The problem

“Journal editors, overloaded with quality manuscripts, may make decisions on manuscripts based on formal criteria, like grammar or spelling. Don't get rejected for avoidable mistakes; make sure your manuscript looks perfect” (quote from a senior executive at a large international publishing house).

 

Scientific writing is difficult enough for many authors who have English as their first language; for non-native English-speaking authors, writing a paper in English represents a massive challenge that can make or break their paper’s chances of publication.

 

With increased pressure on publication space and increased demands on editors’ time many journals are introducing language screening protocols to check submissions before they reach the editor’s desk. Some editors simply choose to overlook papers that are too poorly written. However, all is not lost for non-native English-speaking authors: by being aware of some of the most common scientific writing language errors and how to avoid them, you can improve the quality of your paper and increase its chances of being accepted.

The solution

It is helpful to think of the writing process in the same way that you think about performing experiments. The language needs to be easily and accurately understood by the reader without multiple possible interpretations arising. In experiments, we use controls to rule out alternative hypotheses. In language, we must avoid ambiguities and unnecessary text to get our message across clearly.

 

Scientific writing should possess what I call the "three C's": clarity, conciseness and correctness (accuracy). The key to achieving this is to be as brief and specific as possible without omitting any details that might be essential for the reader to fully understand your meaning. In other words, say no more than you need to accurately convey your message.

 

Although writing that fails to meet this standard is sometimes described as “sloppy” or “lazy” writing, authors are frequently unaware that what they have written is unclear and ambiguous. Thus, attention to detail and an appreciation of how your writing could be misinterpreted are essential. What follows is just a small selection of error types that, when present in large numbers, could result in your paper going straight to the ‘rejected’ pile.

Articles: Singular vs. Plural

Commas, Hyphens and “Which”

Respectively

Comparisons

Protein and Gene Nomenclature

Summary