Research papers, English language and fair play

Research papers, English language and fair playA few days ago I was criticized ironically on the social networks (by a non-academic consultant) by the grammar of one of my blog posts, although I take much care of the English writing, of course, and I usually dedicate to it around 25% of the time. It made me feel pretty bad, but it helped me to reflect on the theme of research papers, English language and fair play.

Something similar can happen to non-native English speakers with our academic articles, with which I’ve never had trouble publishing in premier journals in English, the last one in a fist quartile Journal Citation Reports (ISI Web of Knowledge / Web of Science) indexed journal. It’s true that there was a peer-reviewer (I don’t know whether He/She was native or non-native English speaker) in one of them who told me something about the writing, but as I explained that I had sent it to edit the English (I had the bill), they didn’t say anything back again.

Papers should be written in English for two main reasons:

Those of us who are non-native English have a handicap here, but it need not be a barrier to disseminate knowledge. The world would lost much of the innovation and development if journals were not open to international scientists, and journals understand it this way, there could be no complains about it. Another thing is that the English required for the manuscripts is of first class, which is fair and reasonable but slows and lengthens the process of publishing in journals for non-native speakers.

In case you find it helpful, the process I use to write an article in English is as follows, because I understand that not writing well could in itself spoil the work and effort invested in a research:

  1. Once I have a revised and contrasted research draft in Spanglish (parts in English and parts in Spanish), I translate it fully into English, paragraph by paragraph, carefully reviewing the meaning of each sentence and making sure it is understood.
  2. Then I send it to edit the writing to a specialized academic editor on my field of knowledge.
  3. And, finally, with the reviewer’s comments, I correct and improve it.

Thereby I expect that my articles, and blog posts, are understood, are well written and transmit my research and ideas, not that they win a prize for literature or are compared with the works of Hemingway! On the other hand, I think that non-native English academics should also be given a fair chance in this publishing world, providing we observe the writing rules and don’t hide behind our limitations.

2 Responses to Research papers, English language and fair play

  1. M.C.M. says:

    Dear Rafael, thank you so much for this post! I am an Italian PhD candidate in the social sciences and I chose to write my PhD thesis in English to have more chances to disseminate my work around the scientific community. Sometimes, I feel I have done the worst choice possible due to the heavy work to write a so long project in (academic) English for a non-native. Having studied English for about 20 years now (I’m 32, I was a commercial correspondent and this is a completely different English, as you may imagine), I find myself sometimes more keen to write directly in English, but I have noticed that I am able to explain better my though and clarify my procedures and concepts first in Italian and then translating it in L2. I am conflicted about the best method to use (Eng/Eng; Ita/Eng)!


  2. I knew at least one journal allowing the author to reject native english speakers as reviewers. It should be the rule!. It is natural that anyone finds a different way of writing strange, although if it is comprehensible. The proper revision of language should be left to apply AFTER the paper is accepted, if it is coherent. Does “good” english language exists? It is bad in most cases, complex, irrational and intrincate, although normal. I had language negative comments on a paper that was reviewed by an english native speaker, maybe because something was not perfect, OR BECAUSE THE REVIEWER KNEW OF MY NATIVE LANGUAGE. We need a well publicized forum to collect information on all cases like this.

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