Ask for specific examples of what he is - vaguely - complaining about. I am certainly questioning his/her style. I do referee papers from time to time.

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    Hi! This is a nice idea, however, I want the paper published, not rejected ;)
    – yo'
    Commented Jul 23, 2014 at 13:57
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    This is horrible advice.
    – Cape Code
    Commented Jul 23, 2014 at 14:06
  • I tend to agree with this. The word "essay" in the context of a scientific paper seems like very non-standard English to me. I've received referee reports before that criticized my English and were themselves written in very broken English. It's safe to ignore such criticism, especially if it's vague. The decision on your paper is in the hands of the editor, not the referee. (If you think the writing may be a problem, by all means, work on it. But if the referee doesn't give you specific suggestions, you shouldn't feel obligated to satisfy them.)
    – Matt Reece
    Commented Jul 23, 2014 at 14:28
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    The comments explain that this vague statement was followed by 2 pages of detailed comments on the writing. It is not a referee's responsibility to point out every typo and grammatical error if the paper is full of them.
    – Mangara
    Commented Jul 23, 2014 at 17:30
  • @Mangara The paper was not quite "full" of them, moreover we received a language report from the language editor. Needed to say, I've seen much much worse language reports, so I don't think the English is that bad.
    – yo'
    Commented Jul 23, 2014 at 17:45

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