Poor English Usage Will Be Rejected

Today’s message will balance yesterday’s positive post. I’d like to give you a warning: your manuscript will be rejected without review if the English usage is not adequate.

This goes along with the implicit agreement between author, editor, and reviewer.  It is the author’s responsibility to submit a manuscript that not only is scientifically reasonable and insightful but also is well written with proper and concise English throughout the text.  That is, papers should be ready for publication at time of submission.  The editor’s responsibility is to find competent referees and make a well-informed decision about the manuscript’s readiness for publication in a timely manner.  The reviewer’s responsibility is to provide a robust assessment of the scientific validity and significance of the study, again in a timely manner.

So, the question to ask is this: what is the bar for attaining “proper English usage?”  Or, conversely, how many typos and grammar problems are allowed before warranting rejection?  My view on this is that the bar should be very high (i.e., the error rate should be low).  Specifically, I think that even just a few errors per page are enough to warrant rejection without review, forcing a copy-editing revision on the authors before sending the paper to referees.  I think that it is a breach of trust with the reviewers to send them a manuscript that needs heavy copy-editing.  The scientific referees are not copy editors, and neither am I.  A couple errors here and there is fine because even conscientious authors won’t catch everything all of the time, but more than, say, ~5 errors per page is too many. I haven’t been doing a rigorous English usage assessment so far, but I will start doing it from now on, before assigning potential reviewers, and I will send papers back to the authors if its English-language usage is not “essentially ready” for publication at the time of submission.

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