Challenges and Proven Solutions for Non-native English Academic Writers

By Justine Eby on Feb 23, 2022
eContent Pro International
row of lightbulbs In a study conducted in 2020 by three non-native English academic writers, they analyze qualitative data to discuss their shared experiences in the publishing process, specifically experiences of rejection or acceptance to high impact factor journals. The aim of their work is to address certain challenges they collectively face in the industry and what options and solutions they have to overcome
these challenges.
The study is conducted with qualitative content analysis. It is a research method that processes the qualitative data collected in research and subsequently this data are analyzed methodically and dependably so that generalization can be derived from them in the light of the priorities set by the researcher. (Asif et al., 2020)
It is important to understand (if you aren't already painfully aware) that publishing in high impact factor journals is incredibly competitive. According to Khadilkar (2018), “On average, most top journals have nearly 80% rejection rates.” Each journal has their own criteria, and there are several reasons for rejection in the publishing process. Some reasons for rejection include the following:
  • Out of scope
  • Irrational or lacking rational of research
  • Lacking innovation or justification of topic
  • Poor methodology or weak research design
  • Poor English language skill
  • Plagiarism
  • Ethical issues
  • Conflict of interest
  • Presentation
  • Very common or on a repetitive topic
Poor grammar, lapses in spellings, lack of flow and faulty sentence structure are main areas of expressional mistakes in presentation. (Asif et al., 2020)
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In Asif et al.’s (2020) study, there is a consensus that some non-native English writers feel they often face tougher scrutiny in comparison to native English writers.

This point of view can be difficult to navigate since at the same time there are opposite instances. For example, Indian and Chinese researchers often take the lead in disciplines such as sciences, medical and computer researchers. Nevertheless, these feelings are felt by many non-native English authors, worldwide.
“I think there are generally accepted reasons why an article is rejected. Incomprehensible or misleading language is one,” says Pippa Smart, editor of Learned Publishing, the journal of the Association of Learned and Professional Society Publishers. “Some journals might make it more transparent than others.”

(Akst, 2020)

something worth reading words typed on a vintage typewriter Beyond the publishing industry and academia, the English language is catered to in many cases worldwide. Readership of the English language is massive, and so, for better or worse, English is very important. Since English is a non-native language for most English speakers, good academic writing and grammatically error-free papers are incredibly important (Asif et al., 2020). This means that the majority of English speakers are familiar with these challenges.

Learning English is, in many industries and areas of the world, expected. Non-native speakers must often accept this reality if they want any form of international success or, yes, acceptance into high impact factor journals. Many non-native English learners often go as far as to learn all the different versions of English (British, US, Canadian, and Australian) to then create a neutral combination of each version in their writing in order to appeal to each simultaneously (Asif et al., 2020).

Challenges

There are many things that can result in one’s work being rejected, and the strict criteria and challenges are not limited to non-native English writers. Imagine, you are an author struggling with writer’s block, as many do from time to time, and on top of this, you are writing in a language that is not native to you. This can pose several
new obstacles.

English grammar can be very confusing and inconsistent at times. Many other languages lack similarity with certain concepts in the English language, such as the use of double negatives or false homophones. Some English grammatical tenses are also completely absent in other languages, such as the present continuous and the present perfect continuous. Depending on the context, even a native English writer can find it difficult to choose the right tense (Gheorghe, 2021).

Cultural Differences

Texas A&M University Professor Barbara Gastel says,

Sometimes people think it’s just a matter of language, and I think language is often an important part, but it’s beyond that. There’s also matters of different [cultural] norms . . . and just knowing how the system works. (Akst, 2020)

Professor Gastel coordinates the science journalism graduate program at Texas A&M University and has worked for decades to improve the international communication of science. Professor Gastel also mentions that usually,

When it comes to manuscripts with poor English, language is usually the least of the paper’s problems. Deep-seated methodological or organizational issues must be resolved before improving the grammatical, syntactical, and vocabulary-related errors will make any difference. (Akst, 2020).

Although language is not the first reason for rejection, the issues that come with being a non-native English speaker do bleed over into other criteria as well.

Cultural differences can be found in how researchers present their work or the process of navigating the complex submission and peer review system. This can create even more confusion and further stand in the way of landing publications in high-impact journals (Akst, 2020).

Research Conducted Abroad

One of the criteria, without which a manuscript will be rejected within minutes, is the presence of new findings. The work must present relevant and timely contributions to work that has been previously done regarding a specific topic or subject area. If the work is decidedly repetitive, or similar research has already been conducted, it is considered a duplicate and rejected.

However, some authors believe duplication of studies is necessary since at times the research problem was previously taken but not in their chosen country. The issue is that it has already been completed, and often, because of this, the editor(s) will not consider it to be new even if it was conducted abroad (Asif et al., 2020).

English References

Another criterion that if mishandled will result in a swift rejection is the essential component of the literature review. The literature review essentially is what provides justification for the study. It provides the rationale and the scope (Bradbury, 2012). The review must address the relevant work that has been done prior to the study, which means it must include work with which the audience is already aware.

