Why native editors

The rationale for intensive editing

“In the eyes of your readers--editors and reviewers included--the quality of the paper you send in directly reflects the quality of the science behind it. A careless approach to writing can undermine the most meticulous experiment.” *

A text written in English is understood, absorbed, and processed differently by native and non-native English speakers.

When you acquire your mother tongue as an infant, you do so unconsciously and without need for mental application (initially at least). When you learn a new (ie. non-native) language, in contrast, you do so intellectually, through a conscious processes of applying logical rules and structures. Accordingly, a text written in English is understood, processed and absorbed differently by native and non-native English speakers.

When a native English speaker reads a text in English, because of they way they learnt the language, they absorb it both consciously and unconsciously. When a non-native speaker reads the same text, however, his intellectual acquisition of the language means that his understanding and handling of the content will rely far more on conscious, rather than unconscious, processes.

Information that is logical

Because a native-English speaker understands an English text intuitively as well as intellectually, his processing of the information will be connected to both emotions and logic. For the non-native English speaker, on the other hand, reading an English text is a far more intellectual process, and lacks emotional influence.

For example, reading an error in our native language instantly triggers a recognition of the mistake, and often also a negative emotional response. Even if we cannot logically explain why it is wrong, we still “just know” - the reason is available to us, but it has not been made conscious. This understanding is intuitive and hence more closely related to our unconscious and emotions.

A second example is nuance, which is essentially a feeling. We “know” the nuance of something in our native language not because of a logical rule or structure, but because our understanding arises from an intuitive feeling. The essence of nuance, and of understanding nuance, is emotion.

A third example is connotation. Words have a direct meaning - what they ‘denote’ - but they also have indirect meanings and references - what they ‘connote’. The connotations of a word are deeply rooted in the culture in which the word is used, and are thus markedly difficult for someone from a different culture to understand, even if they do understand the denotations of the word.

The content is the focus of evaluation

When you write a scientific paper that is going to be critiqued by native speakers, even though the content is the focus of evaluation rather than the language, you must address the reader’s potential conscious and unconscious responses, as no-one can fully remove their emotions from the processes of judgment. Thus, you must make sure that your language, expression, structure, and nuance are optimized to both accurately convey your ideas, as well as to leave a positive impression. The former leads to intellectual approval and the latter to emotional approval.

Put another way, you want your paper to leave the reader with a feeling of satisfaction, rather than frustration, while also satisfying his intellectual requirements.

The ability to achieve emotional approval in writing is a rare skill - few people can achieve it in their own native language, let alone in another. It requires far more than just correct grammar and spelling (although they are of course crucial), but extends across the many different elements of sentence structure and readability , to paragraph construction, and to the overall logic and presentation of the paper’s ideas. It is both difficult to achieve, but instantly recognizable when it is achieved. In fact, we suggest that your reader will form an opinion of your paper within the first few sentences.

*Katrina Kelner, Tips for Publishing in Scientific Journals
accessed July 28, 2010