Top language mistakes for rejection

Language through the eyes of Managing Editors

Managing Editors read submissions before they are sent to a journal’s editor to make sure the submission meets certain requirements. When you submit your manuscript to a journal, it may be checked by a Managing Editor against these criteria for desk rejection – including poor language.

So how can you make sure your manuscript meets the language requirements to sail through the first stage of checking?

Specific sections and short sentences

Marco Casola, Managing Editor for Water Research, says it’s important to pay particular attention to certain sections of the manuscript. “Usually I read the abstract and conclusion first, and you can sometimes pick out inconsistency and strange sentences in these sections. The abstract and conclusion are very important – readers will often look to that content to get an understanding of the paper, so it’s doubly vital to make sure those sections are well written.”

Of course, the whole manuscript has to be readable and understandable, he adds. And according to Simone Munao, Managing Editor Physics and Mathematics at Elsevier, the key to making writing understandable is to keep it simple. “It’s not a matter of being creative, but communicating simply and effectively,” he says. “To have a good paper you should write simple sentences; it’s not a novel it’s a math paper.”

Keep the reader in mind

Language mistakes are more common among authors who are non-native English speaking, say Marco and Simone. Interaction with the reader is very important, so authors should keep that in mind and consult a native English speaker to check their manuscript.

“The reader has to understand what you’re saying – clarity is very important,” explains Simone. “Professional editing, such as through Elsevier’s WebShop, helps if you want to make sure your manuscript is well written.”

For Marco, poor language can indicate further issues with a paper. “Language errors can sometimes ring a bell as a link to quality. If a manuscript is written in poor English the science behind it may not be amazing. This isn’t always the case, but it can be an indication.”

Avoiding the upshot of shoddy writing

Ultimately, if your language is poor, making your manuscript unclear, your submission could be rejected by a Managing Editor or an editor before review. And during the review process, reviewers are often frustrated by having to correct spelling and grammar. What’s the answer?

“Spellchecking is wise before submitting,” says Simone. “This should always be done but it can be easy to forget. If I can understand the idea and I think the research is interesting, I pass it to the editor and they may suggest the WebShop editing services to improve the language,” notes Simone. “If the paper is unsuitable anyway I will reject it, but I always suggest the WebShop too – improving the language could make it ready for another journal.”