21

I've seen this question on suggesting someone get a native speaker to edit and check. But my situation is rather different.

Several colleagues and I wrote an article for a special volume of a journal. The initial review was R&R with some pretty severe changes requested. We've made those changes. After that we received an odd e-mail from the editor for the special volume (via her assistant -- but via subsequent e-mail confirmed to be under her direction):

We have carefully read it over, and in order to move forward, we highly recommend that you kindly consider seeking out academic editorial services in order to meet ... standards.

Then later in the message:

We recommend that authors have their manuscripts checked by an English language native speaker before final approval of their submission; this will ensure that submissions are judged at peer review exclusively on academic merit.

The publisher and journal are not known for being predatory.

As a native English speaker, I was rather surprised that the journal said this. So I reread the article and there aren't any gaping grammatical or structural issues (I actually edit papers for others who are non-native speakers in addition to my own publishing, so I'm rather accustomed to the sorts of mistakes they make).

What is a good way to respond to this request?


Edit to make clearer, I absolutely agree that part of what one should do when told find an editor is to find and get some objective checks done on the writing itself (non-author parties and other forms of third parties competent to check). My question is assuming you've cleared that hurdle and have received this sort of comment.

  • 3
    Perhaps ask for specifics? Is there a possibility that the journal expects a different dialect of English from the one you are used to? For example, English vs. American. Spellings, and to a lesser extent punctuation, are different. – Patricia Shanahan May 13 '16 at 2:11
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    From what you describe, this does not look like good editorial practice at this particular journal. The only thing I can think of is that some or all of the message from which you quote is "boilerplate" material, which may have been used thoughtlessly without paying attention to the revised manuscript. – Yemon Choi May 13 '16 at 2:21
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    I agree with @YemonChoi in that it's standard boiler plate stuff. The journal may not have a budget to hire editors or someone to look over stuff. So they put the onus on the authors. – Prof. Santa Claus May 13 '16 at 2:22
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    I had one manuscript criticized by a reviewer for the large amount of typos, and a few examples given. They were all perfectly fine British English. – Davidmh May 13 '16 at 6:58
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    @FedericoPoloni editor's assistant for the special volume (not the regular editor). But it looks like it's clearly some sort of boilerplate. – virmaior May 13 '16 at 22:07
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While one should avoid antagonizing editors where possible, I think it would be reasonable for you and your coauthors to respond with a matter-of-fact email that includes the following points:

(1) one of the authors, namely yourself, is a native English speaker;

(2) said author has re-read the revised manuscript, and did not find obvious defects in the grammar or idiom;

(3) it would be greatly appreciated if the editors or the referees could point out the exact places in the revised manuscript, where it is felt that further correction is needed to meet the desired standards.

If they are being picky in good faith, point (3) should not cause a problem. If they stall or ignore point (3), then at this point it might be worth asking other people in your field or related ones if they have had similar experiences with this journal or its editors.

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    In #3, requesting the exact places where there are problems may be asking too much. It's much better to ask for a sample of places that are in question. As a reviewer who has written such a demand for English usage help, I always give a sample of the problems first. – Bill Barth May 13 '16 at 12:23
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    I disagree with this answer, because you might be right, but you'll just get rejected with a different story. Obviously the reviewer doesn't like the English, so you should change something (rewrite for clarity). Stating that one of the authors is a native speaker is just rebutting one of the wrong assumptions the reviewer made while helping you, it doesn't do anything about the main problem (bad English). – VonBeche May 13 '16 at 14:27
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    @VonBeche It is far from clear to me that there is any bad English, and -- having refereed many articles and published quite a few myself -- it seems much more plausible, given the passages quoted by the OP, that the paragraph concerning English is part of standard boilerplate. Furthermore, if concrete instances are not given of where the English is regarded as deficient, authors have every right to ask for clarification. – Yemon Choi May 13 '16 at 15:15
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    @VonBeche You suggest to the OP that he or she "... should change something (rewrite for clarity)". Let us assume that the OP knows what they are talking about when it comes to the clarity or otherwise of the article; then how can one "rewrite for clarity" without knowing what is sought? House style and referees' predilections can vary quite widely; some people seem to really care about the use of the subjunctive, while others view it as often being an archaism; some people forbid prepositions placed at the end of a sentence, despite Churchill's caustic rejoinder; and so on. – Yemon Choi May 13 '16 at 15:21
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    @VonBeche The comment is coming from the assistant to the editor for a special volume (based on clarifying e-mails, this is a request from the volume editor) -- rather than a comment from one of the reviewers. Didn't want to make it the focus, but assistant for the volume editor and the volume editor do not appear to be native speakers of English themselves. – virmaior May 13 '16 at 22:27
20

