Language Problems & How To Cope with Journal Rejection
There is a languor that takes hold when a research paper has been submitted for publication and rejected more than once due to language problems. The author probably tried to make improvements to his or her prose at first, but when repeated efforts produced the same negative results, a sense of hopelessness took over. Now the very thought of tackling that prose again is beyond painful, but – and this is a very good thing – the desire to publish what remains valuable research has not abated. This work should be shared and the only real hurdle consists of the challenges presented by the need to write formal scholarly prose. These challenges may seem insurmountable, but they are not, and if writing is a struggle for you, perhaps because of the need to publish in a language that is not native to you, overcoming language problems in a single manuscript is part of the larger and necessary process of learning to communicate your research successfully in writing.
In every case of rejection due to language problems the first thing that must be done is to work carefully through any comments offered by an acquisitions editor or peer reviewer. If you have earlier feedback on language issues from editors, mentors or colleagues, consider them as well. By setting all of these comments beside your prose, you may be able to resolve problems with grammar, spelling and punctuation and even establish new patterns that would have remained obscure had you considered the comments of only one reader. It is therefore wise to retain all the feedback you receive, lacking in joy though it may be, as it can be an incredibly effective tool when faced with resolving problems you do not entirely understand.
Colleagues and mentors can be immensely helpful, but they will usually have limited time and may have no more understanding of the complexities of syntax or other language problems than you do. Try to choose readers who are native speakers of the language in which you are writing and ideally successful authors who have published in that same language and within your discipline. If you do have a colleague with a particular propensity for solving language problems, be sure to return the favour with your own penchant for spotting errors in numerical data, for instance. As a general rule, expect commentary about potentially confusing passages and instances of phrasing that may be awkward within the discipline more than grammatical details, and since your colleagues work in the same or similar areas, be ready for feedback on content as well.
If you find that you cannot resolve the problems with corrections and improvements to render your prose publishable, it will be time to engage the services of a professional proofreader or editor. Here, too, you should seek out a proofreader who is a native speaker of the language you have used in your paper, and it is best to find a proofreader who specialises in academic or scientific writing. If you choose your proofreader with care, he or she will be a fellow scholar in your discipline and thus able to determine how effective and appropriate as well as how correct your language is. Be sure to learn from your proofreader by reading comments and suggestions carefully and noting the correction patterns used to improve your grammar, spelling and punctuation. Remember that top-notch proofreaders can help you perfect your paper for immediate publication while also giving you a great deal of information about how to improve your writing more generally and achieve that ideal of scholarly communication.