Dealing with Language Problems – Journal Editor’s Feedback
Rejection is rarely easy to accept, and when that rejection comes from the acquisitions editor of a scholarly journal or press, it is always unwelcome to the busy academic or scientist. Such news can be extremely discouraging, and when the reason for rejection is ineffective or incorrect language, there is often an element of insult added to the injury. Scholars are highly educated, after all, and deeply informed in their areas of specialisation, and in many academic and scientific circles there is an assumption that excellent writing skills are naturally akin to the scholarly temperament. It may come as a comfort, if a mixed one, to recognise that they are not, and to accept the fact that writing well, especially when reporting sophisticated research and ideas, is a difficult task, even for those who are masters of language.

The essential thing to remember is that any comments an acquisitions editor may make about your writing style and use of language are professional, not personal and certainly not an insult. Indeed, the very fact that he or she bothered to offer the information that your language is problematic instead of sending a form letter that gave no reason at all for the rejection suggests that your efforts to communicate, if not always the results of those efforts, have been understood. If that editor has also included specific information to point out exactly where the problems lie – marginal comments on your document, for instance, or mentions of particular constructions or elements that are confusing – this is a sign of interest, not a reason to despair and feel offended. Instead, congratulate yourself because there are practical ways to improve your paper and turn rejection into successful publication.

Before making decisions about changes in your manuscript, give yourself a little time to absorb the news and pass over any initial responses of an emotional sort that are unlikely to be helpful as you work. As much objectivity as you can muster should then be applied to reading carefully through the editor’s comments with your document in front of you. Attend to specific examples and try to identify every instance of larger trends. In each case the goal is to determine exactly why the editor has indicated a problem or potential confusion. Is it a simple typing error, a missing comma, a poor vocabulary choice, a grammatical mistake, a failure to communicate the required complexities and subtleties or something else entirely? Once you have determined exactly what the problems are, ask yourself how you would correct or improve your prose and achieve greater clarity. If you firmly believe that you can move ahead with revisions that will address the editor’s concerns, respond with a formal and well-written message indicating that you understand the problems, are working to correct them and intend to resubmit your work as soon as possible (mentioning a reasonable deadline is often a good idea).

If, on the other hand, you discover upon reflection that you do not fully understand the problems identified by the acquisitions editor and are therefore unable to make the corrections necessary before you can resubmit your writing, it is best to seek some qualified assistance. Colleagues and mentors can be recruited to read your work, but do keep in mind that, while they will probably be able to help with matters of content and may be able to offer you advice based on their own publishing experience, they may not be any more qualified than you are to correct and improve formal English prose. Your best choice may therefore be the services of a professional proofreader or editor who specialises in academic or scientific writing. Choosing one who is familiar with your discipline and field of study will produce the best results because he or she will be better able to determine what you are trying to communicate and to help you do so successfully while observing the necessary standards and conventions. He or she will probably also be able to help you perfect the letters you write to the acquisitions editor as you polish and resubmit your manuscript.