A recent article in New Scientist, a British weekly science magazine, mentions that poor English “is another factor that puts some scientists at a disadvantage. Rudolf Jaenisch at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the leading US-based researcher working on iPS cells, argues that some papers from Asia are so badly written that they are difficult to assess . . ." [New Scientist, 9 June 2010 www.newscientist.com/article/mg20627643.700]. The article, titled “Paper trail: Inside the stem cell wars,” explores why research papers from laboratories in the USA are published faster than those from other laboratories in the field of stem cell research.
Poor English includes not only outright errors of spelling, grammar, and punctuation but also faulty construction of sentences, unidiomatic expressions, and odd usage that is obtrusive enough to deflect a reviewer’s attention from the substance of the paper to its style. The fact that the manuscript under review is written by someone to whom English is not the first language is irrelevant to judging the scientific worth of the paper, but it may delay both the review and the subsequent editing of that manuscript. In the worst-case scenario, poor English makes it impossible for a reviewer to assess the paper.
It is for this reason that this blog deals with issues that are trivial individually but of some significance collectively. A few errors related to language are minor blemishes in a research paper, and reviewers might not even notice them, but too many errors are bound to reflect adversely on the research paper.
["Publish and prosper" is a series of posts about tips for researchers whose first language is not English but who submit papers to journals published in English. The series touches upon not only writing (spelling, grammar, punctuation, usage, and style) but everything else relevant to publishing research papers that journal editors wish their authors knew.]