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Native Speaker Needed—or Not?

By Barbara Gastel | July 31, 2011  | None

Greetings again. I hope that all is going well.

This week an international guest told me a common story. She said that when she submits papers, journal editors often say, “Please have your manuscript edited by a native English speaker, and then resubmit it.”

Having a manuscript edited by someone skillful and knowledgeable can be very useful. But is it necessary for the manuscript editor to be a native speaker?

No. It’s not necessary.

Many skillful editors of English-language papers have native languages other than English. Of course, they have excellent knowledge of English. And, importantly, they know the proper content and structure of journal articles.

On the other hand, many native speakers of English are unqualified to edit journal articles. Some have trouble with punctuation or other aspects of writing. Most don’t know how a journal article should be written.

I know editors with various native tongues—including Chinese, Indian languages, Spanish, and Portuguese—who have helped authors to meet the standards of international journals. Some even have taken and passed the exam from the Board of Editors in the Life Sciences.

When a paper has writing problems so serious that reviewers would have trouble understanding it, a journal editor is justified in asking the author to submit a better-written version.

The request, though, shouldn’t be “Please have your manuscript edited by a native speaker.” It should be “Please have your manuscript edited by a skillful editor proficient in English.”

Wishing you a good week— Barbara

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