Editing: More than a Wish List Item
Preparing a research proposal can be hard enough these days—research funds aren’t as plentiful, and the providers of those funds only seem to be interested in supporting work that has a guarantee of subsequent publication in a prestigious journal. If English is not your native language, the prospect of adding the cost of a professional editing service to that budget can therefore seem to be very unattractive.
So you add that expense as a “wish list” item on the back burner and make other plans. Maybe you have a few colleagues whose English is better than yours who could look at your paper for you? Perhaps Microsoft’s spelling and grammar checking functions and Google Translate will be your last resort to save you from any really embarrassing mistakes?
Such rationalizations can make sense when you are facing budgetary or even time pressures in delivering a research paper. But the danger here is that such short-term economy can do long-term damage.
Unedited Papers are Rarely Peer Reviewed
A poorly written paper may not even make it to a formal peer review. Because the journal editor is likely to decide that such poor authorship is indicative of weak academic rigor, however unfair that assessment may be.
If the editor is feeling more benevolent and sends your paper for review, those peer reviewers may well resent the expectation that they are being asked to check more than the methodological accuracy of the paper (they are unpaid, remember!) and reject the paper with no invitation to resubmit.
Editing Saves You from Professional Embarrassment
However forgiving your colleagues may be, the face that English is the preferred language of science is a harsh reality. Critics and historians may argue that Latin, French, German, and Russian have equal claims on a scientific legacy, but the modern business of science operates in English. Attempting a DIY (do-it-yourself) approach to editing in a non-native language can have embarrassing results:
- Clairol launched a new hair curling iron called Mist Stick in Germany without realizing that mist is German slang for manure.
- Mercedes-Benz entered the Chinese auto market with a localized brand name of Bensi that translated to “rush to die.”
- The American Dairy Association clearly avoided any professional editing when its “Got Milk?” advertising campaign was translated for Spanish-speaking countries into “Are You Lactating?”
- Professor Paul May at the University of Bristol tracks a different approach to the potential misuse of language by recording “Molecules with Silly Names” such as Moronic Acid, Furfurfyl Furfurate, and others that are a little too “colorful” for this blog.
The Above Humor Has a Serious Message
While the silly names may represent an attempt to provoke some mild rebellion against academic authority, the commercial examples above had real and expensive consequences for the companies involved. If you consider the tens of thousands of dollars invested in aggressive marketing campaigns and advertising spends, all of that was wasted as a result of either overconfidence in the language skills of someone in the marketing department, or a budgetary decision not to “waste” money on a professional editor.
In the realm of scientific research, the dollars can now get just as big, and the risk is therefore just as great that a significant piece of research work can go unnoticed or, worse still, persist in infamy for a simple and unintended error in editing and/or translation. A professional editing service is therefore a necessary investment.