It takes time to increase proficiency in academic writing, whether you have a knack for words or cringe at the idea of stringing together research. It has its own set of rules: structure, university or publishing formatting requirements, reference style, literature components, a specific audience, and of course, the conventional items, like tone, syntax, punctuation, and grammar.
Compared to novelistic or personal writing, the academic writing process differs almost by its very nature because it deals with tying together complex theories, concrete research findings, and a variation of causal explanations rather than formulating a narrative.
Editors expect manuscripts to contain quality, thought-provoking research. Equally, they expect the writing to adhere to the traditional formalities of punctuation, grammar, syntax, and reference style.
Often, authors immerse themselves in their research articles and submit to a book or journal without having their content proofread and copyedited. With that said, we wanted to reach out to two Editors-in-Chief, Drs. Anabela Mesquita and Chia-Wen Tsai, of the highly respected International Journal of Technology and Human Interaction, to talk about their outlook on and approach to poorly edited manuscripts.
Q: How would you describe the writing style that your journal expects from the contributing authors to your journal?
Dr. Mesquita: Well, the writing style can vary a lot from author to author. Most of the authors are not native English speakers, and sometimes the fact that they have not mastered the language interferes with the quality of the papers. I believe that sometimes the language barriers impact reviewer evaluations. As an Editor-in-Chief, I expect papers that read well, that tell a story in clear language, that are in a writing style accessible to all kinds of readers, and of course, without language mistakes, grammatically correct, and free of typos.
Dr. Tsai: We expect authors to describe their research questions and how they explored and found the answers, in an academic way.
Q: What approaches do you take in providing constructive feedback to contributing authors pertaining to writing style and copy editing?
Dr. Mesquita: The feedback provided to authors covers several aspects of the paper. It refers to the structure of the paper, since a bad/not correct one can ruin the description of research. In fact, I try to explain that a paper usually tells a story and that the author needs to provide enough information so the reader understands the story.
I also comment on the writing style. Is this clear? Grammatically correct? In an accessible language? There are also papers where authors use such a hermetic language that it is not accessible to all kinds of readers. Even when the author is not a native English speaker, is he using the language in a correct way? Or is he borrowing words from his native language and just adapting them to English?
To sum things up, the comments and feedback cover both the structure and the style since most of the times, one comes or the other.
Dr. Tsai: We usually suggest that the authors could ask a native English speaker to check and correct the writing of their paper, in addition to suggesting that they write with an academic approach, which is also very critical for journal papers.
Q: How do you handle instances where a manuscript is conceptually sound, but in need of major copy editing?
Dr. Mesquita: In this case, in the past, I have advised authors to ask for help from a native English speaker. I also know that there are already in the market some companies that provide such help. If the problem is too big, we would probably reject the paper and suggest to the author to find some help with the English, and then resubmit the paper. This would increase the chance to get it published.
We cannot send a paper that needs major copy editing to reviewers since we already know what they would say—reject. So, in order to prevent this situation, my advice to authors is to improve the style, do the copy editing, and then resubmit their work.
Dr. Tsai: If a paper needs major copy editing, I would suggest that the authors send their paper to a professional company that provides copy editing and editorial services.
Q: In your expert opinion, what role does copy edited content play in the success of your journal in particular?
Dr. Mesquita: The copy editing that is available so far looks for minor problems and checks to confirm names, affiliations, titles, etc. But if you ask for a potential role that the copy editing can have in the future as a service, in this case I say that this has a great potential. However, I am seriously afraid that if the prices are high, most of the authors will not be able to use the service.
Dr. Tsai: The well-written papers, with copy editing, are the base of success for our journal.
Q: When it comes to the copy editing of their work, what advice do you have for authors whose native language is a language other than English, or even for those who are native English speakers?
Dr. Mesquita: The advice I would give to those who are not native English speakers is to ask a native English speaker to proofread their work before submitting it, at least to “clean” the major language problems and grammar mistakes. For the native English speakers, try to write in a clear way. Do not forget that you want to be understood by everyone and not only by English speakers. This means that your writing needs to be clear and simple with short paragraphs, avoiding words that are seldom used.
Dr. Tsai: It is suggested that the non-English speakers should ask a native English speaker to check and correct their writing.
Many thanks to the Editors-in-Chief for their cooperation and insights
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