English has become the first language of scientific publishing; over 75% of all journals indexed in Medline are written in English. However, scientific research is international, which leads to a huge number of researchers who need to not only conduct their research but also be able to write in English at a high level. In the four journals published by the Society for General Microbiology, 78% of the articles submitted in 2012 had a corresponding author who was listed as being in a country where English is not the first language, indicating the extent of the authors facing the challenge of writing in a second language.
Due to the complexity of the subject matter in STM research articles, authors have to phrase multiple arguments and explanations, which can be difficult to achieve in a second language. If an article is written such that the methodology, results and conclusions are not clear to handling editors and reviewers, this can be a barrier to getting a paper accepted for publication. It could also prevent the paper getting into the peer review system.
Authors are, unsurprisingly, keen to eliminate this obstacle. One option is to have their paper proofread by a colleague or collaborator who is a native English speaker or who is more proficient at writing in English. Additionally, many independent services are now available to authors whereby experts will edit a manuscript prior to submission. These provide the facility to ensure that the academic content of an article is strong and clear. Most companies offer varying service levels, from basic proofreading through to full editing for grammar, clarity and consistency, and ensuring that the paper meets a publisher’s specific house style.
As part of the Publishing team’s desire to constantly improve our service, we are now able to refer potential authors to the online language editing service Editage, where they can take advantage of a 10% discount. There is no requirement for any Society author to have their article edited prior to submission, but it may help to ensure that the content of their article is unambiguous, allowing the peer review process to concentrate on the accuracy of the science rather than that of the language. All papers that are accepted for publication in our journals go through a thorough copy-editing process prior to publication. This means that the end result will always be a high-quality article that is clear and easy to read.
While pre-submission language editing may benefit many authors, the emphasis is still on the scientific data. All papers, whether pre-edited or not, will be subject to the same scrutiny and authors should remember that pre-submission editing is not a fast-track to acceptance. However, language editing can change an article from one that reviewers have to untangle to comprehend to one that presents important results in a simple and understandable way.