In some cases reviewers have nothing to say about the content of the manuscript, so they request general language editing. In other cases the language you choose may be grammatically correct, but very distracting. I've read papers with perfect grammar, but the word choice was so bizarre that it distracted from the idea.

In this case you should:

  1. Re-read the paper yourself - fix any problems you see (there must be some)
  2. Have another, non-author, academic read the paper.
    • If your colleague could understand the work, and the language was not distracting, then email the editor for clarification. For example "My work has been reviewed by native English speakers, and no major issues were found. Can you please elaborate on what changes you would like to see to this manuscript."
    • If your colleague could not understand the work, rewrite or use an editing service.
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    You should never assume there is not a style problem, that is why I recommend having one of your colleagues read your work to see if they find anything. If they see no problem, then the issue is likely with the reviewer/editor, at which point you should request clarification. A simple reply to the editor saying "My work has been reviewed by native English speakers, and no issues were found. Can you please elaborate on what changes you would like to see." I'll update the answer to be more specific. – Joshua I. James May 13 '16 at 3:17
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    I'm not making the assumption in my own life. I'm just explaining that I'm not asking for advice as to how to check my writing. – virmaior May 13 '16 at 3:32
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    I can see that you're not asking for advice on how to check your writing. However, given your situation, I think "check your writing" is a necessary step to resolving the problem you've outlined, and an independent check is probably the best way to do it. Personally, I think your best bet would be Nos. 1 and 2 in this answer, followed by No. 3 in the answer by Yemon Choi. – J.R. May 13 '16 at 8:40
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    I completely accept one should do something like #1 and #2 when you get told "find an editor."Maybe I was insufficiently clear in my question, but I'm asking assuming one has cleared the hurdles related to doubts about the writing itself. – virmaior May 13 '16 at 9:58
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    @virmaior: I really think you are too hung up on this idea of a "native" check. They say it needs editing. You say it has no "gaping grammatical or structural issues". These things can both be true, because "no gaping grammatical errors" is an absurdly low threshold for a competent edit. So, OK, it's had a native check. Ignore that paragraph. Concentrate on the paragraph where they said it desperately needs a better edit. – Steve Jessop May 13 '16 at 22:39
11

It could be that the second quotation is simply boilerplate that is sent to every submission. In particular, it is written in the abstract "We recommend that authors", rather than "you" or "the authors". The journal may find it easier to send this to everyone rather than trying to work out the native languages of the authors.

The first quotation is more direct, and may indicate that there are issues of style (perhaps relating that particular journal's house style), rather than a problem with the level of English.

  • This. They recommend academic editing services (because, rightly or wrongly, they think the paper badly-written). Furthermore, they recommend that the editor (or anyway someone who checks the paper) be a native English speaker. – Steve Jessop May 13 '16 at 17:30
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    +1. I add that the boilerplate text could possibly have been an error. Sometimes people may be using "copy&paste", or even clicking on a button which causes text to be added. Or one person may have reviewed the paper, and told another typist what feedback to provide. I'm not saying that I have strong cause to believe that an error did actually occur. I'm saying that it's better to presume such a thing is a possibility (rather than to feel offended). – TOOGAM May 13 '16 at 19:00
  • It's for a special volume of the journal, so I'm not entirely certain the person sending the e-mail would have access to all of the boilerplate they use, but it's a fair and interesting point. – virmaior May 13 '16 at 22:12

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