It must include quality evidence, the latest studies, and be properly cited. Since this must be information with which the audience is already aware, it is recommended that unless essential these referenced studies be in English (Asif et al., 2020). This can also become a complex barrier in research if the writer was looking to reference work not completed in English.

Communication

Still, there are many popular reasons for rejection that do not have to do with the written English language.

Higher education focuses on quality research and innovation. Research publication requires hard work, critical and analytical skill, qualification, vision and insight, expertise and command over language in which the paper is written. (Asif et al., 2020)
networking connection covering the earth

It can also be that the researcher has significant findings and great ideas, but without the ability to properly communicate these in the written work, the ideas are lost. Poor communication, presentation, and writing skills “mar” even the most impressive ideas (Asif et al., 2020).

Often manuscripts are rejected due to formatting issues, lack of novelty, poor study design, insufficient method description, lack of focus, and inadequate literature reviews. When the work lacks clarity, this can be a result not of the study design and content of the work but of the ability to communicate the contributions effectively (Asif et al., 2020).

This, of course, is essential. If the researcher cannot properly communicate their findings, no matter how great they are, there is no point in publishing them.

Subjectivity

With all of this in mind, the publishing review process is not 100% foolproof or objective. The editorial review boards are composed of people who make subjective decisions every day. Some editors may reject the work outright for its poor language quality without sending it for a second stage review. This creates an inevitable imbalance in the acceptance process. Whether justified or not, it is still a reality that non-native English academic writers must, unfortunately, deal with and mediate as best they can.

This is why some writers like those in Asif et al.’s (2020) qualitative study feel that there is a “developed biased approach towards writing of second language authors even without reading the manuscript.”

Solutions

The reality is that the rates of manuscript rejection mostly vary between 80% and 85%, and 62% of papers are rejected at least once before acceptance. So, there is a need for thick skin and perseverance as an academic writer whether you are a native or non-native English speaker (Bradbury, 2012).

For non-native English writers, it may be helpful to know the challenges in the publication system you will encounter and how to best resolve them for your success (Bradbury, 2012).

Solution 1: Editorial Services

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Being rejected is not always the end of the road; it can be the beginning. It’s crucial to keep the feedback and reasons provided for why your manuscript was rejected. This information will assist you in revising your work (Asif et al., 2020).

Many scholars advise for both native and non-native writers alike to submit their manuscript to a professional language-editing service. Companies like eContent Pro International provide expert-level, native English editorial services to ensure that the written work is clean of all grammatical, punctuational, terminological, and formatting errors to avoid rejection (Ahlstrom, 2012).

Editing your work correctly the first time around is crucial in the publication process.

Solution 2: Workshops

An additional option for non-native English writers is participating in an English writing skills workshop.

These workshops can be very helpful and thorough in their teaching of many skills, including structure and clarity. Academic writing has a specific structure that does not always come as second nature to even the most talented writers. This structure includes components without which the paper would not qualify as academic writing (Asif et al., 2020).

The workshops also teach clarity in writing. Clarity, in this sense, means that the reader can easily understand the author’s aim/goal and statement.

Sometimes authors will puzzle the reader by injecting view into the article. A researcher must well optimize his/her instruments before the study and all these optimizations and controls used must be clearly listed in the methodology prioritize the essential information to convey what is needed to understand. (Ajao, 2005)

This skill requires the author to be able to prioritize what information the reader needs to know and how to communicate that information effectively.

Conclusion

The findings and results in Asif et al.’s (2020) study show that manuscript rejection is not the result of a singular issue but may instead be the result of many simultaneous issues. Remember, the results of the submission process are prone to subjectivity, and there are always variations in criteria and the hierarchy of that criteria among publishers, journals, papers, and people.

Overall, a paper must make a substantial contribution to the knowledge base to even be considered for acceptance for publication. Novelty is required (Ågerfalk, 2013).

networking connection covering the earth

It is by no means impossible to publish in a high impact factor journal as a non-native English writer. However, there are challenges with which non-native writers should be aware along with how to best handle these challenges in order to stay in a solution-oriented mindset and ultimately have their
work published.

The vigorous and competitive nature of publishing in high impact factor journals is familiar to all academic writers and researchers. Although, ultimately, very few native and non-native English researchers are able to publish in these Web of Science/SCCI- or Scopus-indexed journals, the solutions provided here are presented so that authors are as prepared as they can be; and, if their work is rejected, they are able to use the feedback provided to improve their paper and try again (Asif, et al., 2020).

The vigorous and competitive nature of publishing in high impact factor journals is familiar to all academic writers and researchers. Although, ultimately, very few native and non-native English researchers are able to publish in these Web of Science/SCCI- or Scopus-indexed journals, the solutions provided here are presented so that authors are as prepared as they can be; and, if their work is rejected, they are able to use the feedback provided to improve their paper and try again (Asif, et al., 2020).

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