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Do you have any suggestions on how it is possible for a non-English speaker to publish a paper in a top-level journal without asking a native speaker to professionally edit the paper and fix the mistakes?

CONTEXT: I wrote a couple of papers and each time the reviewers asked for professional English editing. On the other hand, I have read many published papers written by non-English speakers whose English level is similar or worse than it is in my papers, which makes me wonder. I'm getting the feeling that it is not fair for non-English speakers to be forced to pay for professional English editing (not to say that it is not always effective, as I've already had my paper pass through a professional translator).

Edit: To be more clear, my point is that in certain journals reviewers/editors use the English language as a reason to reject some papers, while certain papers with similar English level seem to get accepted. I do not want to get into details about what are the motives for that and what kind of publishing politics is behind that, I want to point out that it is a bad thing for science because native and non-native English speakers are not in the same position. English skills should not be used as a reason to reject any paper.

I understand that situation in academic publishing is not ideal, but all good people should do something to make it better and not pretend as nothing is happening. In my opinion, there are many bad things in academic publishing but the English language quality is one of the worst. Maybe we can not change the publishing politics, but we can eliminate the English language quality as a reason for paper rejection.

closed as unclear what you're asking by aparente001, scaaahu, user3209815, David Richerby, HEITZ May 8 '17 at 14:02

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    Nobody forces you to pay for professional editing. Writing English on a sufficient level to participate in the scientific discourse is a learned skill. Just like with many other skills you need for research (for example, programming or lab-work skills), you can either learn the skill or outsource them to some payed agency. – lighthouse keeper May 7 '17 at 9:31
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    Was your paper rejected for english reasons ?. Having couple of papers rejected from top journals is not unusual. – mystupid_acct May 7 '17 at 19:38
  • @mystupid_acct The paper which was accepted at the end after professional English editing, had only that one problem after the review. Other papers are still not accepted because i have to do revision, but reviewers constantly ask for better English. I hope it is a "normal" thing for new authors to be rejected because of such reasons, but i can't be sure about that. – Backward May 7 '17 at 20:41
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    This is a strange post! At first, you seem critical of authors who publish papers written with poor English. Then you suddenly veer off into frustration with editors who have asked you to clean up your English. Regarding that last part, imagine that someone is trying to publish in your native language, but doesn't seem to have checked his text with a native speaker, with the result that some of the sentences make no sense, some require a lot of work to understand, and some have mistakes that make you laugh. Yuck! // Communicating effectively with others is hard work and takes real effort. – aparente001 May 7 '17 at 21:38
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    I just edited the question making it more clear, in an effort to have it off-hold. Imho what the OP was asking was clear since the beginning, therefore I ask for the question to get off-hold. (I am afraid that s/he fell victim of his subjective phrasing, which shouldn't be a reason to hold an otherwise excellent academia-related question.) – Helen May 8 '17 at 14:20
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A few points.

  • As a reviewer, I have often been frustrated by the quality of the English and requested that it be edited better. It is hard to review papers with extremely poor grammar and it will be even harder as a published paper.

  • That being said, I totally sympathize with the problem of authors who aren't native English speakers! I couldn't possibly write a paper in another language.

So I think it is both fair and unfortunate to require English papers in English conferences to meet a minimal standard. A fact of life.

What can be done?

  1. As someone commented, it's a learned skill, and your English skills improve over time.
  2. You may have colleagues with better language skills who can help.
  3. You can pay someone.
  4. Here's possibly a new idea, or perhaps this is already done: perhaps English speakers who have sympathy for non-English speakers without the financial resources can copy edit pro bono. Someone would have to set up a site to play matchmaker.
  5. [EDITED to add an excellent comment and summarize it in the answer]. Some universities and institutions offer proofreading services to their faculties: check if there is one in your home university. – Massimo Ortolano

I could see myself volunteering for such a task once in a while, like a paper every month or two. But I'm not prepared to support a site to automate the matches, which would be necessary. Maybe i can talk my teenager into doing it....

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    This is a really excellent idea. Although I'm not a native speaker I've helped with acquaintances' papers several times and I could see myself contributing ~1 per month through such a site - and I guess there are several other volunteers. Of course if someone sets it up it'll be even easier :) but in any case I'll catch up and see if this can go somewhere. – Helen May 8 '17 at 2:43
  • One resource is English Language Learners SE: ell.stackexchange.com – aparente001 May 8 '17 at 3:15
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    Btw I found this: sciencedit-dw.org They require a donation to non-profits and seem to deal with more than just language, so the focus is a little different. – Helen May 8 '17 at 3:15
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    @aparente001 lol, swype strikes again. – Fred Douglis May 8 '17 at 3:17
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    5. Some universities and institutions offer proofreading services to their faculties: check if there is one in your home university. – Massimo Ortolano May 8 '17 at 4:08

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