Wednesday, January 2, 2008

How important is proper use of English grammar?

This is the body of a rejection letter that I wrote and occasionally gets sent to authors whose papers get rejected. Unfortunately...

I serve as the Editor of your recently submitted manuscript. I am sorry to inform you that I am rejecting it for publication. Your manuscript has numerous grammatical mistakes and nonexistent words that inhibit the ability of a reader to understand your arguments. According to page 23 of the AMS Authors' Guide at

"All manuscripts must be written in the English language. Neither AMS editors nor staff have the time available to edit manuscripts that require extensive grammatical changes, as can sometimes be the case with authors from non-English-speaking countries. While the AMS wishes to encourage the international exchange of scientific results through its journals, it requests that such authors make their own arrangements to ensure that submitted manuscripts are already in correct English. If not, their submissions may be returned unreviewed."

The magnitude and extent to which correct English is not employed in your paper is such that I am returning your manuscript unreviewed, as per the AMS guidelines. Only if your manuscript undergoes significant revision may it be resubmitted as a new article. Should you wish to revise and resubmit your manuscript to any journal, I recommend that you hire a technical editor who is proficient in the English language to improve the manuscript or seek out the advice of a native English speaker who will take the time to provide feedback to you in revising your manuscript. Without either one of these approaches, I am afraid you will find your manuscript rejected by most journals.

Where do reviewers come from?

Some authors have wondered whether we get our reviewers from other planets. In fact, we Editors get our ideas for who to select as reviewers from our friends and colleagues, the Associate Editors of the journal, the reference list of the manuscript, web or publication searches, or a list of recommended reviewers provided by the author.

Thoughts on reviewers

One of the principal tasks of Editors is obtaining peer reviews of manuscripts submitted to the journal. These reviews are used as guidance in our decision-making process. Note that the reviews do not mandate to us Editors what the decision should be. (More on decision making in a later post.)

I like to ask early-career scientists to provide reviews. There are many good reasons to include an early-career scientist in the peer-review process. Some of the people I ask are flattered and politely decline because they don't feel prepared to do the review. Here are reasons why I think more early-career scientists should participate in the peer-review process.

1) Reviewing papers is something that I believe people should start early in their career. I wouldn't have asked if I didn't think that the early-career scientist could give a quality review.

2) Reviewing papers is good practice for writing and revising your own research papers.

3) I almost always have several other reviewers in mind to review this paper, so the opinion of the early-career scientist isn't the only one to be considered.

4) Reviewing a paper means that you get to see the paper before it is published. Otherwise, you can't see the paper unless you directly ask the author for a copy.

5) Reviewing the paper might give you some ideas for your own research.

6) Early career scientists usually have more time and typically deliver longer, higher-quality reviews than some senior scientists who don't have the time or take the peer-review process as seriously as they should.

So, if you get a request for a review, you should consider accepting it.