Why Translation and Editing Software is Bad for Your Reputation

November 2, 2015

You got that modest grant to carry out your research. You ran your study as frugally as possible and ate ramen noodles five nights a week. Now you’re tempted to run your data and text through inexpensive translation and grammar software before submitting for publication. Think again.

Translation software is not savvy. Humans are. Even though translation programs will translate your language into English, it will be too literal and journal editors can tell. It’s critical for you to understand your audience and their expectation of language. Though the English of science is generally standardized, spelling and style may be different depending upon whether the journal is British or American. Dr Michael Brown of the University of Washington Department of Geography, and former editor at ‘Social and Cultural Geography’ says, “As an anonymous reviewer of manuscripts, I can tell when an author has used translation software on their own. The [language] is too literal and the lexicon just doesn’t make sense to the reader.”

Translation and grammar software casts doubt on your diligence. As any up-and-coming scientist knows, scrupulous methodology and careful recording are paramount to showing real cause and effect. Even if your data are perfect and conclusions rock solid, if your text comes out sounding robotic or downright confusing, it will cast doubt on the quality of your work. Any research that goes public in the 21st Century will be around forever. Every manuscript you ever publish will follow you. You don’t get to keep it hidden in a paper archive for only the most diligent to uncover. Start off on the right foot. Use a human translator and editor.

Even native English speakers aren’t always good writers. Simply because you’ve been speaking and writing English since you were a child, that doesn’t mean you have a way with words. Certainly, we all have our strong points. If yours is studying the life cycle of the bristlemouth fish, why trust your write-up of their unique mating rituals to grammar software? Even a rudimentary search for flaws in the popular ‘Grammarly’ writing improvement tool shows widespread discontent. From the website ‘Grammarist’, “Grammarly did not catch several of our intentional grammar and spelling errors, it had nothing to say about any of our intentionally misused words, and it makes recommendations based on 19th-century grammar superstitions.”

Humans exist who can help. Before you take this to be a shameless plug for the OSE editing services, let us say that we are first and foremost an advocate of the talents of the human editor. Editing takes a special brain, as anyone who has read their manuscript sixty-three times and still not caught those five spelling errors will tell you. Not only do most science editors understand English usage, they can follow an abstract and read a graph. Editors do cost money, but not a lot. The service they provide could mean the difference between publication and rejection which, in turn, could mean the difference between obtaining that next grant and moving back in with your parents.

Don’t let your manuscript be returned with the words of Dr Brown, which he admits to writing much too often, “Overall, this manuscript will need a very, very thorough edit before it could be publishable in an international English-speaking journal.”

Oxford Science Editing specializes in high quality language optimisation by scientist editors, all of whom have advanced degrees. We pair you with an editor who is already well versed in your field and offer peer review-level feedback. Contact us or email info@oxfordscienceediting.com for more information.